I must admit, my heart sank a little when, after watching GWS pinch a win from the Swans in thrilling circumstances, the camera cut to the Gabba, and all I saw was…. rain.
As much as I like good, contested footy, the wet weather has the potential to do one of two things. It can either showcase the talents of those with the best skills in the caper, or it can drag them down to the level of the lowest common denominator.
The big storyline in this game revolved around how Joe Daniher would go against his old team, but there was a lot more at stake with both teams staring down the barrel of a 1-4 record. And when that occurs, you can almost put a line through finals aspirations.
It didn’t take long to discover that one team came equipped to compete in the trying conditions and the other did not. One team showed clean hands, composure and worked hard for each other. The other… well, you can search for as many positives as you like, but one goal in a half of football is unacceptable.
Plenty to get through in this one. Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL
Okay, it’s not the memorial because he’s not dead, but if there was one player who set the scene for the Lions in this game, it was Lincoln McCarthy.
He played this game like he was the only one with a dry footy and everyone else was trying to juggle some bars of soap. His hands were beautiful in this one – better than George Costanza’s when he became a hand model, and better than the dude from Zoolander as well.
He finished with 19 touches, mostly comprised of clean, one-grab collects and added a couple of goals to his tally, but that is only part of the beauty of his game. Usually, these small forwards, they buzz around like mosquitoes and make a nuisance of themselves here or there, and then they go missing for ten minutes.
He did the hard stuff and kept up the heat for the entire duration of the game. His 11 tackles were a career-high as he was a complete menace without the footy. As stated in the intro, there are some players who adapt to wet weather better, and as a result, their skills become magnified.
McCarthy stood out like a sore thumb in this one. As the rain pelted down in the first quarter, his hands were excellent and his ability to take possession and dish off to a teammate in one motion put him at the top of the heap for impact. He played the perfect small forward game in the wet, doing both the bread and butter stuff, as well as getting a lovely cherry on top with his spectacularly good defensive skills.
I know a lot of people will look to the mids when awarding a best on ground award in this one, but for doing the damage early, and doing it well, I find it difficult to go past the game of Lincoln McCarthy.
THE DYNAMIC DUO
So, Lachie Neale was in a bit of a form slump, was he?
Could have fooled me!
Neale was the other Lion who handled the footy as though it belonged to him in this game, racking up a game-high 38 touches and slotting a couple of goals for good measure. Whilst the footy was hotly contested in close, the thing about Neale is that HE DOES NOT FUMBLE!
A couple of times, he had to reach for a handball that overshot him by a metre or so – this is the moment a lesser player would fumble and fail to gain possession, allowing his opponent to close up the space and cause a stoppage. But it wasn’t that way for Neale – his ability to glove the footy, with two hands or one, and release to a player in a better position got the Lions off and running several times.
With eight clearances, six inside 50s and a perfect balance in the wet of creative handballs and well-placed kicks (19:19 ratio), Neale did what people have come to expect from him over the last few years – control the game at the coalface.
But he had more than a bit of help in this one.
Is Jarryd Lyons the Robin to Neale’s Batman? Looking at the two, I think we must be in a bizarro world, as I get the feeling that personality-wise, Lyons is Batman, and could beat Neale up pretty easily if he so wanted.
But why would he want that? They’re teammates, for God’s sake. Stop talking rubbish, Mongrel. They can both be Batman… Batmen, if you will.
Lyons was every bit as good as Neale in the clinches, collecting 35 touches with nine clearances amongst them. He continues to prove anyone who ever doubted a) his ability, or b) his commitment, completely and utterly incorrect, and will become a very big factor throughout the remainder of the 2021 season.
The Lions now find themselves sitting just inside the top eight, and with games against Carlton and Port Adelaide upcoming in the next two weeks, will need to solidify their place with at least one win. Lyons’ inside presence will be huge against the likes of Cripps and Williams at Carlton, and Boak and Wines at Port. If he can break even, or win his contests, the Lions have the pieces in place to make the most of his efforts.
Lyons also laid seven tackles in the scrappy conditions to further enhance his worth to this Brisbane team. A two-way mid the likes of him is incredibly tough to find, and the Lions would still be pinching themselves at being able to acquire him for bugger all.
A RICH VEIN OF FORM
After a slow start to the season, Brisbane had only one player make the first edition of the Mongrel 50. Anyone wanna guess which Lion it was?
Daniel Rich has been the standout performer for the Lions in 2021, stringing together some of his best football to keep his team competitive, but he may have saved his best for this one.
Rich was a complete monster against the Bombers, picking up 31 disposals off half back as his team looked to use his leg canon at every opportunity…and didn’t Rich relish the opportunity!
He had a mammoth 940 metres gained for the Lions, propelling them forward time, and time again in slippery conditions. Tapering off a little in the last quarter, Rich missed the opportunity to become the eighth man in the game’s history to notch 1K metres gained, but with a win on the board and another outstanding personal performance under his belt, I am not sure he’d be too concerned.
He also had nine intercepts and a massive eight inside 50 deliveries – the latter number rarely happens for a defender. He did miss a couple of shots at goal, which may have been the icing on the cake, but watching the way he went about it in this game, it looked like a pretty bloody good cake to begin with!
JOE IN THE RUCK?
This was some astute coaching from Chris Fagan, and he should be commended.
Last week, we watched on as Daniher tried to find space in the forward line in terrible conditions in Ballarat. Of course, it was to no avail.
This week, rather than allowing Joe to flounder in the forward half, often competing with teammates for the long ball, Fagan switched things up and allowed his recruit to start ranging all over the park as the mobile ruck. It was a good test of Daniher’s fitness as he worked up and back for the majority of the second, third and fourth quarters.
Yes, there were points where Joe looked completely gassed and did the “walk with your hands on hips” move, but for the most part, he was combative and used that booming left foot of his to gain valuable ground. His 561 metres gained was second only to the amazing numbers put up by Daniel Rich, and his 25 disposals were a career-high number for him.
So, you’re Chris Fagan – what do you have here?
You have a 27 year old you can throw into the ruck against teams with a lesser ruck – sorry Bomber fans, but Peter Wright is a lesser ruck in every aspect. You have a player that can turn onto that left foot and gain you 60-or-so metres if you feed the footy out to him. You have a guy that can provide you with a “get out of jail” option down the line, and you can play him out of the goal square, where he has the capacity to kick a bag of goals for your team.
Through the first few weeks of the season, I gave Joe a bit of a pass. Shitty weather and finding your feet at a new club are never easy to deal with, but given what we saw in this game, the honeymoon is over, and the expectations for Daniher just elevated a notch or two.
With Weitering and Jones awaiting him next week, Daniher has the opportunity to make a real statement and get the Lions well and truly back in the hunt. We saw a teaser of it in this game – time for Joe to put it all together in Round Six.
COP THAT, MONGREL
Last week, I copped a bit of flak for the way I “picked on” Andrew McGrath in Essendon’s loss to Sydney. Whilst I don’t back down from what I wrote at the time, the best way for McGrath to shut me up was to play well and prove me wrong at the very next opportunity, right?
Well, yes… so he did just that.
Not only did McGrath work his backside off, burrowing in to fight for the footy at the coal face, he also demonstrated a defensive side to his game in laying a game-high 12 tackles.
My criticism over the journey about McGrath has been that he is a very similar player now to the one he was in his first season, but games like this, where he puts the Essendon midfield on his shoulders whether they want to come with him or not, shows that he is developing and becoming more of a leader at the club.
This is the second game of 2021 that McGrath has registered double figures in tackles and he is now averaging seven per game, which is good enough for fifth in the league at the time of writing. Look, games like this are what I expect from McGrath, and I admit, a lot of that comes from him being the number one pick, but there is also the fact that he set the bar quite high in his first season at Essendon, and high expectations are what you have when it comes to players you rate.
If I didn’t rate the bloke and what he is capable of, he wouldn’t be worth discussing, but it turns out I do, and when he performs such as he did in this one, I am more than happy for Bomber fans to have a crack back. Go for your lives.
HE LOVES THE SLOP
I wrote above about players like Linc McCarthy, Lachie Neale and Jarryd Lyons playing well in the wet, but the game if Hugh McCluggage deserves to be singled out as well.
He was brilliant for the Lions in the first half, racking up 19 of his 32 touches when the weather was at its worst. Playing the majority of his time out on the wing, he read the play wonderfully and found space where there simply was none in the second quarter, providing a consistent attacking option for his fellow mids to look for.
McCluggage has now thrown together a couple of excellent outings in a row. He stood up against the Dogs when not many others could, and he led from the front in this game as well.
Question – who is the best wet weather player at Brisbane? Is it McCluggage? The more I go back to that first half, the more I think it may be him. His attack on the footy and the way he keeps the footy in front of him are excellent, and his ability to assess the situation and make good decisions in the conditions was the equal to any of those listed above.
He finished eight score involvements to lead all players in an excellent outing. Maybe he’ll force the All-Australian selectors to actually select a wingman in the role this year? Stranger things have happened.
A DEFENSIVE FORWARD, MAYBE?
I think Ben Rutten may have tried to stifle the influence of Daniel Rich in this game – I really do. I just think he chose the wrong option to do it.
Dev Smith seemed to be given the role to stay dangerous and keep Rich occupied at points. How would you judge his performance? On a few occasions, Smith got drawn to the contest too easily, which is natural for a ball-hunter like him. The downside to that is that Daniel Rich would then be free across half back top find space, and the Lions know that when Rich is in the open, you get the ball to him and let him go to work.
The Bombers knew what sort of form Rich had been in up until this game and the fact that they simply permitted him to run around doing as he pleases is a bit of a concern. If Smith was being a little lax, how about giving someone else a shot at it? Why not throw Mason Redman forward with the express purpose of sitting on Rich and making him work for his touches?
Rutten is a defender by nature, so it was a surprise to see his run-at-all-costs gameplan in the preseason, but he would be all too aware of the damage a half back can do when given time and space to operate. The Lions worked to give Rich that time and space and Rutten’s Bombers did little to shut it down.
Next week, they come up against the Pies, who are struggling with their own form. They have a loaded half back line, with Brayden Maynard and Jack Crisp capable of racking up big numbers. If one of these two players has 25 touches and 500 or so metres gained, and do it without having to scrap for each and every disposal, I would like to have a look at Rutten’s defensive gameplan, because judging by this game, he did little to stop Daniel Rich and if you think Rich’s work did not have a big influence on the contest, I really don’t think you watch much footy.
LOSING YOUR BEST PLAYER… OUCH
I like watching Jordan Ridley play footy, and to see him in a match-up against Charlie Cameron to start the game was the kind of marquee clash you think about when you do a preview for a game – it was a “what if…” that came true.
Would Ridley rule the air, be able to zone off Charlie and control defensive 50, or would Cameron be a bit too quick for him at ground level and make him pay when the ball hit the deck?
Sadly, we did not get to see how the contest panned out. Ridley had a couple of wins early against Cameron, but he was subbed out of the game after quarter time with concussion.
This is bigger than just this game, however, with ANZAC Day looming for the Bombers and Pies in what will be an absolute do-or-die contest for both clubs. Ridley has the kind of game that just screams “Anzac Medallist” and may be the most universally liked Bomber since… shit, I cannot remember an Essendon player being so well-liked by opposition supporters as this kid!
SO, WHO WOULD YOU HAVE AS ESSENDON’S OTHER BEST PLAYERS?
I really liked the game of Matt Guelfi, who had the job of keeping Charlie Cameron quiet. One dropped mark afforded Charlie his solo goal for the game, but after starting with Ridley on him, Cameron found it hard to work his way into the kind of game he should have been a complete menace in.
Nick Hind’s run was important, but I’d love to see him spot up a target after bounce number one or two, rather than having a third and getting all cramped for space.
I’d like to throw Zach Merrett in there as well, but for a bloke who had 20 handballs, he had ten turnovers as well. Look, I think Merrett has the ability to win a Brownlow, but the wetter weather really does not accentuate his positives to the point where I think he was in strong contention for the best Bomber on the park.
DO THE BIG GUYS GET A PASS IN THIS GAME?
Yeah, they do.
This game was not built for the big fellas to have a huge influence. Oscar McInerney and Peter Wright toiled away, with little having much of an impact of proceedings in conditions that probably had both coaches wondering whether it may have been wiser to have them tighten up during the warm ups and rest them for the game.
The Big O and Peter Wright had eight touches each and combined for two marks, but it would have taken a miracle for them to be potent whilst plodding up and down on the one spot for most of the night.
WAS THIS A BETTER OUTING FOR DAYNE ZORKO?
I’ll put it bluntly – Zorko has bee a terrible leader this season. He has staged for free kicks, tried to milk free kicks by getting his opponents to have a crack at him, and given away dumb fifty metre penalties. Basically, he has done everything you DO NOT want your captain doing.
But he was a lot better in this one. He was hard at the contest, went off the deck to gain ground, and didn’t flop around like a fish when… oh, wait on, he did it once in the first quarter trying to get a free kick in front of goals.
Dayne – the umpires are onto you. You’re the boy who cried Bomber, Cat, or whichever team you’re playing, and really, mate – you’re better than that. For the rest of the game, Zorko seemed to knuckle down and play his role like it meant something to him. He cracked in and had 26 touches and six tackles. That’s what the Lions need from their captain. Let’s see more of it.
DID CALE HOOKER FORCE HARRIS ANDREWS TO LOWER HIS COLOURS?
In a word, yep.
Andrews still gathered ten intercept possessions, but when the opposition kicks six goals, and your opponent gets four of them, I am not sure you can claim a victory.
Cale Hooker was good with limited opportunity and though Andrews got caught on switches a couple of times, Hooker stuck to his task, kept the dual All-Australian busy and was one of the Bombers’ better performers for the game.
That’s 16 goals for the year now for Hooker. In the conditions, I had Andrews down for an easy win, but the points go to Hooker in this one.
Another of the Essendon kids looked good in this one, with Archie Perkins picking up 20 touches and showing a bit of composure with the footy in hand during the second half.
Solid outing for Marcus Adams, who seemed to relish being able to position himself as the deepest defender, picking off errant inside 50 kicks. He had 11 intercepts and seven one-percenters and really, he looks like a freaking hulk down there. Strooooong man.
I really don’t know about Zac Bailey off the half forward flank. I think he replaces Mitch Robinson on the wing eventually, but with Robbo having 20 touches, five clearances and five inside 50s, it probably won’t be this coming week.
Jaxon Prior looks like he has a nice leg on him. Two of them, if you’re being pedantic, but his kicking was a bit of okay in this one. A couple of goals and some nice inside 50 deliveries… he could be a player.
Nine intercepts for Zach Reid on debut would have Bomber fans smiling. Only ran at 40% efficiency, but you give the kid an out this week.
Dan McStay looked like he was ready to take on the world in the first quarter, with two goals. He would have been eager to make a statement after his abysmal 2020 finals, and he did. Of course, he then disappeared for the rest of the game, but Lions fans would be used to that. Both he and Eric Hipwood made the most of their opportunities, though. They combined for 13 disposals and shared five goals. You’d take that in the wet.
Back to Earth for Alec Waterman in this game. Four touches and zero impact.
And that’ll do me. Excellent win for the Lions to set them up to launch an assault on the top eight, whilst for the Bombers… not a heap of positives to take away other than what’s listed here. They should have Adrian Dodoro looking at top five picks the way this season is playing out.