Fremantle won the toss and from there the Bombers came out firing, scoring the first three rapid fire goals of the game in the first five minutes, compliments of two gun-barrel-straight set shots from young Harry Jones and a 50 metre penalty awarded to Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti for an off the ball hit by Caleb Serong on Zach Merrett.

From there the Dockers tightened the screws and clawed back by matching the Bombers’ kick and run game style, kicking the next two goals. Rounding out what became a close first quarter on the scoreboard and on the stats sheet.

Fremantle carried their momentun into the second quarter, but their inaccuracy in front of goal cost them – eventually hitting the lead thanks to a goal to Cerra. Langford marked well and took the lead back for the Bombers before Taberner snapped truly from long range and just snuck one through. A big contested mark and goal to Peter Wright put Essendon back in front just before half time. A quarter that was marred by skill errors and turnovers from Essendon, they were lucky that Fremantle didn’t capitalise further after being well and truly on top in the contest. Fremantle found more of the ball and had it inside their 50 a lot more than Essendon.

With a lax Essendon defense allowing Fremantle rather easy transition of the ball, the Dockers took advantage and kicked the first two goals of the third thanks to Michael Walters finding space and Matt Taberner kicking his third. Mason Redman loaded up from outside 50 for the second week in a row and found the goals before an exchange of behinds lead to Taberner’s fourth goal and stretching Fremantle’s lead back out. For all their impressive attacking and defensice effort, the Dockers only took a three point lead into three quarter time following a late goal to Darcy Parish and near miss to Devon Smith.

Andrew Phillips marked and kicked the first goal of the fourth to give the Bombers the lead that they wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the match. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti snapped a kick towards goal where a lucky off break bounce found its way through the goals to extend their lead. The evergreen David Mundy strolled into a near vacant 50 and kicked a brilliant goal to cut the Bomber’s margin, before some more brilliant pressure footy lead to Brayden Hams winning the ball inside 50 and snapping the sealer that won the game. A controversial mark not paid to Rory Lobb was a point of contention, but there’ll be more on that later. Another exchange of behinds and the siren sounded, with Essendon seven point victors.

Here’s what I liked:

 

Close Quarters

This game may not trigger any alarms for the most memorable games you’ve ever watched. However, if you were to peruse the AFL archives for games that were close and tight in almost every aspect, this one would be right up there. A quick glance at the team stats sheet clearly shows that this game was extremely evenly matched in almost every major stat. Every time one team got out, the other found a way to get themselves back into the game and make the most of that situation.

In the first quarter the Bombers looked like they were going to run away easily with a stop/start, errant passing of the ball for uncontested marks and simple transition. By the end of that quarter Fremantle had the answers and countered with their own rapid ball movement out the back and found themselves on the end of some scoring opportunities to get back into the game. They carried that form well into the second quarter and it wasn’t until late that the Bombers tightened their defense’s and added some higher pressure to the contests to even the game out once again.

In what went down to a nail-biting finish, it was a very evenly matched contest from two teams at different crossroads. Essendon have been forced to ‘start again’ and play a lot of younger players, getting some experience into their high draft picks and fast-tracking the team’s development. Fremantle have been in a very similar position in recent years and with another season of injuries causing them selection heartache, they’re slowly seeing some reward for their suffering. Unfortunately, today didn’t end as one of those rewards.

 

Converted Parishioner

It’s no secret that Darcy Parish has always had it in him to be a good midfielder – just ask any Bombers supporter. They’ll tell you they’ve been screaming since his 10th game that he needs to be played as the inside mid that he was recruited to be. It may have taken the club almost 100 games, almost losing him to a Geelong sized offer and their desperate lack of inside mids due to injury, but FINALLY he is being played on the ball, and aren’t the Bombers reaping the rewards of the positional switch?

He was my choice for best on ground this afternoon as he racked up 39 disposals at 70% efficiency with almost half of those being contested, a game-high ten clearances and seven score involvements, five intercepts, four tackles and a goal. It seemed that every time the Dockers were pressing, it was Parish putting his head over the ball at the contest that extracted the ball or forced a turnover, or when his team was trailing he was the first to win the ball, break clear and turn the game back in their favour.

Zach Merrett started the game as Essendon’s dominant midfielder before the Dockers sent Caleb Serong to limit his influence. The two engaged in a tough battle that I’ll touch on later, but in the absence of Zach Merrett, Parish managed to shine. It’s always been an earmark of a quality team in the era of the ‘tagger’. How many teams didn’t bother to tag Gary Ablett in his prime at Geelong, knowing full well that whilst he may not have the impact on the game, Selwood or Corey would soon pop up and take his place? Essendon will be lauding the fact that they’ve finally found some depth in a midfield that’s been all too reliant on a select few for so many years.

With Dylan Shiel looking at a lengthy stint on the sidelines, and Jye Caldwell reinjuring himself and looking to further push his time out of the side, Darcy Parish is looming to be the ultimate best of a bad situation for Essendon. His stats to date this season are substantially higher than the majority of his career averages, this is looking like being the breakout season for the young midfield star that Bombers fans have been screaming for since his earliest days at the club. Paired with Andrew McGrath and Zach Merrett (if he decides to stay at Essendon), Darcy is shaping up to be a vital pillar of Essendon’s midfield for years to come.

Day for Darcy’s

Speaking of vital pillars for club’s futures, I have nothing but praise for Sean Darcy and his potential. I’ve written his praise in my weekly preview before, but today I bore witness to a remarkable comeback effort by the future of Fremantle’s ruck division. At half time I was checking the ruck stats and comparing the game of Darcy to that of Bombers counterpart, Andrew Phillips. Funnily enough both men were playing in their 49th games, but with almost eight years difference in their age. Such has been the journey of Phillips’ career thus far.

But for two men of similar height, Darcy holding a weight advantage, to the naked eye it looked like it was a relatively close contest between the pair to that point. Darcy held the advantage in the hitouts and Phillips hadn’t registered a possession yet, only two tackles to his name. Although Phillips managed a late mark and a goal, the day well and truly belonged to Sean Darcy.

For a team that was blessed with one of the all-time behemoths in the ruck for so many years (Aaron Sandilands), they’ve bounced back from his retirement superbly. Darcy was in everything all around the ground and was one of, if not arguably the most influential player for the Dockers in the second half. He clunked important marks, laid crunching tackles, managed eight clearances and won the hitout battle with Phillips 38-20.

Hind Legs

Here’s another name you’ve heard me mention before and I make no apologies because at the rate he’s tracking, you’ll hear it again and again this season – and not just from me.

What a career revival Nick Hind is having at the Bombers. Their fans were adamant he’d be drafted after his VFL heroics for Essendon, but their hopes were dashed when St. Kilda called his name in the 2018 draft. But since his trade to Essendon and being played in his preferred position down back, Hind is having a standout, stellar season. His name is being thrown around in best recruit conversations with the likes of Allir and Hickey, and rightfully so.

Ben Rutten tasked Hind with the unenviable job of running with the mercurial, but sometimes maligned Michael Walters, and Hind didn’t let his coach down. Walters managed only one disposal for the first quarter and his tally sat at five disposals with one singular tackle at half time, whilst Hind had already racked up 18 disposals and five marks at the same point of the game. His run off half back is a pivotal cog in the Bombers rebound machine and he has slotted in wonderfully in the absence of Adam Saad and Connor McKenna.

Hind finished the game as one of the Bombers’ best, with 31 disposals at 81% efficiency, eight marks, six intercepts, four rebounds, three tackles and two clearances. I’m not one to write a hit piece on a player or unfairly bash them on this platform, that’s not my agenda. But there have been plenty of comparisons in other media outlets of Adam Saad who departed Essendon at the conclusion of last season, and Hind who was essentially recruited as his replacement. I don’t intend on sharing the comparative stats of the two, they’re readily available for those interested. But without sounding like a sad loser when your player opts out, Bombers fans have a right to be proud of their recruit and how seamlessly he’s slotted into their backline.

Good Contests = Good Clashes

How good was the midfield battle of Zach Merrett and Caleb Serong? As much as you love to see someone like Parish step up when his teammate is being heavily tagged, it’s enthralling to see how a player of Merrett’s calibre handles the tag, and also how he manages to impact the game at the same time. On the flip side, it’s a great indication for Fremantle fans to see a younger player at only 20 years of age manage such a good run-with role on a player in as good a form as Merrett is currently, whilst still managing to essentially equal his opponent’s output.

There were a few fiery exchanges that were evenly dealt with by the umpires. A couple of off-the-ball hits lead to 50 metre penalties for both teams. Then a string of fierce tackles to both players in the third quarter epitomized just how hard both men were going for the ball, and for each other! Both fellas finished the day fairing equally. Merrett down on his usual lofty output and that’s thanks largely to Caleb Serong and his willingness to compete.

A Correct Prediction

You love it when you get one right, don’t you? When that insane, 9-leg multi pays off and you question whether you’re part psychic, or if your brain is just that of an AFL Oracle.

I had a feeling that either Matthew Taberner and/or Rory Lobb would have a bit of a day out today, and if not for some inaccurate kicking, Taberner could’ve had a bag to his name. He finished his day kicking 4.3 and one out on the full from memory. Only four goals from his nine shots is a massive opportunity gone begging.

Still, I love the presence of a tall, crafty forward and Taberner is on track to have his best goal-kicking season to date. Including today’s game, he’s kicked 26 goals from his nine games, leaving him just shy of averaging three goals a game. Justin Longmuir would be thrilled with his output this season. He hasn’t gone goalless once, as a matter of fact, he hasn’t kicked less than two goals in a game this season. That’s the sort of output every coach dreams of from their key forwards.

Rory Lobb didn’t quite get off the chain today. Still, he had opportunities. The non-mark aside, he managed 1.2 and took plenty of marks around the ground. He was a handful for Essendon’s defenders which saw him really give James Stewart and at times Jordan Ridley some grief.

Here’s what I didn’t like:

(I Hate To Say It, But..) Inconsistent Umpiring.

Reading through my notes from each quarter and they read like an ironic Netflix comedy special that leaves you wondering why you didn’t just chuck Jurassic Park or Harry Potter on for the 146th time.

What that translates to is; the umpiring in this game was absolutely a tale of two halves.

My first half notes sympathise with Essendon supporters. There were clear instances of holding the ball not paid, there were clear instances of holding the man not paid, there were marks not paid and somewhat questionable free kicks paid against Essendon. Throughout the second quarter the Bombers faithful found their voices and boy did they let the umpires know just exactly how they felt.

Now, let me check my second half notes.

It was like the age old joke of ‘the umpires checked the stats at half time and figured, ‘shit.. we had better even these numbers up a bit’. Except it actually seemed like that happened! After half time every questionable, 50/50 free kick just seemed to go the Bomber’s way. It was a total transformation from them getting absolutely nothing in the first half, to suddenly Bronx cheers from the Essendon-heavy crowd at each one that went their way.

The highlight of this, and much to the anger and dismay of Docker’s fans, was the non-mark that wasn’t paid to Rory Lobb in the last quarter. It was the dying minutes of the game and Lobb soars with his arms outreached above a pack in Fremantle’s forward 50, where he had a bloody good chunk of the ball as he crashed down from the mark the ball spilled loose and the umpire called play on. The Bombers cleared the ball back down their end and kicked a behind that ultimately sealed the game.

Let me just say right off the bat before I cop a barrage off Fremantle fans, I would pay that Rory Lobb mark. I’m no umpire, but in my eyes that’s just as much a mark as the similar instance in the first quarter where Cale Hooker’s arms were chopped and no free was paid, or later in the game where Jayden Laverde controlled the ball but was tunnelled and the ball bounced out for a play on. So yes, 9/10 times, hell, 95/100 times Lobb is paid that mark, goes back and has his shot at goal.

Just to play devil’s advocate, if you rewatch that contest on the slow replay, you’ll see Sean Darcy have a hold of Peter Wright’s jersey, which slips up to a hand in his throat and a high contact to Wright’s throat/face before Lobb comes into contact with the ball. So if Essendon fans would really like a point of contention, there’s always that.

But let me reiterate; in the spirit of the game, I call that a mark.

Poor Kicking Is Poor Football

If you ask a defensive coach, they’ll tell you that defenders win you games. If you ask a forwards coach, he’ll tell you that goalkickers win games. I agree with them both. However, I think one thing that they would both agree on is that bad kicking equals bad footy. We were privy to some really great kicking today, but we also witnessed some absolutely horrible kicking, both for goal and around the field.

I mentioned Matt Taberner earlier for how dominant he was up forward, but he missed a few simple set shots that could’ve won the game for Fremantle. Likewise, some of the Bomber’s forwards missed important goals at key points throughout the game when they needed then most. Peter Wright missed a relatively easy set shot inside 50, Matt Guelfi missed an even easier set shot, Cale Hooker who was well held for most of the day missed an easy set shot early in the game.

Then there was the field kicking. The commentators made mention multiple times that a couple of the field kicks heading forward from either side were some of the better kicks you would ever see. They weren’t wrong. But we witnessed some absolute howlers! There were kicks that landed 30m away from the nearest teammate, there were kicks that went straight to opposition players, there were times were I couldn’t believe the same player that had just kicked an amazing field kick to spot up an opponent 50 metres away, turned over a regulation 20 metre chip kick. Both teams will be looking at their tapes this week and seeing what went wrong, just as much as what went right with their kicking.

Here’s a few observations I noted:

– Harry Jones’ first quarter. This kid has amazing potential and I can’t wait to see him manage four quarters of goal kicking football. We’ve been gifted with glimpses thus far, even late in the game I’ve noted previously that he’ll pop up and kick a couple late, showing that even when he’s well held for most of a game, he still has the confidence to come out late and influence the match.

– What is up with Nat Fyfe’s kicking? Not just his goalkicking, the general media make a big enough deal about that. (2.16 for the season for those who weren’t aware) I’m talking about his field kicking. He had 16 kicks today at less than 40% efficiency. Almost 2/3s of his field kicks were clangers. He was a bull at the contest today, but he really let his team down with his inaccuracy.

– Dyson Heppell. I have a couple of gripes with the Essendon captain today. He had one of those games where the stats sheet tells you he had a great game, but if you watched it from start to finish he had a few moments that left you scratching your head. As I’ve eluded to, I’m not into hit pieces so I’ll single out two moments that made my notes:

The first was his tackling. Twice I saw him grab Nat Fyfe in a contest, only for Fyfe to break free and take the ball forward. At the end of the game I check his stats and he didn’t record a single tackle. I know his role as a half-back sweeper doesn’t often allow for a high number of tackles, I get that. But for someone that played three quarters of their game in the defensive half to not lay a single effective tackle, and have two noticeably broken by a player of Fyfe’s calibre, it’s just not good enough.

The second instance was in the third quarter as the ball came out of Fremantle’s forward 50 and onto the wing, there was a contest with two Fremantle players, himself and Peter Wright. Rather than go for the ball, seeing as though he was closest, he took two steps backwards, put an arm out for a shepherd and waited for the two metre tall Peter Wright to try and clear the ball from what was then between two Dockers players. It seems trivial, but for a player who’s played the inside midfield role, for a captain who’s supposed to lead, standing back and expecting your tall forward to rove the ball of the ground in a contest was a terrible look. For the record, Wright was beaten by the two Fremantle players. Maybe I should’ve done a section on him, this blew out to a bit bigger than a note. My bad.

– Tobe Watson didn’t have a day that will reign in the minds of supporters for years to come, however, there was a singular moment in the first quarter that I hope his coaches highlight at training this week. The ball was bombed in long into the Bomber’s forwards line and with nothing but courage and sheer determination to win the ball, he ran back with the flight and intercepted the ball that was all but set to land in the arms of the Bomber’s forward. Awesome effort.

– Mason Redman is becoming a bit of a threat for the quick pass handball outside 50 when having a shot on goal. Twice in the past two weeks have we seen the “Red Dog” nail an absolute belter from outside 50 and throw up his Red Dog ear celebration. Good on him! I love a good celebration from any player if the bloke can back it up.

– Andy McGrath. He’s been at times maligned because of the number he was chosen at in the draft. Whilst he had a very reasonable game today, one thing I’ve noticed in the past few seasons was he’s taken the mantle from Tom Bellchambers as the first Essendon player to fly the flag when his teammate is dealt with harshly. Last week when Finlayson elbowed Merrett in the back of the head, McGrath was one of the first to remonstrate for his teammate. Same again today when Merrett and Serong were at each other. Considering he’s far from the biggest player in Essendon’s midfield, you love to see it. He had eight tackles today, I believe he’s leading the tackles at the club and sitting top five in the AFL.

– Another player who had a few ripping moments was Griffin Logue. A lot of good spoils, defensive marks, tackles and honest team plays that won’t register him a stat.

– A good question raised to me earlier, how many players have career best seasons at age 35? It’s good food for thought. If you think of any, leave them in the comments. David Mundy is in bloody good form this season.

– I feel like I harp on about him a lot, but I really like Andrew Brayshaw and the way he goes about it. Him and Sean Darcy were Fremantle’s best today and he’s unlucky not to get a bigger write up. He was in everything and at times his willingness at the contest was one of the reasons Fremantle managed to keep grabbing the lead back. I eagerly await his tally on Brownlow night. Adam Cerra too. I sing their praises almost weekly, but it’s hard not to when they’re playing this well.

That’ll just about do it for me for the night. Fremantle managed to stop Essendon’s scoring, given that they’re the second highest scoring team in the competition this season. Fremantle did well to turn the game into a physical contest and match Essendon’s tackling game, forcing them to grind this one out.

Bombers will face North Melbourne at Marvel on Sunday and Fremantle will host the Swans on Saturday night

 

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