With the Bombers coming home hard in the last quarter, and taking a narrow lead after ten minutes, it appeared as though we were in for a grandstand finish to the first Dreamtime in Perth game between Essendon and the Richmond Football Club.

And then it happened.

Challenged, and looking as though they were out on their feet, the Tigers found something.

They have a gear, this team. It is a gear other clubs wish they had, but just don’t seem to possess. We saw it against GWS earlier in the season, and we saw it again in this game. With the momentum swinging wildly to favour their opponents, the Tigers simply stood up and said “enough!”

What followed was a tsunami of yellow and black goals, as the premiers slammed on seven majors from the 15-minute mark of the last quarter to seemingly cruise to a 39 point win.

39 damn points! After being down and seemingly looking down the barrel just 15 minutes earlier! Unbelievable stuff from this club, once again.

There was plenty of great stuff again from the Bombers, who again had players step up to the plate all over the park, and we’ll get to all of them, but man… what a response from the champs.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE FAIRY TALE

It was a scintillating six minutes of football from the Essendon Football Club, as they threw every last thing they had at the Tigers to start the last quarter.

When Cale Hooker slotted the opener, there was a spring in their step. When he kicked another one on a stupid turnover off the ball, you could see the belief. And when Kyle Langford marked and goaled following Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti’s first kick of the game, you could sense we may be about to see something special from the Bombers.

They are a team capable of scoring in a hurry, and with leg speed to burn, young players making their mark, and veterans ready to contribute, they looked like they may just run over the top of the Tigers.

A goal off hands to Alec Waterman had the Bomber fans in raptures – this is the type of play this team has threatened, and delivered at the same venue. They’d cleaned up West Coast with a late game flurry, and now they were doing it to the premiers! This Essendon team was maturing and growing right before our eyes.

Langford was up and about, Merrett was winning the footy, Stringer was getting involved and Hooker, who is one of the best stories of the season, snagged goals to breathe new life into the game. It was all set up for the Bombers to complete the fairy tale comeback!

 

THE HARSH REALITY

… and then reality dawned on them.

This was not the West Coast Eagles they were playing against. This was not a team that would quietly lay down and roll over for them. This was a team that had won three of the last four flags, and they are made of a little tougher stuff than their last opponent. Yes, the Bombers had hit the front, but now, it was time for the Tigers to respond.

And how would Essendon handle it when Richmond lifted their intensity, not only to match that of their opponents, but to surpass it?

The quick answer is – they wouldn’t.

The Tiger assault was as furious as it was breathtaking, with Shai Bolton, Jayden Short and Kamdyn McIntosh leading the charge, peppering the now-retreating Bombers. It was brutally efficient to the point of macabre beauty. It was like watching a nature documentary of a Tiger hunting, and bringing down its prey in slow motion. It was violently attractive, delivered with an air of arrogance and a “how fucking dare you!” type of scalding. Richmond turned to face those who would usurp their place in the food chain, and they taught them that it takes more than just a run of good footy to tame this beast of a team.

Footy against Richmond is never about just landing a series of blows – it is about taking a few on the chin and still being able to fight on.

Richmond were able to continue the fight and the Bombers had nothing left to throw at them. They gave it their all, and the Tigers were still standing.

The retaliation came fast. Castagna goaled, followed by Bolton, which lengthened the lead to two kicks, and then came the finisher.

When Dustin Martin dived into a mark just inside 50, you could sense it was all about to come crashing down around the Bombers. It felt like the moments before the end of a wrestling match, with Randy Orton preparing for the RKO, or Hulk Hogan hitting the ropes and setting up the leg drop. Perhaps Jake Roberts’ DDT is more to your liking.

It matters not.

As Dusty turned onto his right foot from 55 and went bang, it killed off the Bombers. The air went out of them and their shoulders hit the mat. The three count was a formality at that stage.

Goals to Bolton again, Balta, McIntosh and Rioli were the icing on the cake as this Richmond team left no doubt as to who the better team was on the night. A 39 point win after being down at the 15-minute mark of the last quarter… what a win. And what a night for footy in WA.

 

CHOL

Well, well, what do we have here?

In the absence of Toby Nankervis, who played through a PCL injury last week (that’s guts!), there were questions around just how well Mabior Chol would go as the number one ruckman.

As it turns out… he goes pretty damn well!

I’m not sure how much of this we put down to the quality of big man he was facing – Andrew Phillips can be either very good, or average – but Chol left no chance for us to take out time to decide. He went on the attack immediately.

With eight disposals in the first quarter and six intercept possessions to go with them, Chol well and truly established himself as the most important big man on the ground. Phillips looked shellshocked as he scrambled to keep up with the Tiger big man.

He would right the ship after quarter time, actually having the better of the ruck contests, but the damage was done early by Chol, who was out to prove a point.

The Tigers are in an interesting situation here. They have Chol pushing hard for a ruck spot, Coleman-Jones pushing hard for a deep forward spot, and Collier-Dawkins looking for a midfield spot. How they work the transition from the current guard to the next group will be very important for this group as they plan on sustainable success.

These youngsters have shown what they’re capable of, and there is no tougher team to cement your place in than the reigning premiers. Looking forward to 2022 (I know… way too early), which of them become mainstays in this team?

 

LEADING FROM BEHIND

Is it possible that Dylan Grimes is underrated again?

After being underrated by everyone outside Richmond, he really stepped to the fore in the absence of Alex Rance to claim an All-Australian berth, and then he kind of just went back to doing what he does on a weekly basis to the point that the media kind have started to ignore him again.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for him in that regard. One year, he is the understudy to one of the best defenders of the generation, then he emerges as the man able to take on the job that Rance did so well, and now he is just enjoying the ride as part of this tight Richmond back six.

But then, in moments that matter, Grimes steps up and does the big things. Whether he is goal keeping, fighting for a contested touch in defence, getting back on the last line to assist a fellow defender… he just does so many things right so often that it makes you wonder why he isn’t spoken about anywhere near as much as some of the other key defenders in the league.

We all hear people rave about Jacob Weitering at Carlton, Darcy Moore at Collingwood, and Harris Andrews at Brisbane, but Grimes is left out of the conversation way too often for my liking… and I am happy to put my hand up and state that I have been guilty of it at times.

Consider this my apology.

Grimes was a monster in this one. He had eight spoils and eight intercepts, including a couple of telling marks on the last line as the Bombers desperately attempted to swing the momentum in the third quarter. Whilst the Tigers have an incredible back six, Grimes’ presence and cool head under pressure are a big part of making them so damn effective.

Will statisticians write home about his defensive positioning? Probably not. Will highlight reel creators edit his ability to hold off an opponent to allow a teammate clear passage to the footy? I don’t think so. Will we give him the credit he deserves at The Mongrel. Damn straight we will!

Grimes has handed over duties of taking the best forward to Noah Balta this season. He has blokes like David Astbury, when fit, helping him hold the fort, and he has weapons like Nick Vlastuin, Jayden Short, and Liam Baker creating run from the defensive 50, but he is the glue that holds this defence together, and in a big one-off game, if you offer me Moore, Andrews, Weitering or Grimes in a do-or-die situation, I know who I am picking.

That’d be the guy who has been there and done that. And has the premiership medals to prove it.

 

THE NEW BREED

The commentators have all but awarded Nik Cox the Rising Star nomination this week, but the Bombers have a couple who are well worth the time and effort to watch over the next couple of years.

We’re yet to get a good look at Zach Reid, but the progression of Cox and Archie Perkins is something that all Essendon fans would be absolutely rapt with.

Cox’s 23 touches were a career-high, and playing the majority of the game on the wing, his loping run and clean hands made life tough for Kamdyn McIntosh.

Across half forward, Perkins had moments where you could definitely see the oak tree in the acorn. Though he missed the running shot, the way he moved through centre half forward to go for home in the third quarter would have Ben Rutten delighted. He looks like a natural footballer, and his hands were clean at ground level all game.

When you throw in the likes of Jordan Ridley (22), Mason Redman (23), Darcy Parish (23… yes, I’ll get to him) and Andrew McGrath (23), the Bombers are well set up for a march back up the ladder over the next couple of years.

Not to sound patronising – you get pretty sick of hearing how good you’re going to be after a loss – but Essendon have demonstrated the type of heart this season that you cannot manufacture. Teams have to develop this internally, and it comes with belief in the system and each other. I’m not going to come out here every week and talk about how good the team will be, but I do expect a few dips in the road as the Bombers continue to improve. As long as the overall picture looks good, a steady rise up the ladder seems inevitable.

 

NO NEED TO HEADHUNT

Darcy Parish is the real deal.

The Bombers went hard after Josh Dunkley and much to the chagrin of Dogs fans, I really admired them doing that. They saw a hole in their structure and wanted it rectified. They knew what they wanted and made no bones about it.

And not getting Dunkley might have been the absolute best thing to ever happen!

Darcy Parish has rocketed into the upper echelon of AFL midfielders, with another commanding performance at the coalface. He collected a club record 44 touches and picked up 11 clearances – the second time he has been over 40 touches this season, and the fifth time he has recorded double figures in clearances in 2021.

As a matter of fact, Parish’s form is so damn good, that he has had four-straight games of double-figure clearances. That’s ridiculous, considering he had done that just once in his career before this season.

His play has been one of the genuine highlights of the season, and if we’re looking toward the future, would be a huge reason for Zach Merrett re-signing with the club. These two work beautifully together and could really be the nucleus of a powerful midfield over the next few years.

With Parish doing the grunt work, the run of Merrett and McGrath, and the return of Dylan Shiel and Jye Caldwell, the Bombers look like a midfield waiting to take over. I know injuries can change a lot of things, and in many cases, they’re inevitable, but on paper, with Parish emerging as the clearance player they’ve been after all along, this team looks to have it all together, and we’re playing the long game here.

 

THE HEARTBEAT

It seems that I write about this bloke a bit, yet I don’t often see him spoken about on the shows I watch on Fox Footy.

Then again, I doubt Jack Graham is going to make an appearance on WandaVision anytime soon… my daughters made me watch it (and after the terrible first episode, they’re lucky I continued!).

Graham seems to me, to be the king of the little things. Whether it is standing up in a tackle just long enough to dish off to a teammate in a meaningful way, or holding onto a tackle with everything he has to impact the disposal of an opponent… he just does so many things right. And when the Tigers need someone to take the heat and stand up under pressure, he never, ever shirks the issue.

If you want to see where things changed in the last quarter, sure you could look to the blokes I mentioned above – Dusty, Bolton, etc… or you could drill down a little and find the gem known as Jack Graham.

He had five tackles in the last quarter as the Tigers raised the pressure. Five big tackles. He only had three disposals, but that’s not what the little things are about. Things like tackles, shepherds, dishing off to a teammate who kicks a goal – they’re the things Jack Graham brings to the table, and they’re the little things that his club would adore seeing him do.

Richmond have a bunch of players who do the little things. Jake Aarts, Marlion Pickett, Kamdyn McIntosh… they do small things that when combined, make up something huge. Pickett runs as hard defensively as any winger in the game, perhaps only matched by McIntosh. Aarts applies forward fifty pressure like his career depends on it – he knows what it is like to NOT play at this level, and Graham… well, he could be a future captain of this Richmond side.

He is a warrior in a team filled with warriors.

 

 

THE BAD

 

MATCHUPS ALL WRONG

Aaron Francis taking Dustin Martin when he went forward?

Jayden Laverde being caught one-out against the wily old fox, Jack Riewoldt?

I really didn’t like the way the Bombers structured up early in the piece. They looked as though they’d just threw random magnets at the whiteboard to see what stuck. I felt particularly bad for Laverde, who has been a real success story in defence. The thing is, he is not a natural defender, so he needs help here and there. Matched up against Riewoldt, he looked a little lost in the first quarter.

Luckily, it only cost them one goal.

Oops, make that two, as Dusty managed to find isolation on Aaron Francis and was just too good for him. Francis is good when he gets a run at it, but under pressure, against a guy who knows a) how to use his body to perfection, and b) how to protect the dangerous space, he was always going to get beaten by the more agile Martin.

Truck Rutten corrected things after half time, but whenever Martin trekked forward, it seemed as though they didn’t have a concrete plan to corral him. Ridley spent time on him, then Francis again, before finally, Laverde got a crack…only for them to switch again and again.

The Bombers seemed to miss a true defensive general back there to direct the troops and take control. With Hurley out, you can really see that aspect lacking, but you’d hope that Jordan Ridley may develop into that role. He reads the game so well, so once he is a little more confident in telling his teammates what to do, we may see him assume those responsibilities.

 

PAY HOLDING THE BLOODY BALL

This is getting ridiculous.

We have three umpires out there that spot little infractions from 50 metres away, but somehow, between the three of them, they manage to miss something like this?

Guys, that is about as blatant a holding/dropping/throwing the ball decision as you’re going to get. It was so damn obvious that players stopped playing, similar to the Essendon v Collingwood ANZAC Day clash a couple of years back.

We have to be better than this. You’re calling ticky-touch little in the back decisions, minor incidental contact as “too high” and then you get a chance to actually pay a blatant free kick and you let it go?

This is why supporters get upset. I’d like to see the AFL even attempt to tick this one off. If they do, there’ll be a second ticking off going on, and it’ll be the supporters getting ticked off with the idiotic non-calls of obvious free kicks.

The same thing happened when Patrick Ambrose got Dylan Grimes cold as well. No call = gutless call.

PAY DROPPING THE BALL!!!

 

THE UGLY

 

STARS CUT DOWN

You hate to see stars go down injured, and we got one from each team in this one.

First things first – Andy McGrath.

He started this game pretty well, picking up three quick touches before the turf seemed to shift under him as he was giving chase and he left the field of play immediately. Though word from the Essendon bench is that he has escaped an ACL injury, it was still significant enough that he could take no further part in the game, and you’d think he would miss a few weeks at least.

McGrath was finally in the process of making the next step as a player. After hovering between 19-22 touches per game over the first four seasons of his career, McGrath had progressed to averaging 26 touches per game this season and was looking as though he was going to be the perfect third midfielder for the Bombers.

Fingers crossed he gets back quickly.

And poor Dion Prestia – he cannot take a trick. Another soft tissue injury saw him take no further part in the game after really looking as though he’d found a bit of a groove in this one.

After winning the Jack Dyer Medal in 2019, Prestia has had a horror run of luck with injuries and repeated soft tissue injuries are enough to drive you mad! Remember how frustrated Nathan Buckley was with his body in the final years of his career? I can remember him slamming his fist into the ground after knowing he’d done his hammy yet again – I am sure Prestia feels the same way.

Richmond are a better-balanced team with him in the guts, so here’s hoping he gets back in enough time to get some meaningful games under his belt before finals.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

IS JAKE STRINGER A FOOTBALL GENIUS OR A MADMAN?

Why can’t he be both?

Geez, he took a risk with a 30 metre backwards pass to find Alec Waterman and it really didn’t pay off. You’d back him to kick the goal around the corner, particularly from so close to goal, what… 19 times out of 20?

Yet he opted to do the team thing and it didn’t pay off anyway. Being unselfish is one thing, but the one time I wanted to see him take on the responsibility, he didn’t. Never a dull moment with him in your team…

 

WHAT ARE SOME IN-THE-BACK FREE KICKS PAID DOWNFIELD AND OTHERS NOT?

I wish I bloody-well knew.

This is a massive grey area at the moment. For a while there, it seemed like all of those incidents were being paid downfield, and then we get to this game and one isn’t. It’s like a crapshoot – I really don’t know what the ruling is, as it has seemed to me that even when the player is in the action of kicking this season, the umps have pulled the trigger and awarded it downfield.

However, when Merrett pushed Shai Bolton in the back as he was kicking, it was called back and taken in the original spot. I actually think they got this one right, but does that mean they have been getting all the others wrong this season?

Wouldn’t surprise me at all.

 

HOW SOON IS TOO SOON TO PLAY SAFE FOOTY?

Come back with me to the end of the third quarter. There is about two minutes to go, and the Bombers have the footy. Despite their best footy always coming when they play an attacking brand, they decide to kill some clock here.

And the answer to the question is “anything more than a minute remaining”.

It only takes one misdirected kick, one fumble or one double-grab for the house of cards to fall, and when the Bombers cocked this up, Richmond pounced.

With a minute left, Cotchin, Bolton and Dusty combined to see the Norm Smith Specialist slot a goal to push the lead out to ten points.

We see this a little too often. Playing possession football is fine when you’re not fatigued, all your disposals are spot on and the structure behind you is great. But the Bombers failed on all three accounts here. It’s bloody frustrating to watch.

 

OTHER BITS

 

It was hard not to notice how Trent Cotchin was not a factor in the Tigers’ last quarter surge. He had three touches for the period and laid no tackles. I reckon there was a bit of protecting those hammies once the game was iced.

Loved the work of Kyle Langford again in this one – he is fast becoming the perfect hybrid wingman/onballer/half forward, and can excel in any of the roles. I wrote last week how good he is overhead and he was reliable in that area again this week, taking ten grabs to go with his 28 touches.

Is Nick Vlastuin just a great bloke? Even after dropping the C-Bomb, every time he had interactions with an opposition player, he seemed to be smiling and so did they. I reckon he is the kind of bloke who plays the game hard and gets respect for it, but has zero malice in anything he does.

Shai Bolton’s herky-jerky movements are the quickest change of directions in the game. Been banging on about it for a couple of years now, but the guy is incredibly fleet of foot.

And hey… between you and, this Dustin Martin fella can play a bit, can’t he? Not far away from adding yet another medal to his trophy case in this game.

Might require a bigger trophy case soon.

Anyway, I’m rambling now – great game of footy as a neutral, and fantastic to see the WA supporters come out in numbers. Perhaps the AFL should move more marquee games there???

Next week, the Tigers and Eagles tangle at Optus Stadium. I remember their game there back in 2018… it was a cracker, with high intensity and the Eagles running away with it. That first half, though… phew, what a contest.

Meanwhile, the Bombers get to sit it out and have a rest next week. They get the Hawks the following week, so chalk that one up as a win… it should have been their second win against them this year.

 

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