The Dees bounced back from a disappointing pre-bye loss to the Magpies and got back on the winners’ list with an 11-point win over a gutsy Bombers team.

This game was always going to be one to keep an eye on, and I have to admit to circling it pretty quickly when the allocation of the Round 15 games came up at The Mongrel Punt. On one side of the equation, the Dees had done all the work in the first half of the season and looked set for a deep run into September. On the other, a resurgent Essendon were playing some inspired footy.

With Richmond faltering, the door to a top-eight berth was open for the Bombers, but standing in their way were the ladder leaders, and this was never going to be an easy task.

The first half was an arm wrestle, with Zach Merrett running riot to record 26 touches, but from there, the Dees started to take control on the back of some deft ruckwork from Max Gawn and some great, penetrating clearances from Clayton Oliver.

A four-goal third term gave the Dees some breathing space, and though the Bombers would come hard in the last, Melbourne expertly killed the clock for the first ten minutes of the quarter to give themselves every chance to win the game.

I am dying to sink my teeth into this one and the plethora of issues arising from the game, including my pet hate – the “dangerous” tackle rule, which was completely botched again.

But I digress… there’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

 

THE GOOD

 

THE BATTLE IN THE GUTS

I suppose this one comes down to whichever you prefer.

On the Essendon side, you had Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett, and on the Melbourne side, you had Clayton Oliver and Christian Petracca.

Both duos could lay claim to being the dominant midfield pairing on the ground for a number of reasons, so it is probably a good process to go through the numbers.

Merrett started like he had a rocket up his backside, and had compiled ten touches as we reached the halfway point of the first quarter. At that stage, he went off for a rest and allowed the peloton to catch up a little.

He and Parish combined for a monster 78 disposals, 12 tackles, 11 clearances and 11 inside 50 disposals for the game.

In red and blue, Oliver chased hard in the first quarter, racking up ten touches of his own as he and Petracca finished with a combined 60 disposals, four tackles (with Oliver not having any, which is a huge surprise), nine clearances, and 14 inside 50 deliveries. Petracca, however, added two goals to the Melbourne total. The Essendon pair had 16 combined score involvements to their Demon opponents’ 15.

This was as close as you’re going to get in terms of influence, however, Petracca’s individual scoring impact does give him something no other mid on the park possessed. He was a little fumbly at points, often looking as though he’d spent the footy before receiving it, but he offset that with a couple of gathers of the loose ball that were just ridiculous. And he gets a few extra points for his byplay with the crowd after he slotted a goal.

Merrett’s ball use was first class, and he often took that extra second or two to assess and make the right decision before releasing the footy. It is a facet of his game I have greatly admired in 2021.

In the end, you go with the winners, and just like the game, itself, you give the nod to those in front at the final; siren. The Oliver/Petracca tandem get the Mongrel nod in this one… just.

 

THE TWIN TOWERS AND THE OTHER SMALLER, BUT STILL IMPRESSIVE, TOWER

I think it is about time I update the ‘Best Defensive Trios’ article I wrote back in April. I have no doubt that I’ll probably come to the same conclusion, but I kind of enjoy the process.

Anyway, it really rams home just how good the defensive trio of Steven May, Jake Lever and Christian Salem have been in 2021. They were ranked number one the first time we compiled the defensive trios, and I have little doubt they’d be right at the pointy end again.

There was a period in this game that Steven May looked like a monster. In the space of a couple of minutes, he took three intercept marks and made a huge spoil. Meanwhile, his partner in crime, Jake Lever, was going about his intercepting work, en route to becoming the only player in the game to notch double figures in that category this game.

Complementing those two wrecking balls, was Christian Salem, who adds the touch of class to the destructive work of the other two. If you had your house demolished by May and Lever, Salem would be the bloke who drops a card in the letterbox telling you how unfortunate it is that your house was ruined. He wouldn’t accept blame, or offer to help… but at least he wouldn’t destroy your letterbox, as well.

Despite the hot start from Jordan Ridley, who I’ll get to, the May/Lever/Salem combination was once again prolific for the Dees. Salem had 26 touches running at the lazy 89% efficiency and had just one turnover in a game where some players could not help but miss targets.

As it stands, you’d back all three of these blokes to make the AA squad of forty, but as for making the final team, I kind of get the feeling that only Lever is in the prime position to make that happen. Those couple of games on the sidelines could hurt May (thanks Tom Hawkins), but my hope is that selectors sit back, look at games like this and truly realise his value, particularly after being snubbed last year.

 

RIDLEY… AGAIN!

Another standout game from the reigning Crichton Medallist saw the young Bomber pick up 28 touches and nine rebound 50s as he was once again the standout in defence for Essendon.

As a Hawks man, I should not be stating this – I may be disowned – but I love watching Jordan Ridley play footy. He is always so relaxed and composed. The pressure comes at him from all around and he consistently makes good decisions with the footy. He draws the forward pressure to him and releases to a teammate who is ready to take off, and it is that patience and composure that sees him sit head and shoulders above any other defender his age in the game.

What is the ceiling for Ridley? What does he become in the next couple of seasons?

I’m not really sure. I’m looking at players like Tom Stewart, but I think Stewart is a better one-on-one defender than him. I look at Nick Vlastuin, but Ridley gets so much more of the footy. Im genuinely not sure that anyone in the game right now plays like Ridley does. At least, not at the elite level Ridley is at.

There are other kids coming through that could be the same type of defender, but Ridley, at 22, seems to be more advanced than them.

Does he become the player teams start looking to bypass? Not because he is such an imposing figure, ala Aliir Aliir or Jeremy McGovern, but because his timing and positioning are so damned good that kicking into his area is like turning the ball over?

I hear plenty of people call Nik Cox a unicorn (and how good was his one-on-one win against Kosi Pickett at ground level!), but the Bombers have another unicorn in Ridley.

Maybe they should get them to breed? There are not enough unicorns, right?

 

BIG BROTHER BRAYSHAW

I’ve been critical of Angus Brayshaw over the journey. From a player that looked so promising three years ago, his move to the wing and subsequent lesser levels of impact on the Dees team were not received well. Not by myself, and not by many following football.

His 2018 was fantastic, and I reckon plenty were surprised when he finished third in the Brownlow.

And that finish may have placed the weight of great expectations on him. To say that he has handled it well this season would be an understatement, but it’s worth stating anyway.

It seems that whenever I get the Demons games at the moment, I am finding a way to slot Brayshaw’s name into reviews. Unlike many who occupy a wing, he is not being sucked into the contest. He holds his ground out wide and that means that you either go and man him up, or you leave a player out there for the release kick. Brayshaw forces the opposition to spread, thereby weakening their defensive structure.

What that does is create space for teammates to run into, so when Brayshaw receives the footy when his opponent inevitably gets drawn to the contest, the Melbourne players stream either down the wing or through the middle, looking for the kick on the 45 to open the ground up further.

It must have been tempting for Brayshaw to complain about his role in the team, and request more time in the guts – his combination with Gawn in 2018 was incredible at times – but he has done the right thing by the team, accepted his role and is now really paying dividends.

With the Dees winning more contests than they lose, Brayshaw often finds himself in the role of the first release from the stoppage. Whether by hand or boot, Brayshaw received the footy 24 times (19 uncontested) and was vital to the ball movement of the Dees.

His little brother might be winning most of the plaudits in WA, but the sacrifice Angus has made to ensure this Melbourne team can play the brand of footy they are should be lauded as well. He is playing a team game – screw the individual awards.

 

A SMALL SHIFT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE

How good was the team defence on Zach Merrett in the third quarter?

A couple of weeks back I was here lauding the work of James Harmes and his ability to lock down in the guts, and this week, though it was much more a team effort, the work of Jack Viney to stifle Merrett at stoppages was first class.

With Zach Merett clocking up 26 touches by half time and being the undisputed best player on the ground, Simon Goodwin had seen enough, and whilst it was not at all a hard tag, watching Jack Viney play accountable football on Merrett in the third coincided with the Dees getting on top.

Merrett is a running machine – almost a cyborg in the way he gets from contest to contest, but what Viney, and to a lesser extent, James Jordon and Angus Brayshaw were able to do in the third quarter was limit his overlap, limit his one-two work, and make him earn the four touches he picked up.

Yep, after 26 touches in the first two quarters, Merrett had just four in the third, with the combative Viney picking up five of his own.

Viney is not known as a tagger. His greatest asset remains his ability to win the footy in close, but coming back from injury, and in need of the run, Goodwin opted to give him hard nut a clear role in the third. Viney’s defensive attention was a circuit breaker for the Dees, and his ability to stifle the opposition’s best mid is a weapon Simon Goodwin seems to retain until he feels he needs to deploy it.

The great thing is, had Viney not been able to put the brakes on Merrett, James Harmes would have been next in line to have a crack. It’s good to have options.

 

THE BAD

 

HOLDING THE BALL

Is it a thing? Do you have to do absolutely everything correctly and have your opponent do everything completely incorrect in order to win a holding the ball/dropping the ball/incorrect disposal free kick?

After watching the umpires go absolutely nucking futs with the whistle in the Brisbane v Geelong game on Thursday night, part of me wonders whether there was a concerted effort, and another knee-jerk reaction, to allow the game to flow more freely, and as a result, not pay as many free kicks?

It wouldn’t surprise me. This is the same competition that abruptly changes its rules based on one unfortunate injury, or one game where they see something they don’t like. It would not be beyond them to instruct the umpires to allow play to continue even when a player is dispossessed in such a manner that everyone in the place seems to know it’s a free kick… except the umpires!

I lost count of the times players were permitted to drop the footy in tackles, only to hear the squeaky voices tell us “he made an attempt”… yeah, I made an attempt to lose weight at one point and I failed. I didn’t get a reward for it!!!

It seems like every season the game ebbs and flows with the holding the ball incarnations. They go hard on it, then they relax it. What people want, believe it or not, is some bloody consistency. That’s all – just be consistent. Right now, we can’t get a game umpired the same way from a Thursday to a Saturday, and that, my friends, is a massive issue.

 

THE UGLY

 

IT’S NOT BLOODY DANGEROUS!

Righto… buckle up. This is going to be an “old man yells at cloud” kind of rant.

Toward the end of the third quarter, Luke Jackson looked to have completed a mark. This was error number one in this passage of play by whatever umpire was responsible for the action. Jackson controlled the footy, brought it down and seemed to have marked it.

No whistle.

“Play on,” squeaked the umpire.

Harrison Jones listened to the call of the umpire, tackled the stationary Jackson and dragged him to the ground, pinning one arm in the process. The correct decision here was to call for a ball up, as Jackson clearly thought he’d marked it and was awaiting the whistle to confirm it. However, rather than paying that decision, the umpire, somehow, deduced that Jones’ tackle was dangerous, and actually rewarded Jackson with a free kick.

Now, here’s the thing. Jones took all care to ensure the head of Jackson made no contact with the ground. He pinned an arm, but if we were to make a comparison, he lowered him to the ground gradually, in the same manner you’d put a kid to bed if it fell asleep in your arms. You don’t just smash the kid’s head onto the bed. You place it down with an element of care.

That was what Jones did. It was not a swinging, slinging motion. It was not a burial. It wasn’t two actions or whatever other bullshit terminology they use to justify decisions. It was a tackle.

Just a tackle. Not a dangerous tackle – not even close, but if this umpire thought it was, then he should have a couple of weeks off to go and have a good hard think about it.

Some may argue that it was a make-up call for the terrible decision not to award the mark to Jackson in the first place. What a pity that’s not the way the rules of the game are supposed to work. Two wrongs do not make a right, and all his double cock up seemed to do was infuriate Essendon, and even neutral supporters.

Is this the game we want to see? Umpires guessing that tackles are dangerous just so they don’t look negligent if they opt not to call one and it turns out to be dangerous?

What we have here is a sport that encourages aggression at the contest and then penalises it once it happens. It puts the bullets in guns and aims them, then gets upset if you pull the trigger!

We are a sport that has lost direction, and we’re teaching the next generation two completely different things. Tackle hard, restrict your opponent and do not let them get a disposal away… but do it nicely. It does not bloody work!

I have to ask – what were the other options for Harrison Jones, here? To stand in the tackle and allow Jackson to drop the footy on his foot and get a disposal away? How is that in the spirit of the game? Would you afford him that privilege if he had the ball in the goal square? Would you allow him the opportunity to do that in a final? You can talk about duty of care all you like, but not tackling your opponent to the ground and preventing him from disposing of the footy is against every instinct you have as a player. Not tackling him to the ground fails your duty of care to your teammates and your club!

You could hear the Bomber fans boo this decision, and they had every right to. It was idiotic, and it actually took away from the game as a whole. If it’s two things you hate seeing as a spectator, it’s watching soft free kicks doled out, and softer 50 metre penalties. And this game had them both.

Stop cocking the game up, and stop trying to sanitise it.

 

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

WERE THE BOMBERS ROBBED?

Hmmmm… yes, and no.

There were a couple of really poor decisions against the Dees as well along the journey, but I don’t think you’re going to hear too much complaining from their supporters. The Bombers were fighting back in this one – trying to overcome a very good team, so it makes sense that they felt as though every iffy decision that went against them, or more to the point, that wasn’t called, was a dagger in the heart. They were trying to pick themselves up and then a contentious free kick or non-call would push them back down.

If there were 15 decisions that were wrong in this game, I reckon the Bombers were on the end of nine or ten of them. The problem is that once there is one, then another, the frustration mounts and festers, both in players and supporters, and you end up with an entire segment of the AFL community feeling like they’ve been dealt a poor hand. So in that regard, if my team was on the receiving end of two out of every three shitty decisions, I would be annoyed as well.

Yes, I do think they were hard done by.

 

WHAT DO WE MAKE OF JAKE STRINGER’S NIGHT?

An “almost” night for him in this one. Threatened to tear the game apart early, had a nice long rest through the third quarter where he did a whole lot of bugger all, then re-emerged in the last quarter to play an almost pivotal role in the Bomber charge.

Missed a few inside 50 deliveries, and believe me he had plenty of mates in that regard, but overall, it was another pretty solid outing. I guess he was a couple more goals on the run away from being a hero again, huh?

Amazing what an impending payday can do.

 

IS CLAYTON OLIVER SLIGHTLY HURT?

It’s not like him to go two games in a row with one or less tackles, but that’s where we’re at, here.

He did cop a nice solid body hit from Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti at one stage, and Walla is solid unit. That’d slow anyone. That said, tackling is an effort stat, and it is one of the first things to fall away when someone is a bit banged up. Would be worth keeping an eye on.

 

WHAT WAS WITH THE 100-METRE PENALTY?

The second one was there – Dev Smith should have just STFU, but the first one against Archie Perkins… look, he came from behind the player to man the mark, but he gave him a wide berth and was just making his way to stand on the spot.

We see that stuff a dozen times per game, every game. Either you’re allowed to come in to stand on the mark from behind, or you’re not – what is it, because to tell the truth, I am confused.

Still, I hate seeing things like 100 metre penalties. It is the exact opposite of why I watch footy.

 

OTHER BITS

 

Really liking what Kyle Langford is bringing to the table in 2021. I was asked where he was sitting in our Wingman of the Year rankings during the week. He was 11th, for the record, but with this performance, I reckon he’ll be in the top ten when the R15 version is released on Monday.

Earlier in the year, James Jordon was compared to Simon Black. Huge expectations on the kid if that’s the benchmark for him, but I suppose it is good to aim high. Two goals and 21 touches in this one… he is coming along quite nicely, but it is worth noting that one of his goals was due to the 100m penalty effort.

That collision Nick Hind had with the point post… ouch. He ain’t Leigh Matthews, but then again, that post Lethal crashed into was made of wood. These posts after a little more sturdy.

The Bombers travel to the pee-pee-soaked heck hole known as Kardinia Park next week. The Cats are on the rebound and will be looking for a vulnerable team to have their way with. If Essendon brings the same intensity they did in this game and tidy up their horrid inside 50 delivery, they’re more than capable of beating Geelong.

The Dees get GWS, and depending on the results from this Sunday, could be in the box seat to shape the rest of the top eight.

That might do me, guys. Thanks to all those who support The Mongrel. Your help enables us to do this work. Seriously, it is greatly appreciated – HB

 

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