Another game at Kardinia Park, another win for the Cats.

This one didn’t come easily, as the Bombers jumped out of the gates to kick the first four of the game, leaving many wondering where the response was going to come from. The answer came in the form of their star recruit, Jeremy Cameron, who booted three of the next four goals to drag the Cats back into it before jogging off to rest a tight hamstring and leaving Tom Hawkins to do what Tom Hawkins has done for years.

Though the absence of Cameron could be a concern, the Cats would be thrilled with the return to form of Patrick Dangerfield, who muscled and hustled his way to 37 touches. For all Danger’s greatness, the game’s best performer wore red and black, with Darcy Parish continuing his brilliant season, amassing 43 touches (one shy of the Essendon record he already shares) as he consistently propelled the Bombers forward.

So, where was it won? Where was it lost? And what could have been done differently in this one?

The Mongrel has a crack at answering all your burning questions with the Good, Bad and Ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE BLAST

These Cats really don’t like going hard early, do they? They almost seem quite prepared to take a few punches on the chin to stir them into action and get them in the mood to fight back at times.

The Bombers threw some heavy blows in the first quarter, and though the Cats staggered a little, they did not hit the canvas. With Essendon grabbing the ball and going at every opportunity, the Cats looked slow, reactive and a little shocked at the potency of the Bomber attack. They needed to put a stop to it, and looked to Jeremy Cameron to do so.

After slotting the last goal of the first quarter, about a minute before the siren, Cameron burst out of the blocks in the second quarter, kicking two of the first three goals of the quarter to bring the Cats back to level-pegging. From there, they put the foot down and turned a 19-point deficit into a 24-point lead, with an eight-goal blast of brilliance.

Once Cameron left the field, nursing a high hamstring problem (Chris Scott was yapping about it being a knock of some sort, not a strain), Hawkins stepped to the fore and piled on the pressure. The Bombers wilted under the Cats’ emphatic display of power football, and their four-goal lead at halftime seemed to indicate the game was now on their terms.

The Cats owned the second quarter, with Darcy Parish the only Bomber giving a yelp in the guts. Joel Selwood, Paddy Dangerfield and Isaac Smith all ran hard to keep the footy flowing the Cats’ way in perhaps their best quarter of footy for the season.

 

DANGER ZONE

There’s been a bit of chatter amongst concerned fans (Geelong supporters) and delighted fans (supporters of other clubs) that Patrick Dangerfield was miles off his best form in 2021. Suffering an ankle injury early in the season, it was always going to take Danger time to adjust to the flow of the game again, and it appears as though that time has now elapsed.

This was a vintage, bullocking, powerful Dangerfield performance in the middle. His 37 touches comprised 11 clearances to the Cats, as well as eight inside 50 deliveries. The thing that would warm the cockles of the Geelong supporters’ hearts most would have been his second and third efforts. Always a wonderful barometer of how a contested footy player is travelling, Dangerfield threw himself at everything in an effort to win or retain the footy for the Cats.

Whilst his run and carry are important, and damn it, it looks impressive as hell when he breaks from the middle, it is the little things in Danger’s game that makes him so special. The physical clashes, throwing himself toward a contest in order to impact it… they’re the key indicators that he is up and running again, and we saw plenty of that in this outing.

 

PREACH!

What a season for Darcy Parish!

Am I just dreaming, or did someone actually tell me that John Worsfold did not like this bloke as a midfielder? What the hell is there not to like? He finds the ball with monotonous regularity and unlike many in his role across the league, actually distributes it well once he gets his mitts on it.

The record for contested possessions in a game is held by Ben Cunnington, who clocked up 32 back in 2018. Dangerfield and Josh Kennedy have had 29 once each, and now Parish, with his 28 in this game, jumps in to be level with Chris Judd and Jude Bolton. That is some mighty fine company, right there.

Parish’s combination with Zach Merrett – possibly the best one-two punch in the league – racked up a monstrous 79 touches between them as they tried their best to put the Bombers on their back. Supported by the pinch-hitting Jake Stringer, who continues his hot run of form, Essendon looked strong out of the middle in periods, particularly in the third quarter, where Parish and Stringer combined for seven clearances.

The Bombers entered 2021 with a heap of doubts. Where would their goals come from? Where would their half back run come from? Who is going to win the footy at the coalface?

They’ve answered those questions, emphatically so in some cases, with Parish emerging as not just a viable option to tide them over, but as a star. At 8.2 clearances and over 14 contested possessions per game, Parish is now the real deal, and with Merrett, the Bombers have a midfield duo that can be built around.

 

THE HYDRA

There is a great benefit to having the type of forward line the Cats possess. Where teams like Gold Coast and Carlton rely on one avenue to goal (King and McKay), the Cats have plenty, and when one fails to fire, the other two can be called upon to do the job.

This game presented a bit of a tougher nut to crack for the Geelong Hydra, with Jeremy Cameron going down hurt, and Gary Rohan going down in general, soundly beaten by Jordan Ridley.

That left just one head to worry about. And boy, like a nasty rash, it caused a fair amount of worry for the Bombers.

James Stewart was given the unenviable task of curtailing the man-mountain, Tom Hawkins, and try as he might, he was unable to get the better of him. Mind you, he got bugger all help from his teammates on occasion, so he cannot be solely blamed. Hawkins finished with six goals in a starring role for the Cats. He marked well, handled the footy beautifully, and even used his superior anticipation and timing to shark a Sam Draper spoil intended for the goal line, to run into an open goal. It was a brilliant piece of play from Hawkins, who saw the game unfolding just that bit quicker than everyone else on the park. Sometimes, that is what sets players apart from their peers.

Hawkins has happily played a supporting role at times in 2021, yet there he is, sitting fourth in the race for the Coleman Medal, and if the leader has a quiet one this week, he is not without a sneaky chance to get very close to making a run at it.

But that is not what the 2021 version of Hawkins has been. He has been selfless – the ultimate teammate, as he averages over one goal assist per game and leads the league in score involvements. Hawkins is now at the stage where Coleman Medals are like consolation prizes. There is only one medal he is eyeing off, and that’ll be presented in just under three months.

 

MR UNDERRATED

You’ve gotta take your hat off to Zach Tuohy at times. Hell, I don’t even wear a hat, but if I am tempted to buy one, just to take it off.

He is one of the true “utility” players in the league and continues to go about his business with little fanfare or press. Need someone to lockdown on a forward? Tuohy can do it. Need a goal? He’ll trot down from half back and slam one through from long distance. Need five bucks? He might even lend it to you!

Tuohy’s role drifting between half back and wing was integral in the Cats’ second quarter rampage. He had nine touches and kicked a goal in that period as he continually, and relentlessly drove Geelong from defence and into attack.

I actually started to feel sorry for his opponent, Nik Cox, who was so vastly overmatched in terms of strength and power running off the mark, that Tuohy made him look like the kid he is. I guess what’s you get when you throw a bunch of kids out there and match them up against seasoned, fit and bloody strong men!

Tuohy sensed the kill when he was playing on Cox – you could see it in the way he attacked the contest. There was no quarter given to the kid – no chance afforded him. Tuohy just dropped the hammer and there was very little Cox, or the Bombers could do about it.

And he’ll do it again soon, because as good as he is, Geelong are jam-packed with stars, and Tuohy continues to fly under the radar.

 

RIDLEY ME THIS

Sometimes, Gary Rohan gets his arse handed to him. It happens – usually in finals, and it is a perception that Rohan will be desperate to shed this September, but there was plenty of arse-handing in this one, and… no, that sounds terrible!

I made it sound Rohan was running around with Ridley’s hand on his arse! He wasn’t… but then again, the camera only follows them when the ball is there, so who knows what else was happening?

Seriously though, Ridley gave Rohan a real touch up (oh no…), gave him a bath (damn…), he towelled him right up (geez, HB… just stop!).

I’ll try again. Ridley dominated Rohan (far out, I’m just going to keep going now) both in the air and on the deck, racking up 17 touches and 11 intercepts whilst restricting Rohan to just six disposals.

Bomber fans love Ridley, and it is really easy to see why. He reads the play beautifully, and even though he got pinged for an “insufficient intent” free-kick to conclude the first quarter, rarely looks panicked. At 22, he has years of wonderful football ahead of him and is a pleasure to watch.

 

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THE BAD

 

DISAPPEARING ACT

I made a bit of a fool of myself on Twitter in the first quarter when I sent a Tweet stating the following.

“If Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is going to have one of those quiet nights, he would serve the Dons well by making sure Tom Stewart or Jed Bews have a quiet one, too.”

And you know what happened in the next 30 seconds? Yep, Walla roved a footy and snapped a goal. Yes, I was ridiculed a bit, and I deserved it. Sometimes you get something right, and sometimes you get it wrong. When he kicked his second goal of the quarter, after dragging down Tom Atkins, I had to smile. He was always gonna play well after I wrote that – of course he bloody was!!!

And then, he stopped.

Perhaps indicative of Essendon overall, Tippa couldn’t get near it from that point on. Granted, some of the delivery to him hung in the air way too long, allowing defenders to come across and shut him down, but at ground level, he was soundly beaten. And to make matters worse, the guys playing on him were running off him with apparent ease.

Jed Bews picked up 20 touches as he wandered around defensive fifty, and Tom Stewart had 25 touches doing much of the same. The big surprise was Tom Atkins; he racked up the lazy 29 disposals, which is a career-high as he strolled out of defence way too easily.

Look, we know what Walla is capable of inside 50. he is like a cheetah – over short distances, he will run you down, but if you’re asking him to run and keep running for the whole game, those little legs carrying that barrel of a body around just don’t get the job done.

After quarter time, he had four touches, and in the last quarter, when the Bombers needed someone to put their hand up and boldly state they were not going to go quietly into the night, AMT was nowhere to be found. He actually went quietly into the night.

Many have McDonald-Tipungwuti in their Rolling All-Australian teams. I know we do, here at The Mongrel, however, performances like this where he becomes a complete non-factor simply have to be eliminated form his game. They occur way too often for someone with a) the skill level he possesses, and b) the profile he has. With the kids down, the stars needed to stand up. Walla did the exact opposite.

 

 

THE UGLY

 

YOUNG TALENT TIME IS UP

I watched with interest leading up to the bye. In Adelaide, Lachie Sholl had been tearing it up, and was ranked in our top ten for wingmen this season. His run and carry wereShiel excellent through the first ten weeks, but there were definite signs of fatigue beginning to show.

The Crows took notice and rested him before the bye, effectively giving him two weeks off to recover and get himself right.

I bet there are a few that wish some of the Bomber youngsters were afforded the same treatment.

Essendon stopped to a walk in the second quarter of the game, and normally, the young legs would offer plenty of dash to help drag the team out of their funk. Not this time, however. As the siren sounded to signal halftime, the stat sheet for the Essendon youngsters looked like a horror show.

Nik Cox, lauded by many as the best young player in the game, had just one touch to his name. Harrison Jones (who I think will be a star) struggled to get into the contest, with one touch of his own, albeit a goal. And Archie Perkins, who I dare say would have no problems with the young ladies of Melbourne, had five touches.

When you throw in that Brayden Ham looked completely out of place, and Sam Draper looked anything but the crash and bash ruckman we all watched and loved over the past few weeks, the Bombers were forced to carry these kids, who really… looked absolutely cooked.

Cox had a nightmare match up on the wing. I was devastated that it became a talking point amongst the Channel Seven commentary team late in the game, because I really wanted to drill down on it. I wish they could have stuck to spending 30% of their time talking about hamstrings, or something.

Anyway, Cox was far too easily overpowered in the air and on the deck by the duo of Sam Menegola and Zach Tuohy, who seemed to be able to push him around a little too easily. When he has time and space, he can be used as a weapon, but the Geelong outside mids game him no room to operate, and as a result, he was destroyed.

Five of Cox’s eight touches for the game came in the last quarter when the Cats took the foot off in terms of pressure, and it should serve as a red flag to Ben Rutten that the kid needs a break.

Together, the combination of Cox, Jones, Perkins, Ham and Draper had 36 touches. And that spelt trouble for the rest of the team.

 

MR HOOKER

Look, it was hardly an ideal night for forwards, was it?

Oh, hang on… wasn’t that a forward at the other end slotting six goals and playing the role of match-winner?

I digress…

Hooker looked like a container ship out there. Seriously, he and Lachie Henderson looked like two walruses flopping round on a beach at points in the game. They moved like them, too.

Hooker couldn’t get near it, and the one time he did, late in the third quarter, he spilled the mark that he probably should have called his teammate into.

After a ripping start to 2021, Hooker has slotted just one goal from his past three outings, with this being his least convincing performance. It’s difficult to know what to do with the Essendon forward line, particularly with Jake Stringer so effective in at centre stoppages. Whatever the club decides, they’d be hoping for a lift from their big man playing out of the goal square. He’s no Tom Hawkins, but five touches and no score is just not good enough.

 

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SOME QUESTIONS

 

HOW DOES THE RETURN OF DYLAN SHIEL IMPACT THE ESSENDON MIDFIELD STRUCTURE?

My trusty AFL app is saying that Shiel is a week or two away and at heart, he is a ball magnet. The thing is, Essendon already have two of them playing right now. This rash of injuries to Shiel and Caldwell gave Parish and Merrett the chance to show what they can do, and how Shiel slots back in will be well worth the watch.

Who plays the defensive mid role if they start all three of these blokes in there with Draper? Can they even play all three at the bounce?

Shiel has been a star for years, but I am no longer sure he holds the same stature in that midfield mix he once did.

 

SHOULD THE CATS JUST STICK MARK BLICAVS IN THE RUCK AND BE DONE WITH IT?

Yep – it’s a pity his is so damn versatile in many ways. I am sure Chris Scott thinks about it a lot. I’m sure he thinks about many things – cheese, oreos… playing the new Baldur’s Gate game… he’s an interesting man. But it always seems to me that the Cats thrive with Blicavs in the guts. He is string enough now to contend with the big boys, and adds so much run that he can stretch the endurance of anyone he is opposed to.

Sadly, he is also probably the best defender the Cats have in terms of man-on-man defence, so I understand why Scott likes to have options with him. If only they could clone him.

 

WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF KYLE LANGFORD’S GAME?

Started really strongly, but faded badly.

I keep a really close eye on the wings due to our weekly rankings, and usually, Langford gets better as the game goes on. I love his overhead work and he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. However, he just drifted out of this game and the Bombers missed his run and carry.

 

WHAT IS DEVON SMITH DOING OUT THERE AT THE MOMENT?

I don’t know. I was looking to see whether he was set to play a defensive forward role, but he wasn’t doing much defensive stuff, particularly when you look at the numbers of the Geelong backmen.

I’m not sure he has the tank to play midfield anymore, but maybe short stint in the guts would add a bit of grunt to the Bombers in the middle?

 

IS THERE A PLACE FOR SHAUN HIGGINS IN THIS GEELONG SIDE?

Right now, no.

Look, I know what the Cats thought they were getting, but there is a reason he keeps being “managed” and missing games. It’s the non-offensive way of stating he’s been dropped. Terrible defensive awareness and as I was pointing out all last year, kicking lets him down too often.

Injury to others sees him get his chance again, but right now I really feel as though he is not best-22.

 

OTHER BITS

 

Can the Bombers still make finals? Well, yeah, they can, but far out, when Richmond opens the door, sometimes you have to actually walk on through it instead of hanging outside with them. Beating the Cats would have almost knocked that door into Richmond’s head, but the Bombers have let them off the hook for the second week in a row.

It’s hard for me to do a review of a Geelong game without dwelling on Joel Selwood and what he has meant to this team. What a warrior – what a captain. With 325 games under his belt, how long can this bloke continue on, playing at such a high level? He continually kills himself in contests for his team and really, as a Hawthorn bloke it pains me to say this – I am yet to see a captain better than him. Maybe as good… maybe… but not better.

Now I feel dirty.

Not sure we’re going to see Quinton Narkle at Geelong after this season. Sure, they could hold onto him if they’re looking as though Constable and Clark are gonna walk, but I really don’t like some of his decision-making.

Next week, the Cats get the Blues and I know I might be the only one, but I reckon that shapes as a ripper. Particularly if the Blues pick up a win this week.

As for the Bombers, they encounter Adelaide and if they’re serious, these are the games they should be winning quite comfortably. After consecutive losses, the Bombers need a big win.

 

And that’ll do me. Impressive when it counted, the Cats did what they needed to do to snuff out the Bomber challenge, and their ability to play power footy for periods and hit the scoreboard so heavily in that time is something other contenders will be very wary of.

 

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