With Fremantle falling in a heap hours before, Essendon entered their Round 23 game against Collingwood with a finals berth already secured. Whilst they would have been breathing a little easier knowing that the result didn’t really matter in the context of next week, winning form is good form and the Bombers had a Magpie unit in a state of flux standing opposite them.

With their September ticket booked, the KPIs for Essendon may have shifted a little as the game commenced – no injuries would have been at the top of the list, and Essendon ticked that box whilst managing to put distance between themselves and Collingwood as they ran out 38-point winners. And they did so in style.

With Darcy Parish copping a heavy tag in the middle, Essendon looked for a few lesser lights to step up in their roles, and they found them in Tom Cutler, playing perhaps his best game in red and black, and Devon Smith, who seemed to relish the extra responsibility up forward to be counted as one of the best players on the park. More on him later.

The duo of Dylan Shiel and Andrew McGrath continued to be eased back into the swing of things, and we saw a very intriguing situation where two of the better mid/forwards… or “strikers” as Nick Riewoldt is attempting to get into the footy fan’s vocabulary, played similar roles for each team. Who of Jake Stringer and Jordan de Goey did it better? We’ll dive into that, as well.

Peter Wright stood up, as did Mason Redman, whilst for the Pies, we saw plenty to discuss from Taylor Adams, Jay Rantall, and a couple of the other kids.

So, what did this game teach us?

Let’s find out.

 

THIS VERSION OF DEV SMITH IS A WEAPON

At times throughout the last couple of seasons, Devon Smith has been the type of player that would annoy the opposition. Not to the point where you’d compare him to a wasp, or even a buzzing bee hanging around your front yard that was getting a little too aggressive. No, he was more like a mosquito buzzing around your ear, and when you had enough of him, you’d just swat him away. He wasn’t actually hurting you in any way, and he didn’t provide much more than nuisance value for the opposition, and in a hybrid role of defensive forward/goalsneak, you could make an argument that he wasn’t really effective in either capacity.

I know that sounds negative and you may adore the bloke (that Crichton Medal didn’t win itself back in 2018) but his last couple of years have left a bit to be desired. In this game, he went from annoying mosquito to one of those Death Hornets the US was apparently alarmed about before they found something a little more serious to occupy their time. He was into everything in this game, and though he may be a far cry from the player that led the AFL in tackles in his Best and Fairest season, Dev Smith hurt the Magpies repeatedly in this game… like an ex boyfriend that just keeps showing up and making you like him all over again.

Four direct goal assists in this game should give an indication as to how effective he was, consistently bobbing up in the forward pocket to make the right decision at the right time with the footy, Smith played a team-first game, and added a couple of goals of his own to his tally of ten score involvements.

Here’s a curly one for Essendon fans – as much as you love Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, it was clear something was up with him over his last four games this season. He’s had a couple of weeks off, should be rested, and any niggles he was carrying shouldn’t be hampering him as much. Do you upset the apple cart here by thrusting him back into a winning lineup? Or is he simply too good to leave out for the sake of team balance?

With Dev Smith striking the right balance between offence and defence, he has given the Bombers coaching panel a little to think about as they prepare to face the Dogs in the cut-throat first final.

So, what do you want, Bomber fans? AMT straight back in, or don’t mess with something that’s working?

 

JAKE STRINGER WORE IT BETTER

You ever seen those stupid articles in a magazine at the doctor’s office where two celebrities wore the same outfit and they ask “who wore it better?”

Usually, I kind of sigh, as both people pictured look better in the outfit than I ever could (though I do rock the KMart shorts and generic t-shirt as well as anyone I know). There is one that always looks that little bit better, and it is plain to see.

In this game, we had two of the best mid/forward, or forward/mid players in the game playing the same role for each team, and both have been valuable contributors over the past six or so weeks. For Essendon, the contribution of Jake Stringer this season has exceeded all expectations. Playing like a man who now understands the weight he carries for this team, Stringer has slotted into the role of clearance beast, tackle breaker and soul devourer for the Bombers. His work in the contest, and his underrated field kicking have given the Bombers a dimension they have lacked in previous years.

In black and white, the departure of Nathan Buckley has seen Jordan de Goey play the game like he has a new lease on life. Consistently finding plenty of the footy, de Goey has been able to charge forward and hit the scoreboard, as well as set up his teammates for scoring opportunities.

Coming into this game, I was looking at the tale of the tape, and this was the clash I kept coming back to – which one of these bulls would rule the paddock after all was said and done. In a close game, I would have gone so far as to state the man who played the larger role for his team would have been the difference in the game, however, the Bombers were clearly the better team, so to simply assess the contest by which team won would be doing it a disservice.

Both men put the hard yards in throughout this game, working both ends of the ground to both offer relief in the back half (sounds like they’re treating haemorrhoids… here – try the Stringer treament… or perhaps you prefer ‘roids de goey… can you tell I’m tired?).

However, all talk of medical ailments aside, the difference in this game was winning the footy in the contest. Jake Stringer had six clearances in this one, with five of them from centre bounces. His combative ability in close and the power to stand in tackles was the difference between the two players. Seriously, at one stage, Steele Sidebottom looked to have wrapped Stringer up in a perfect tackle, but the Bomber simply refused to be taken down, wriggling and shaking him off like a wet dog would water at the beach.

Earlier in the week, I published an article for our members entitled “The Difference Maker” about Jake Stringer, and he was just that again for the Bombers today. Floating forward to hit the scoreboard, he finished with two goals and missed another one late which would have capped off a close to perfect day at the office for him.

I know he has had his critics over the years, and yes, some of those criticisms have been entirely justified, but this version of Jake Stringer is pure footy magic, and if you cannot appreciate what he has done for this Essendon side in 2021, I would seriously question your footy acumen.

I’d have him in my All-Australian team. He truly is the Difference Maker in 2021.

Now. I’ll just go and dig out all those New Idea magazines I’ve been hoarding…

 

The Difference Maker

 

 

TAYLOR ADAMS IS THE HEARTBEAT OF THE COLLINGWOOD FOOTBALL CLUB

Heartbeat… soul… call it whatever you like, but his form has left no doubt that Taylor Adams is the Collingwood captain in waiting.

He was the only player to collect 30+ touches in this game, and added ten clearances to an impressive stat sheet. More importantly, Adams well and truly passed the eye test. He hit the footy hard, had clean hands and laid six tackles.

There was a period in the third quarter where it seemed as though the Magpies could actually challenge the Bombers. They were running hard, rebounding the footy from defensive fifty and playing for each other, but their kicking through the guts and into half forward let them down time and time again. This happened so often to Jamie Elliott, with teammates grassing the footy in front of him, that he looked absolutely irate with their efforts. Whilst that type of dissatisfaction is usually reserved for the sexual partners of my mate, Joe Ganino, it was strange to see a forward so visibly upset by the delivery, or lack thereof, to him.

Back to Adams – it was during this five minute stretch that Adams really put the foot down and started to get the Pies lifting around him. Had it not been for their errant foot skills and poor decisions heading forward, this game could have been a lot closer than it was.

 

PETER WRIGHT HAD AN “ALMOST” GAME

Whoa… hang on, Mongrel… the bloke kicked four goals – he had more than an ”almost” game.

That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it? I know it is, so I’ll explain why.

Peter Wright has been really good recently for the Bombers – that much we know. The results on the scoreboard and the influence has as a forward target draws a lot of defensive attention and allows the other forwards the space they need to operate. I will not dispute that he has been very important, and was again in this game.

However… and you knew there would be one of these, right? However… the amount of times he gets two hands to the footy and somehow manages to lose it in the process of taking the footy at its highest point and bringing it to ground prevents him from becoming THE player that can rip the game apart for the Bombers.

Hey, idiot… he took four contested grabs!

I know. They were good, but he also dropped a few that could have made his game special. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of occasions where he flew at the footy, had best position, got both hands wrapped around it and allowed it to fall out of his grasp. Those moments could be telling in the coming weeks… and yes, I said weeks. Plural.

Put it this way – if I were playing on Wright, the only thing I would be afraid of is him taking a big mark on his chest. Overhead, I am a firm believer that any body pressure or knock – not chop – but just a knock of the arms will cause him to spill the footy. Yes, he finished with four goals in this one – given his height, reach and the way he was able to get a path to the footy, he could have had six, and at the other end, another mark was dropped on the goal line and should have resulted in a score against the Bombers, but for some quick thinking from his teammates at ground level.

Peter Wright is almost there. He is so close to becoming the player the Bombers need, but he needs to finish the job when the defence gives him an opportunity. You don’t want to be remembered as an “almost” player, and that has been the wrap on him to this point. Names and reputations are made in finals, and in a week’s time, Peter Wright has the opportunity to shed the labels others have placed on him, and carve his own niche in the AFL.

And it starts with strong hands in marking contests.

 

THERE IS ONE RULE FOR ONE, AND ONE RULE FOR OTHERS.

If anyone can explain to me why Alec Waterman was the only bloke penalised for encroaching on the protected zone from behind, and incurring not one, but two fifty metre penalties for his indiscretions, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Seriously, I see this a dozen times a game, every game and it was just a quarter later that Jordan de Goey did EXACTLY the same thing in the Collingwood attacking fifty and nobody batted an eyelid.

A lesser man would have dropped his head after giving away the second 50m penalty, and let’s be honest, that action, after already being pinged moments before, was not Alec’s greatest moment, but he rebounded well to finish the game with four goals to his name.

My issue here is with the haphazard nature which the umpires employ this rule. It is like it is forgotten for 95% of the time and then, they suddenly remember that no, you can’t run up and man the mark from behind someone, and penalise them.

As footy fans, we always scream for consistency, yet in this one, we got two in a row against one player (that’s pretty consistent) only to see the same action ignored less than a quarter later.

 

WILL SNELLING SHOULD MAKE THE ALL-UNDERRATED TEAM

All season long I have watched the development of Will Snelling and been impressed.

He is not your highlight-material half forward, is probably not going to take a big hanger, take on three guys and beat them to kick goal of the year, or kick a bag to grab your attention, but he strikes me as the type of player that holds things together in the forward half – a little like Jamie Cripps at West Coast; valuable, but you just don’t hear enough about him.

With 14 touches and a goal in this one, I have no doubt his efforts will once again fly under the radar, but I continually see him in the right spots, making the right decisions and not impeding his teammates by floating into their space. He is just about the perfect link-man for this power-running Essendon side.

The other strong aspect of his game against the Pies was his tackling. With six drag downs, he was one of the most important facets of the Essendon pressure inside 50. I am sure his work is held in the highest regard internally, but there are people starting to notice outside the Essendon bubble – he is one to be watched at all times.

 

STEELE SIDEBOTTOM’S DAYS AS AN ELITE MID ARE OVER

It’s no longer 2018, and the days of Steele Sidebottom tearing a game ti shreds on the outside are gone.

He had 22 touches, with 19 coming uncontested in this game, yet what damage did he inflict? How did he hurt the Bombers?

Long story short, he didn’t.

Collingwood are in the midst of a pretty significant retool/rebuild. They have a bit of a headstart with some of the talented stars on their team, but there are some that are definitely beginning to fade, and I reckon Sidebottom is chief amongst them.

 

JAY RANTALL SHOWED THE KIND OF DETERMINATION COLLINGWOOD NEED

Given the role of stifling the prolific Darcy Parish, Rantall looked like a determined young man, and was successful in limiting the influence of the emerging Bomber star. Whilst he didn’t set the world on fire in terms of his own disposals, Parish was restricted to 21 touches – way below his season average, and was unable to have his say in how proceedings played out.

I will give Parish this much – some of his hands in close were like lightning. H knew the pressure was never far away, so when he did collect an inside footy, it was almost immediately in the hands of a teammate courtesy of a Parish handball, before he was wrapped up

 

THIS COULD BE A WORRY FOR THE BOMBERS

The Dogs don’t necessarily tag, but going forward, Parish is going to have to learn how to effectively deal with defensive mids. Some of this responsibility will fall on the shoulders of his teammates, in terms of laying blocks and forcing switches, but we saw precious little of that in this encounter.

Parish was largely left to fend for himself against his dogged young opponent, whereas a heavy shepherd or well-placed block could have opened the game up for him. I’m sure Ben Rutten will make a point of how the Essendon mids need to work for each other as they prep for the Dogs this week.

 

TOM CUTLER SEEMS TO HAVE FOUND HIS PLACE

I’m not jumping on board this vessel completely just yet, as I am aware that even capsized boats float for a while before sinking, but I like what I saw from Tim Cutler in this one, and it’s not the first time in the last month that he has caught my eye.

Perhaps this comes down to the quality of his opposition in this game? Will Hoskin-Elliott has long been regarded as a player that can put on the Harry Potter invisibility cloak at times and completely go missing, but I would really rather focus on what Cutler was able to do, as opposed to what WHE wasn’t.

Forget the junk time goals to Hoskin-Elliott – when the game was there to be won, Cutler was all over him. Combining with Mason Redman, who the Bombers have been very patient with over the last few years, Cutler was able to provide a great intercepting option for Essendon, and the run out of defence by him, Nick Hind and Redman gave the Bombers some fantastic drive from half back.

If there is one thing this Essendon side has, it is the ability to go quick, and the trio of Redman, Hind and Cutler running out of defensive fifty next week could cause the Dogs some real issues.

 

ANYTHING ELSE, YOU WINDBAG?

Hey… no need for insults…

I know there have been games where the stats look good, but I have not loved the effort of Brodie Grundy this season at all. In short, he is playing like a bloke who just signed a big, fat contract. Right now, he is like a billionaire rapper singing about how hard life is on the streets – I can’t take him seriously.

Some of the quick thinking from Jack Ginnivan was impressive in this one. I was dying for one of the commentators to see him isolated one-on-one with Nick Hind just so they could say “Hind is stuck on Ginnivan’s Island…” but it wasn’t to be.

Gutsy from Ollie Henry to continue to play, even though Blind Freddy could see he was really suffering with that collarbone/AC joint.

Good game from the resident Bomber whipping boy, Matt Guelfi. Didn’t hit the scoreboard, but a couple of his defensive efforts were well worth respecting.

Half back Heppell was good again. All season I have watched both him and Jack Ziebell in their roles for their respective teams. Heppell has been so much less conspicuous, but that’s because he doesn’t have to do everything. What he does do… he does well.

I have not mentioned him at all, but it would not surprise me to see Zach Merrett sneak in for a vote on Brownlow night for his game, here. He just draws attention to him when he has the footy. I would not be surprised if he wins it, either.

So, the million-dollar question is whether these Bombers can break the drought and knock over the Dogs, right? Well, given the way the Bulldogs have been travelling, they’re going to get a great opportunity to do so. The Dogs look vulnerable, and whilst that can be turned around really quickly, their form, and lack of forward options are the types of issues that might just start planting the seeds of doubt in their minds.

If the Bombers can hit them hard early in the piece, we might see some tentative play from the Dogs creep in, and when they play slow footy, you can open them up.

Bring on the finals!

As for the Pies… Nick Daicos will be part of their team next season and they get Darcy Moore, Pendles and Mihocek into this side. They won’t be anywhere near as bad as they were in the first half of this season, even if they do have some teething problems with a new game plan.

Massive thanks to our members – I’ve got some good stuff lined up for you guys during finals. I appreciate your support.

 

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