As we kicked off Round Four, I remarked to my fellow Mongrel writers that I thought this weekend could be a ripper in terms of the games on offer. To my surprise, my enthusiasm was met with relative apathy.

I mean, perhaps I am just an eternal optimist, or maybe we just got lucky with a few fantastic games of footy, but of them all, this was the one I thought had the most potential to be something special, and it did not disappoint.

The game had plenty of intrigue, with the Bombers losing Jake Stringer and having to adapt to life without Zach Merrett, whilst the Crows welcomed back Taylor Walker from his AFL-imposed suspension, and how he played was always going to be one of the stories of the game.

Whilst my expectations were high, I am happy to say that I walked away from this contest with those expectations met, and in some cases exceeded. We got to see Peter Wright continue his excellent early-season form, Tex’s return kept the Crows in touch late in the game, Jordan Dawson continued to impress, and Rory Laird and Darcy Parish racked up the touches through the midfield.

And yet, with all that occurring, it came down to the ending to steal the show. With seconds remaining, the Crows got out on the far wing, with Ben Keays receiving the handball and streaming forward. His kick inside 50 was ill-directed, however, and Mason Redman made it to double-figures for intercepts with his most important mark of the season thus far. The siren sounded, the Bombers notched their first win of the season, and it was time to rejoice.

Here are The Mongrel’s Talking Points.

 

WHEN I THINK OF BEN KEAYS, I THINK OF ANGELINA JOLIE

No, not in that way… not anymore, anyway. I mean, sure, there was a time when I would be home alone, and maybe Tomb Raider came on and my interest would be piqued… a few minutes later, and a good time was had by all… but that has little to do with Ben Keays.

What Angelina and Keays have in common is a phrase tattooed on her body that reads Quod me nutruit me destruit. It is Latin and translates to “what nourishes me also destroys me.”

And that is what reminds me of Ben Keays.

The bloke is a machine, and in the last chance for the Crows to snatch victory, we saw what nourishes the team in the form of Keays, and also what destroys them. It was Keays making the gut-busting run from half-back to receive the handball from Josh Rachele on the wing. He was still running at the kind of pace that made everyone else look like they were standing still, and he was the only one capable of making the ground to provide an option.

But just as his run nourished the Crows, his disposal destroyed them.

With Tex Walker leading to the boundary in a one-on-one tussle, and Elliott Himmelberg doubling back to present a shorter target, Keays, most likely completely spent from the run he gave the team, slammed the ball on his boot and sent it inside 50. It was a misdirected kick, allowing Mason Redman to attack the footy in flight and clunk a chest mark. It would kill the Adelaide Crows’ chances of a last-gasp win.

This is by no means a shot at Ben Keays – I am a massive fan of what he has done with his career since landing with Adelaide. He has gone from being a fringe player to one of the hardest workers in the league, but when we assess a game, we look for the good, and we acknowledge the bad with it. His run was amazing. It was power running at its finest. His disposal was not, and that, sadly, has been the story of Ben Keays at points over the last two seasons.

Quod me nutruit me destruit

And now, I’ll go back to more pleasant memories of Angelina… back before Brad Pitt ruined her.

 

GETTING IT WRIGHT AGAIN

There are quite a few people who would be hoping that no one digs up their social media comments and their assessments of Peter Wright from a couple of seasons ago.

Hell, truth be told, I may be one of them. I don’t think there’d be too many amongst us that would have been overly excited with the way Wright attacked the footy in the air at times last season. Sure, he had his moments, but for large parts of the season, he flounced around and was pushed off the contest way too easily.

If that was your assessment back then – as it was evidently mine, given I recall it pretty well – I won’t hold it against you. But you’d probably be wanting to reassess the situation right now, right?

Two Metre Peter is playing as good a footy as any key forward in the game at the moment. Not only is he presenting strongly at the footy, we saw some aspects of his game in this one that many have been critical of in the past. He took marks from three deep, launching into packs and taking players down in the process, and when opposition players dropped into the hole in front of him as he led at the footy, he had no hesitation of making them pay for it.

THAT was the single biggest criticism I had of his game – the lack of mongrel. Now, it seems as though he is growling, peeing on fences to mark his territory, and taking a chunk out of anyone encroaching on his territory.

The dominant big forward is something that is akin to the dinosaurs now. Even Buddy is more a flanker in a key forward’s body, but with Peter Wright attacking the ball at its highest point, clunking marks, and hitting the scoreboard, I am enjoying every single minute of it. Hope it lasts all season, as right now, he would be close to anyone’s rolling All-Australian Team full forward.

 

TAKING THEM TO CHURCH

Did you guys like Darcy Parish’s game as much as I did?

When the chips weren’t exactly down, but some of them were slipping out onto the floor, Parish put the Bombers on his back. It was the second quarter that stood out in terms of Parish’s work in the middle, as he collected 15 touches and four clearances to power the Bombers into attack.

Combining well with Andrew McGrath, Jye Caldwell and Dylan Shiel, his linking handball set the Essendon midfield running, and his sure hands at ground level and quick change of direction, kept the wolves at bay.

Were they playing the Wolves?

Should I have said keeping the Crows at bay?

Anyway, there is a huge load on the shoulder of Parish at the moment. The injury to Zach Merrett, particularly given how much run he generates, is the type of blow that could derail an entire season and when you consider that the Bombers also lost Stringer, who contributes a heap of grunt work in the middle, in many ways, the Bombers on-ball division was going to live and die by the efforts of Parish.

They did not just survive in this game – they thrived, as his creativity and quick hands were a standout.

 

TEX’S RETURN

Those hoping for Tex Walker to fall over and have a stinker in his return from suspension would have left the game feeling pretty disappointed with things.

To a chorus of boos just about every time he touched the footy, Walker looked sharp, and gave the Crows a viable target inside forward fifty – the exact thing that Darcy Fogarty had not been providing in the early rounds of the season. Though he did misjudge a few contests where he could have used the space behind him to mark the footy, Walker was excellent at ground level, with his ability to find the ball on the deck and convert quickly keeping Adelaide in with a chance.

As a matter of fact, one of his quick decisions and snaps at goal managed to be bouncing through before the Bombers fans even got a chance to boo him, whilst his wonderful 50 metre goal where he massaged the ball through from 50 would have brought the house down had it been played in Adelaide.

Here at The Mongrel, I prefer to concentrate on what we see onfield, and in this game, Walker demonstrated why he remains an integral part of the Adelaide forward structure. Whilst Himmelberg was also solid, Tex really straightened the Crows up and gave them a big body willing to contest.

Boo him all you like, but this was a wonderful return to the team for Walker. I’m not sure he could have done anything more to keep his team close.

 

AREAS OF CONCERN

Look, the Bombers got out of jail here, but had the Crows got up, you could have said the same thing.

I’m not overly impressed with the transition defence of either team, with defensive run from the midfielders and half-forwards somewhat…. hmmm… shall we say “selective”? Don’t get me wrong – there were times when players absolutely put their respective foot to the floor and worked their backside off to shut down an opponent, but as a whole, both teams were able to move the ball easily through the middle of the ground to create avenues to goal.

Concerningly, there seemed to be even more opportunities that went begging, with each team looking as though they were happy to offer up the corridor at points in a risk/reward scenario, only for the team with the ball to completely miss the open man.

 

RECRUIT OF THE YEAR?

Some might like George Hewett at Carlton. Others may enjoy the work of Will Brodie at Freo. Nut have we seen enough from Jordan Dawson four rounds into the season to safely assume that he will be the best addition to any team this season?

Playing largely on the wing, but drifting back inside defensive fifty to aid his back six, Dawson was stellar once again in this contest. His aerial work is vastly underrated and the fact the Crows target him as their “Get out of Jail” option when under pressure in defensive 50 speaks volumes about the influence he has had on this group thus far.

The fact he pulled two of these important grabs down indicates that their faith is not misplaced.

He really came into his own at Sydney in 2021 and looks to be relishing the additional responsibility at Adelaide this season. I’m loving what he is bringing to the table, and look forward to seeing him tear a few games open as the year progresses.

 

A PRETTY BIG… SLIGHTLY OUTRAGEOUS CALL

Is Nic Martin the best kick in the Essendon team?

If not, is he the best decision-maker when it comes to delivering the ball by foot?

There are many aspects of the game that can be taught. Technique can be refined, you can educate players on tactical positioning, and how to tackle an opponent without giving a free kick away, but when it comes to genuine footy knowledge, you either have it, or you don’t.

Nic Martin has it.

It’s the little things he does that probably don’t really leap out that are so important to a team. The way he looks inboard before going down the line. The way he kicks the footy out in front of a leading player and not on his head… they sound like bloody simple things to do, but in a league that values athleticism above skill, they are also aspects of the game that are a little too rare.

Martin has them in spades.

When I watched him in the preseason, both in practice games and the Bombers’ intraclub game, his vision and willingness to take just that little bit longer to dish off the ball in order to make the correct decision leapt out. I obviously was not the only one noticing, as a contract with the club soon followed, but in a game that is often viewed as a race to see who can get from one end to the other the fastest, a bit of poise and composure from Martin is a welcome departure.

 

SOME LITTLE BITS

Loved the game from Rory Laird – he is an absolute warrior and probably the most underrated midfielder in the game. he just goes about his business – no mess, no fuss – like a good one night stand, and at the end of the game you look at what he’s done, nod and think… I hope he gets to do it again soon.

Is that right, ladies?

Shame to see Will Snelling hurt his calf muscle. He adds a fair bit of bite to the Bombers, and is so crisp with his ball movement. A no nonsense player, his role was vital in Essendon making the finals last season. Fingers crossed it was a strain and not a tear.

Geez, Reilly O’Brien gets both hands to the ball in a lot of contests. I don’t know whether he feels the implied pressure, or is just a bit clumsy dude, but there were three or four marks he could have clunked in this game and instead we saw them spill to the turf.

Cameo appearances from Archie Perkins in this one, but he remains such a dangerous player whenever he is within the 50 metre zone. Two goals are a great way to accentuate what was a pretty quiet day.

Possibly the best game I’ve seen from Mason Redman. Resolute in defence, it was more than that last play that stood out. I’ve been waiting for a few years now for him to jump out and have a breakout season. Some Bomber fans attempted to convince me last year was that year – I reckon he has more to give.

You can tell why the Crows are thrilled with the way Josh Rachele goes about it. Finds the footy, looks dangerous, and makes good decisions… though I would have preferred to see the ball in his hands running toward attacking fifty in the dying seconds than in the hands of Keays. Still, he did the team thing…

A much better outing from Sam Draper, who looked like a damn statue last week. He and Andrew Phillips gave poor old ROB a real workout around the ground, and seeing Draper get rid of O’Brien to snap the late goal… Bomber fans would have been breathing a sigh of relief when that happened.

A couple of really nice runs from Nick Hind in this one, capped by him taking the foot off the gas and lowering his eyes before delivering inside 50. Used properly, and at the right moments, Hind has the capacity to blow a game open, but he needs support behind him to cover if/when things go awry, which they will when a bloke runs as fast as he does up the guts.

Blake Caracella is a bit of a silver fox these days, huh? Girls, lock up your mothers!

Finally, great to see Andrew McGrath back in the midfield mix. A solid, if unspectacular game from him, but he is too good not to be working through the middle of the ground. Whilst the loss of Merrett is huge, McGrath running into form in the middle may be a silver lining.

 

I’m not sure Bomber fans will be writing home after this win. It was expected, and therefore, I get the feeling there is more relief than there is joy. Against Freo next week will be intriguing. The Dockers are a but of a sleeper team this year – they could make some noise, or they could go quietly into the night. The Bombers are a good test for them, and we could see Essendon get their season back on track with a win

As for the Crows, they were gallant on the road, and with the Tigers visiting next week, they’d be eyeing off an upset at home.

 

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