The one game you want to circle on the calendar every year the AFL releases the upcoming fixture is ANZAC Day – Collingwood and Essendon coming together every April 25th (With the exception of 2020).

I have only been to the ANZAC Day game once in my lifetime. Next year, hopefully, I’ll get to it again, but every time I watch it on the TV, there are goosebumps that run through my body; The Last Post, the national anthems, the roar of the crowd that follows them.

In front of over 84,000 at the MCG on this ANZAC Day, we bared witness to a strange game; ugly in patches, and some individual brilliance in other parts, but it also demonstrated a lot of fight from both Essendon and Collingwood, who are on different paths to where they were 12 months earlier.

Finalists in 2021, the Bombers have been lacking all over the ground in key areas; physicality, skill, and poise with the ball have been found wanting so far in their first month and a half of football, but they showed plenty of fight in times when it looked like Collingwood were about to skip away.

The Pies, who finished 17th in 2021, have looked rejuvenated under Craig McRae. Whilst there remain things that must be ironed out, they’ve looked a lot more exciting, are willing to take the game on, and appear more likely to kick a winning score this season.

When the Bombers hit the lead in the third quarter, the Pies looked lost for answers, they lost a lot of structure forward of the ball and were well beaten in clearances for most of the afternoon.

But six goals in the final term is indicative of this Collingwood side. They’re a renewed lot and will be causing a lot of headaches for sides going forward in 2022.

It was a big game with a lot to dissect, so let’s get this ANZAC Day autopsy started, shall we?

 

THE PUBLIC ENEMY

There are a lot of you people out there that would give Jack Ginnivan the ‘Matthew Scarlett’ treatment. Wouldn’t you?

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, then you’re probably wasting your time with football history and with me. But look, I understand the criticisms that come his way. When I was younger, I hated these kinds of players. They’d search for frees, they’d run their mouth, but unless your name is Rhys Mathieson, you tend to back up your antics with the talent you’ve got.

Not so much anymore. When Ginnivan came into this Collingwood side late last year, he provided a steady hand in front of goal – 6.3 in Collingwood’s last five games of the season. So far this year, he’s risen to 11.7 in the same number of games to start this season, including the bag of five he kicked in this game.

I’m sure many will disagree and argue he didn’t deserve the ANZAC Day Medal as the best player on ground, but in a game where it was tight all afternoon, five goals – regardless of how he got them – is a pretty good effort.

Sure, a couple of them were resultant of free kicks, but lots of people ignore the work he does off the ball when he’s not irritating the opposition, on their supporters. He presents as a lead-up option well, he gets to the foot of the contest well and his set shots in this game were very good.

Fellow small forward and pest Cody Weightman’s comments about drawing free kicks and how it’s become a skill for the small forwards might draw plenty of ire from supporters, but e’s not entirely wrong. If you get yourself a free-kick inside 50 and a scoring opportunity because of it, 10 times out of 10 you’d take it, wouldn’t you?

Kane Cornes will be spinning in his hammock watching him do well, but in his 10th career game, this kid rose to the occasion on the biggest day of the home and away calendar – that’s got to count for something.

 

THE PARISH PUZZLE

So those who read my mid-week column on the Mongrel this past week, know what I’m about to say with Darcy Parish.

44 disposals in the modern era is nothing to scoff about on any given day and this is absolutely no whack on his efforts in the contest and his work rate around the ground. I don’t want to say I wasn’t impressed with his game, because I’d kill to have a tank like he does, but what he does with the ball is nowhere near the level that it should be.

I reckon I counted at least seven times in the first half alone that he handballed and over-handballed to a teammate who was not in a good position to receive the footy and it either resulted in a turnover, or a stoppage when the Bombers could’ve progressed. He’s not alone either, there were several players in the red and black that did that in this game.

310 metres gained, three inside 50s and 31 handballs from 44 disposals isn’t great to look at as a midfielder, but 12 clearances is a positive. The Bombers dominated Collingwood around the centre bounces and around stoppage clearances in this game and Parish was the leading man, as he has been for the best part of the last 12 months.

His impact at halftime was so severe that McRae sent Patrick Lipinski to him after halftime to try and quell his influence, and I’m not too convinced that it worked either, because Parish had five clearances in that term alone.

A crunching tackle in the fourth quarter prevented Parish from giving a 50-disposal game a real shake, but this felt like the kind of game that the statistics didn’t ultimately reflect on his performance.

But make no mistake, he was far from their worst player on the ground.

 

HOWE WINDING IT BACK

If Ginnivan was the most influential Magpie out on the ground in this game, then Jeremy Howe is a close number two.

By full-time Essendon had four more inside 50s than that of the Pies, but Collingwood’s defensive unit has been quite staunch over the years, even in the past couple of seasons where they would put out poor performances, the constant was the stingy defensive six or seven they’d bring out every week.

Moore’s job on Peter Wright was outstanding, keeping the Bomber forward to just five disposals and a goal, but Wright did plenty in ensuring Moore didn’t have it all his own way, halving contests and making him a more accountable player than that of the intercept marking third tall.

However, Kaine Baldwin is going to get some serious lessons in the wash-up of this game. His story coming back from multiple ACL’s as an under-18s player is tremendous and he’ll get more opportunities before it’s done, but as a second-gamer playing on a guy who has got about 10 years experience on him, it was always going to be bloody ending for the young man… not literally of course.

Howe has had some rotten luck over the past couple of years; injury meant that he only played four games in 2020 and eight last year. But seeing him so far this year, he looks fit, healthy, and back to playing some elite footy.

His leap and athleticism may have been reduced slightly over the years, but he hasn’t lost his football IQ and his marking hands. He took 13 overall, four contested and six intercept marks, but also had nine intercept possessions from his 22 disposals.

It was a vintage performance, pure Howe.

 

FINDING SOMETHING UP FORWARD

There are some reasons as to why Essendon have flailed so far this year, I think a (not the) big reason for it is the forward line structure.

Alec Waterman presented well towards the footy in this one and got himself a four-goal bag because of it. There’s no doubt what he can bring to the table inside 50 but it’s what’s around him that concerns me a little.

Baldwin as mentioned above got murdered by Howe but looks lost with his leading patterns towards the ball and struggled to get involved at all in this game, but it’s also worth mentioning that the two best key forwards of last year were Cale Hooker (33 goals), Peter Wright (29 goals) and Harry Jones (20 goals).

Obviously, Hooker is no longer at the club and Jones hasn’t played yet this year due to an ankle injury but was a very promising contested mark and a reliable kick for goal at the best of times last year. It’s meant a restructure that is clear as day isn’t ready to combat AFL-level defences.

I will say I enjoyed Archie Perkins leading up as a forward option in this game – he plays like someone who has spent plenty of time up forward and has worked hard on honing the craft of playing as a mid-sized forward – a role that is not easy to master.

Matt Guelfi as well is a player that might not get much praise and recognition, but he worked hard both offensively and defensively (23 pressure acts a team-high) inside the forward half for the Dons and bobbed up with two goals in the second half to give the Bombers the lead.

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti kicked two in the VFL earlier in the day and is steadily building back some form and fitness, so there’s some brighter times ahead for Essendon fans.

 

FINE WINE PENDLES

Games can be won and lost through several factors, but one thing that doesn’t get the recognition that it should is the coach making moves in crunch time.

At three-quarter time, the Pies were being crucified in the centre clearances, Craig McRae called upon his captain to stand up in a time of need. Sometimes you just know that coaches are going to be long-term on the back of decisions like this and McRae right now, isn’t going to be a transition coach.

Pendlebury’s experiment as a half-back flanker has been alright, it certainly isn’t an All-Australian calibre but it’s better than what Dyson Heppell is doing at the other end at Essendon.

The move was made and Pendlebury chimed in with three centre clearances – Collingwood had six in the last quarter to Essendon’s four and it swung the momentum back in favour of the Pies.

I’ll touch on one of the centre clearances in this last term – he runs out of the centre bounce stoppage with the ball and instead of lowering his vision to look for a teammate he kicks it deep and long inside 50, backing his players to contest and make the opposition defenders sweat.

It works, because the Bombers spill the ball on top of the goal square, and it leads to Reef McInnes kicking the goal. Didn’t have as big of a game as he did last week, young Reef, but you know what they say about having a moment, right?

Was his game enough to get Pendles a vote or two? Maybe, maybe not but it’s impossible to understate the influence that Pendles had in this last quarter – five disposals, four contested, three centre clearances and two tackles for the quarter.

All up, he had 25 disposals, five clearances, five intercept possessions and 25 pressure acts in a typical display of a Collingwood champion – the old fella still has it.

 

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

Some big minutes from Brodie Grundy towards the end of the game, took a lot of sting out of the game by chewing up the clock. One kick found Taylor Adams who kicked what was virtually the game-winner and then ended up kicking one himself in the last five minutes.

His direct opponent Sam Draper, had an interesting game. He certainly wasn’t the worst Bomber on the park, set up well behind the ball and competed well in the ruck. Had his share of impact on this game, but you’d give the chocolates to Grundy at full time.

What a goal from Jack Crisp in the second term – felt like it was pure gut running from the half-back line and to finish it from 50 metres out from that, is just an outstanding effort – will go far in the goal of the year sweepstakes.

Liked Jordan De Goey’s game – largely. Linked up well through the middle of the ground off the transition and featured prominently around the clearances as well – had 7 clearances, eight inside 50s and eight marks off 27 disposals but his kicking was poor, going at 53 percent (had 15 kicks).

Jayden Laverde was subbed out at the start of the last quarter, but he looked cooked from the moment Mihocek took that one-handed mark in the first term. Really struggled to move and gave away sloppy free kicks. I can see Rutten trying to inject the speed of Hind, hoping he would give them a lift in the last quarter. Backfired horribly though.

Brody Mihocek was big early in setting the tone for the Pies, kicked three of his four goals in the first half, but ultimately quietened up by Jake Kelly in this game.

Which leads me to Mr Kelly. Thought his defensive efforts in this game was outstanding. Laverde was on him early and Mihocek had him on toast in the first half, before Kelly was moved on him. He won a few important one-on-ones in the second half when the Pies came challenging.

We know Mason Cox isn’t the answer up forward for the Pies, but I’m convinced Darcy Cameron isn’t, either. Looks too slow and really struggled to get involved in the first three quarters of this game. But he did come up with a big goal in the last quarter, so it saved him from having an out-and-out stinker.

Zach Merrett had 36 disposals on his return from an ankle syndesmosis injury he sustained against Brisbane a month earlier. Linked up well around the ground, overused the handball a little, but you’d take this return every day.

Will Hoskin-Elliot needs to be quicker with the ball in his hands. Got caught surveying the ground for too long a couple of times approaching the forward 50 and it compromises the Pies’ forwards significantly.

Jake Stringer’s three goals are a positive. Only got his hands to the ball 10 times in this game, but half of them were scores, three goals and two behinds playing predominantly as a forward. Attended a few centre bounces with little effect.

Nick Daicos made a few poor turnovers by foot during this game, but I’m not going to roast him on the back of them. Except for the play where he ran through the middle of the MCG and then just blasted it forward without lowering his eyes. Don’t mind it when he tries to pull off a 45-degree kick and it fails, but there was a bit of trying to look good with the ball from him in this game.

Liked Sam Durham’s game. Nothing flashy to it, but he harasses, chases, and pressures the opposition and in the modern footy, every little pressure act and tackle matters in football. 18 pressure acts and four tackles is a good return.

And on that, that’s me done for this game. The Pies head into round seven inside the top eight and will fancy themselves as a big chance for their fourth win next week against the Gold Coast Suns at the MCG.

The Bombers however are 1-5 and head into next week’s contest against the Western Bulldogs with everything on the line. The Bulldogs are currently struggling to get much right to their game, the Bombers could smell another big upset for the Bulldogs.

 

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