Sydney v Essendon – The Big Questions

The game was over early – if not on the scoreboard then in terms of effort.

There are some games where you can just tell when one team is switched on and the other is switched off, and that’s what we had in this one. Sydney looked as though they were playing a VFL side – and not a throwback to the 1980s, but a team full of second-rate players – in this game. They hunted the footy, were cleaner, faster, made better decisions, and cut the Bombers off at the knees at almost every turn.

It can be put down to one thing – effort.

Every Swans player out there wanted to be there. Every one of them wanted to contribute. Every one of them looked as though they would bleed for the jumper.

I’m not sure you could say the same for the Bombers. After a glimmer of hope was revealed last week, it was snuffed out, like a flame under a blanket this week.

Here are The Mongrel’s Big Questions.



It sure as hell looked like it this week.

The Swans are blessed with a range of players that can be switched and changed into and out of positions all over the park. Chad Warner can play forward, wing, or in the middle. Justin McInerney could be one of the best running wingmen in the game, yet he can just as easily head to half-back and ply his trade back there. The work of Callum Mills has been well-documented over the last couple of years as he has moved from excellent half-back to excellent midfielder.

It happens all over the ground for the Swans – interchangeable parts working together to form a machine that can take on another form at the drop of a hat.

Add Errol Gulden’s name to that list.

His numbers will not jump off the page to the point where he was far and away the best player on the park, but his precision with the footy going forward is the aspect of his game I love the most – not so much when he holds things up and tries to be a little cute with a sideways kick; that is when things tend to come undone.

Several times, I have likened him to Zak Butters at Port, but Gulden is a little more composed and a little less likely to attempt to take your head off if the opportunity arises. He can slot in at half-forward quite easily, and has made a fist of that role at times over the last 18 months, but the way he controls the play from the wing position leads me to believe that he may have genuinely found his niche.

Of course, with the Swans, Horse Longmire seems to like you to have two or three niches, so it would not surprise me to see Gulden line up elsewhere next week.



It can work when you have a lone ruckman going against them – that much was evident.

Some viewed Hickey’s return to health as the precursor for Peter Ladhams moving out of the team, but the form of the former Port player has been too good to simply discard him back to the VFL – he deserved a chance to make a two-headed ruck monster work, and though neither man was dominant in this clash, together they were able to work over the Bombers’ big man to the point he looked slow and, at times, inept.

Strong word, I know, but not inaccurate at all.

Hickey managed to hit the scoreboard whilst resting forward and Ladhams had a couple of chances to match him, as well. If he kicks straight, the dominance of these two over their Essendon counterparts would be a major talking point. However, as it stands the dominance of the Swans as a whole will probably be the story that gets the coverage.

Can they work as a tandem?

Well, they weren’t really challenged this week, and next week sees a Carlton team that is without their number one ruck option, as well. The test will come in Round 11 when the Swans face the Tigers and their Nankervis/Soldo combination. I reckon if they’re both able to contribute against the Blues, their clash with the Tiger duo could be the making or the breaking of this potential ruck pairing.



What’s the “IGAS” cub?

It’s just an acronym – The “I Give A Shit” Club. Sadly, there are not too many standout members from Essendon making this club this week.

Have a think back to the game – who are the Bombers that looked genuinely committed to the contest, and seemed to take it personally that the team was playing so poorly? Here are the blokes I noticed.

Jye Caldwell – Before his injury in that fantastic contest with Tom McCartin (why a free-kick was awarded, I don’t know… both blokes contesting with their eyes on the footy is EXACTLY what you want from both players), Caldwell was one of the players continually throwing his body in. Several times, you could see he was exasperated with the way things were playing out, looking around at teammates who refused to meet his eye.

The Bombers have stars, but they don’t have a lot of genuine leaders. Watching Caldwell in this one, I reckon he may just be one.

Jayden Laverde – Always undersized, he never stops trying. He may not be the most polished defender in the league, but he never dies wondering, and even when matched up against Lance Franklin (he was soundly beaten in the first half and probably should have had four kicked on him), he continued to fight for every inch of ground. There maybe some question marks over his game, but his endeavour will never be in question.

Nic Martin – He has to be wondering what he has walked into. He runs his guts out, puts his head over it, and there are times he looks around for someone to dish off to after doing the hard yards… and he realises he is all alone to fight the fight. Could win the Essendon B&F and should be lauded for his efforts this year.

If only others would take a leaf out of his playbook.

Mason Redman – Consistently stands up in defence, but is being asked to do so much given the genuine lack of big bodies to hold down key positions. Looks frustrated, and rightfully so.

Archie Perkins – Now here is a bloke that is going to morph into a star, simply because he seems to care more than anyone else on his team. He looked genuinely pissed at a number of efforts from teammates, and the entire situation. As other Bombers stood around looking at each other, Perkins was one of the few to put his hand up and contest like he bloody-well meant it.

That his name does appear in Essendon’s best players on the AFL website gives a clear indication that commitment and hard work are not something of value in the league. Perkins has them both – he will be someone the young Bombers rally around in the next two years.

Got any more? I’d love to hear who you think gives a shit at Essendon at the moment, as let’s be honest, naming those who don’t is pretty easy.



I asked the same question about Jack Sinclair following the St Kilda v Geelong game. There is going to be some desperately unlucky half-hacks this season, as several are making a real run at All-Australian selection.

His run from defence is close to unparalleled in the league at the moment, particularly when you combine it with that laser-like boot of his.

He cruised around the back half for the Swans, cleaning up what little mess they left en route to collecting 26 touches and gaining the lazy 562 metres gained. For anyone else, that would be a standout game, but for Blakey, I kind of expect that type of return these days. Expectations rise along with continued stellar performances.

We saw him take on quite a few of the kick-in duties in this one, relieving Jake Lloyd of the responsibility. This allowed Lloyd to be the short target from those kick-ins a couple of times, and with his foot skills, the Swans were assured of exiting defensive fifty safely more often than not.

Toying and tinkering with the defence will continue, and I have no doubt we’ll see Lloyd once again take on kick in duties for periods, but when you can work him and Blakey as your exit strategy, and the two end up combining for 50 touches at around 86% efficiency, I’d say you’re getting close to exactly what you’re after.



Oh yeah, I am jumping back on this horse again. Giddy up.

After watching Hugh McCluggage tear the game to shreds last week for the Lions, it placed a bit of a spotlight on the work of Andrew McGrath. Going in the same draft, McGrath burst out of the gates with a strong first year and looked to be the better prospect.

Was that close to his ceiling, though? And is that all we can ever expect from him?

He is 23 years old at the moment, and looking around the league at 23-and-under mids, where would you rate him?

Top ten?

Nope – that place is reserved for players such as Andrew Brayshaw, Sam Walsh, Bailey Smith and the like.

Top 20?

Yeah, that’d be more like it.

And how about overall in the league?

It’s scary to think about.

I have high standards for number one picks. Teams pay a premium for their services and there is a lot weighing on the quality of their performances. Right now, Andrew McGrath cannot even crack the Essendon midfield on a regular basis. He plays half-back, wing, and moonlights as a midfielder when other blokes need a spell. Is it time we put away our hopes that he will morph into a star of the competition and become comfortable that he will just be a handy half-back flanker?

Sadly for Bomber fans, the answer is yes. He is not the messiah – that much is evident. He is just a good, honest player that was taken higher than he should have been, and it’s time Essendon fans accept it.

Come at me.



Oh yes, he is, but the secret is getting out. 32-disposal games tend to get the word out.

Warner has a bit of mongrel in him – must be why I like him. He is combative, wins his own footy, and looks like he is personally affronted when someone beats him in a contest. You cannot teach that.

He racked them up in this one, with all but five of his touches coming in-between the arcs. He had 12 score involvements, including a direct goal assist as he powered the Swans forward with both substance and style. Under the tutelage of warriors like Josh Kennedy and Luke Parker, Warner is learning the trade from two of the best, and as he grows and develops into a player that can win the game off his own boot (you can see this too, I hope?) he has a great supporting cast around him to give him the midfield group to grow with.

Mills, Warner, Rowbottom… these blokes coming through with Parker the bridge between the era gone and the era almost here… it’s exciting times to be a Sydney fan.



He’d be right up there, but you rarely hear his name when people speak about the best young defenders in the game. That should change soon enough.

Not that I think the Essendon midfielders did Peter Wright any favours in this one, but when your number one defender compiled a game consisting of 17 one-percenters, you can guaran-damn-tee that he has controlled the aerial duels..

McCartin of the Tom variety added six intercepts to his game, making him solely responsible for 23 contest kills or at the very least breaking even. When you factor in his brother was busy adding a combined 12 intercepts/on-percenters, the defence of McCartin and McCartin -defence attorneys.

If I were starting a defensive unit from the ground up, with the view to being a force for the next ten years, the two key pillars I’d select would both reside in NSW. Tom McCartin would be one – he can handle the gorillas of the league and will become one of the best pure stoppers in the game within the next two years, and Sam Taylor at GWS would be the other.



Okey doke…

Zach Merrett played like a timid meerkat, his head darting this way and that, looking for danger… gotta avoid danger… and when you do that, danger tends to find you. This time, it was in the form of James Rowbottom. Following that moment, Merrett was in his shell.

I know that Luke Parker got stuck into Dylan Shiel a little, but whilst he wasn’t great, I reckon he put in a fair bit more than some others.

Peter Wright – put your bloody knee into a marking contest and let the opposition know you’re there!

Jake Kelly – he was recruited for… what?

Sam Draper – tried to salvage something in the last quarter, but his first three were so shit that he was knee-deep in crap by then. Makes it hard to run. Let’s talk more about him.



It cannot be fitness – he is doing his best work in the last quarter, and has done d=so for two of the last three weeks.

So, what gives?

Like most of the Essendon team at the moment, he seems quite easily demoralised. There is a reason Luke Parker was teasing Dylan Shiel during the game and it wasn’t because Shiel had done something particularly poor – he was tackled and lost possession; that happens dozens of times to dozens of players.

No, it is because there is a perception at the moment that this Essendon team goes to water when the pressure is on, and that extends to Draper as well.

He was challenged in this game – he had two big men throwing everything they could at him and he went to water. Through the first three quarters, Draper managed just three touches of the footy, discounting ruck taps. As a big man and potential target, he offered his team bugger all. If Malcolm Blight were coaching this team, the spray he would have given Draper would have made the one he gave David Pittman back in the 90s look like an expression of love.

Draper is still a baby in terms of ruckmen – just 23-years-old. He is also the bloke the Bombers are hoping morphs into their dominant big bloke. Given what we saw in this one, I sincerely hope their faith is not misplaced.



No, and it shouldn’t.

The Swans were expected to win this game. Though they have not played excellent footy at the SCG this season, Essendon were a live kill and the expectation was that Sydney would treat them as such. They did what they needed to do and walked away with four points, but the test comes over the next fortnight.

This is where the Swans either establish themselves as contenders, or become a team that makes up the numbers. Carlton and Richmond both fancy themselves as finalists. They are right now in the same bracket at the Swans. In every season there are games that you should win, games you are expected to lose, and those that are toss-ups.

In the next fortnight, the Swans play two of those toss-up games. Walk away with two wins and they are a contender, knocking the Blues and Tigers back to the role of n=making up the numbers. Drop one, and that is exactly where Sydney will find themselves.

I believed in what I saw from the Swans in 2021, but one bad day in September spells the end. They had that last year, falling to the Giants in a game they should have won. The top four allows for the second chance, and just as a safety blanket, that is what a contender needs. That is what the Swans should have their sights on.

The next two weeks will tell us whether they’re capable of contending or not.



Looking at their outs, the Bombers have some heart-and-soul players to come back.

Though he looks like a spent force at times, Dev Smith adds a care factor to the team. He wants contact – thrives on it – and does not back down.

Will Snelling has been a huge loss. Getting him back into the fold will give them some bite across half-forward.

Jake Stringer, for all his injuries and the fact he got a contract and proceeded to show up out of shape (call a spade a spade), can still impact the contest, physically. He adds some hardness.

And if they can get Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti motivated and playing after the bye rounds, they will get a solid inside 50 presence who likes to throw his weight around. That said, if they are reliant on those players to give them a physical lift, what are the blokes currently in the side doing? Apart from the IGAS players I mentioned above, they’ve looked anything but the hardened AFL players the team requires.



Does James Rowbottom get a week for flattening Zach Merrett?

Probably. He did hit him in the nose, as evidenced by Merrett holding it for the next ten minutes, checking for blood, but given the impact it had (14 touches for Merrett), it may be worth it.

Papley was really lively in this game, casting aside fears he was struggling. 21 touches and two goals are just scratching the surface of what he is capable of.

Saw a Twitter headline stating that Buddy Franklin put on a “masterclass” in this one. A masterclass? For starters, I hate that idiotic saying. Secondly, he kicked 2.4 and ran at 44% efficiency. Yes, he found plenty of the footy, but if this was a masterclass, you’ll forgive me for not rushing to enrol. He has been better in 150 games.

20 disposals for Florent and the Swans win – it’s a thing… look it up. 🙂



Oh, you didn’t think I would let a massive milestone such as Josh Kennedy breaking the all-time contested possession record slip by without mention, did you?

It took a little while longer than I thought this season, due to JPK playing on the wing and half-back, but his ascnsion to the top of the contested possession heap is a wonderful achievement.

But wait… there’s more!

I’m not sure it was mentioned, but he not only went past Gary Ablett in contested touches, but he passed Sam Mitchell to become the number one clearance player of all-time in the same game.

They should have stopped the game, gave him the game-ball and honoured a bloke that has been an absolute warrior for the club, and a bastion of all that is good about the league. The way he has slipped into a secondary role despite the accolades I just mentioned attached to his name is the epitome of dignity and class at AFL level.

Josh Kennedy – all-time leader in contested possessions and clearances.





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