It was a celebration of 150 years of existence for the Bombers. The entire pre-match was dedicated to celebrating the success and legends of years gone by, which included some fairly famous names. Names that conjure up emotions beyond that of petty rivalries as they transcend the game as the moments that define them become legends handed down to future supporters. That seems a bit sappy, let me put it this way. I’m a Cats supporter, and one that isn’t that old. I never saw the 1989 Grand Final loss to Hawthorn (I would not be alive for a few more years), but I will still confidently state it was the best Grand Final ever played. No contest. That’s what it means to have these stories passed down. That’s what they mean (and that was a freaking loss! God knows how Bombers hand down stories about actual wins).
That is what was on display for the Bombers in the pre-game entertainment. Sure, their 150th year has not gone according to plan, but the evocation and presence of names like Watson, Hird, Sheedy, Fletcher and Daniher must be such a point of pride for Bombers fans.
I probably won’t ever do the pre-match ceremonies justice for Bombers fans, but I did think they were lacking something until the big names came out. But the final moments of the former greats embracing the current players and forming the circle and being addressed by Dyson Heppell… chills. Absolute chills.
The Blues had the hot start. They had three goals on the board before the Bombers finally steadied with one of their own. The Bombers then found their mojo. The only issue was they couldn’t spread fast enough outside of their defensive 50. It’s all well and good to get numbers back and not give your opponent much of a chance to score, the problem is that it makes it incredibly difficult to get any sort of chain of possession going towards your own attacking 50. Multiple times the bombers tried a quick play or hacked the ball out of defence, after doing all the hard work of winning it, only for it to come straight back.
The key example of this is in the last minute of the quarter. Essendon get the ball out, try and take it down the wing in an outnumbered situation, the Blues win the footy back, switch it, and hit up Curnow on the open side in space. The interesting part is that they also had McKay on the lead, and Patrick Cripps standing in so much space he might as well have been Julie Andrews at the start of the Sound of Music. It was a raffle as to who was going to take the shot after siren, but one of them was definitely having it.
The game threatened to become a wet weather contest but neither team seemed to be affected by it, so the rain decided it would move on.
The second quarter wound back a similar story to the first. Essendon looked to be doing well in the contest and I thought their stoppage work was good, particularly out of the middle, but it just wasn’t clean enough. On the flip side, the Blues’ ball movement was far too slick for the Bombers and their potent forward line salivated at the amount of opportunities being presented to them.
I felt the 24-point difference at halftime flattered the Bombers.
The three-quarter-time margin absolutely did not flatter the Bombers though. They came out after halftime and scrapped and clawed the Blues as they brought some serious pressure. Were it not for some rushed and unnecessarily panicked kicks, they really should’ve been in the contest and not 28 points down.
A Michael Voss spray did little to inspire the Blues in the last quarter as it was played out an effective nil-all draw, with neither side being able to register a goal, and Essendon ultimately wining the quarter 0.4 to 0.2. Essendon didn’t ever really look like pinching the game, but I guess their supporters will be happy (for lack of a better word? Maybe content?) that they didn’t get blown away.
Carlton will be hoping the old adage of carrying your form from the end of a game into next week, does not apply.
But enough of that, let’s get into the stuff that mattered…
The Best Stuff
Just keeps delivering for the Blues off halfback, with another massive game in terms of disposals. Docherty combines wonderfully with Saad as the weapons of choice for the Blues coming through the middle. Docherty’s run was telling as he continually burnt his opponent and cleaned up the footy across half-back line. A beneficiary of the amount of pressure the Carlton midfield was putting on Essendon through the middle, was that their ball movement was so chaotic.
The Blues’ forward structure welcomed McKay back like he was Thomas Shelby walking in Birmingham.
“Why hello Mr. McKay, how was your time off? Don’t worry, we kept the forward line just the way you left it. Please resume your usual activities of clunking marks and kicking goals”.
The commentators like to play up that McKay and Curnow may not have played much together but they clearly have a good connection. Their spacing is good, they link up well and they clearly have complementary styles. McKay coming back could also not have been timed better as Carlton will need the firepower up forward to compensate for the lack of Jacob Weitering in defence.
Young started this game with a proactive mindset and carried that through to the final siren. He knew his assignment; fill-in as best he could in the absence of Weitering. I’m sure he ran out onto that ground saying to himself “Be the man. Be the man.” And gosh darn it, he WAS the man for Carlton in defence in terms of repelling the Bombers’ attacks.
Often missed by a lot of pundits due to being overshadowed by his aforementioned star teammate, Young had built himself into a very nice patch of form prior to the Collingwood game (albeit he still had some good defensive numbers in that one). He has come into this Carlton team and delivered straight away for them.
Young will be needed to repeat his efforts in upcoming games if the Blues are going to keep winning in Weitering’s absence against quality opposition.
Faced up against some pretty steep odds and Ridley stood tall. Not favoured by chaotic ball movement like his Carlton counterparts, Ridley did almost all of his work caught one-on-one against one of the two heads of Carlton’s forward monster.
The Blues Midfield
I’ve sung the praises of Carlton forward and a couple of backs, but how about the mids? Well, they did pretty well for themselves as well. Cripps, Walsh, Hewett and Kennedy didn’t have it all their own way, though. Adam Cerra was subbed early and the Bombers were leading the blues in the contested footy, tackles and clearances in the first half. However, the Blues midfielders didn’t let the Bombers get away cleanly on too many occasions and worked hard to ensure any forward entries for Essendon were “dirty”. A fact I’m sure their defenders appreciated.
They then went to work on the outside of the contest. The Bombers were flayed through the middle of the ground, particularly in the first half, like the man on the banners of House Bolton from Game of Thrones. Too often the Blues caused the turnover off halfback and found free players running through the middle of ground, or in open space with a simple switch. They always had someone moving for them and creating space, which means a lot of unrewarded running on someone’s part. No wonder most of these boys are doing 13-15km per game.
It was interesting to see the Blues midfield hurt the Bombers in a different way. So often we have seen them simply bully teams into submission around the ball. They did eventually get on top or at least level the numbers around the ball in the second half, but it was not the control they have flexed in previous games.
I put a lot of it down to them adjusting to their current ruck stocks, but we can all look forward to how good this will make them once Pittonet returns and usual service is resumed for the Carlton midfield.
The Good Stuff
I rated Shiel’s contested work very highly in this game. He was hard at the footy, applied good pressure to the superior Carlton midfield and looked to be one of a couple of winners on the night for the Bombers.
The major issue with Shiel is I’m not sure if he knows that he is a left-footer. Multiple times in this game he baulked and dodged and shaped up on the wrong side, making his work even more difficult and severely hampering his ability to effectively move the footy forward. It sometimes resulted in ill-fated handballs or what can only be described as atrocious kicking.
If Shiel could just fix that up and get his delivery right, he would’ve been the best player on the ground in this match.
First time I’ve seen Hobbs play and must say that I was impressed. Clearly a smart player. He reads the ball well and got to some good spots as a small forward. Some good tackle pressure and kicked a nice goal off the deck. Very promising signs for Bombers fans.
I thought Cottrell showed plenty coming on as the Medical sub. It can be an awkward one being the sub. Not knowing when you might get utilised and when you are utilised early, you could be shifted somewhere unfamiliar while the side resettles to accommodate. Cottrell and the Blues adjusted well and I thought he played his role well.
The Not So Good Stuff
The Essendon captain had himself a first half to forget, particularly after the inspiring images pre-game. What was it, three turnovers resulting in goals for the Blues in the first half? Bad turnovers too. Then to start the second half, the ball was doing him no favours. An awkward bounce and a fumble in defence and two more Blues goals had sailed through. Heppell did dig deep and from what I saw, he showed no signs of letting any of his mistakes affect his attack on the next contest, it just wasn’t happening for him in this match.
The unfortunate part of footy is the collateral damage. Injuries to Cerra and Parish marred the night for both teams. Cerra was subbed very quickly with hamstring “tightness”, which kind of remind me of the hamstring awareness we saw earlier in the season. The Parish also had his night ended early with a calf complaint, which he played with for a solid half of footy before succumbing.
The Other Stuff
Who knows where the hell to put Sam Draper?
When you’re giving away free-kicks in the ruck contest against non-ruckmen, and getting pinged for holding the ball, you are not having a good night, surely?
But you’re also clunking contested marks and snapping goals in forward 50 scrimmages?
Pick a lane, SAM!
I suppose it will depend on which way you look at it. I thought his night ended up being far more good than bad, but the bad kept him from being in the best.
Another honourable loss for this young Bombers side. There is plenty to like, but the fact is that they have just not delivered to expectations this year. We’re 13 rounds in and they have won two games. Maybe they gave exactly what we expected based on their form this year? It must be incredibly frustrating to see your team continually get two-thirds of the play right and then falter with the final part of it and allow the opposition to take the game away from them.
Carlton did exactly what they needed to and banked this win. Particularly without Weitering (if you doubt the effect of losing your best defender just look at Melbourne since they lost Steven May or Geelong without Tom Stewart).
Carlton now focuses on the real challenge. The next three weeks. Richmond at the MCG next Thursday (Who doesn’t love a Thursday game?) and then Fremantle and St. Kilda in successive games at Marvel.
Carlton’s top four hope rest in those three games as well as their legitimacy. Potentially their finals hopes, in general. The Blues probably need to go at least 2-1 in that stretch. A 3-0 run and they are cemented in the top four and an undisputed contender.