We haven’t done this for a while.
Two Mongrels, different allegiances, and two very different views on one game, Daniel Jon Kershaw is an Eagles man. Jimmy Ayres lives and breathes red and black. How did they see this game wither their respective one-eyed views?
Let’s find out.
WHO WAS THE MATCH-WINNER?
Josh Kennedy has had a long, successful career of winning the game off his boot. He turned back father time in this one and reminded us all of his statuses as one of the best forwards of the modern era. Kicking five straight, Kennedy stood up in a time his club needed him most, just like he has done time and time before. While goal kicking for the big man has been somewhat dicey this season, you wouldn’t know it in this one as he effortlessly goaled from multiple angles, including a run into goal that any small forward would be proud of.
But he didn’t win the game alone. With a strong supporting cast of forwards, he was given time and space to do what he does best – kick goals.
I think it’s important to highlight the importance of Jack Darling in getting the four points. Sure, he probably frustrated fans by taking a one-handed grab on his knees when he is famous for dropping sitters, but his workrate in this one was second to none. Whether it was presenting strongly up the field or halving the contest in the forward half, Darling used his strength to body his opponents away from the ball, helping provide coverage for his partner in crime Kennedy. This is the Darling that West Coast fans have missed for the past couple of years and does a lot to make up for the disappointment of his off-season.
Another person to mention is Jamie Cripps, the underrated workhorse of the forward line. Cripps has always been a barometer for West Coast. More often than not, if he is kicking multiple sodas, West Coast are going to win. Here’s another veteran who has recently returned to form. In this game, we saw the good old hard-running, smart-crumbing goal sneak we’ve come to love.
Elliot Yeo – I touch on him later on in the article, but I just felt his dash from the back line was not only what got the Eagles back into the game in the first half, bit it reinforced the belief in his side that once they chipped away at the Bombers 20 point lead, but all they had to do was also move the ball quickly through the middle and into their forward line, then they would greatly expose their opposition – something that eventuated just as I described.
WHERE DID WE WIN/LOSE THE GAME?
Let’s be real, my fellow Eagles fans. We lost the game in most sections of the stat sheet. Possessions, inside 50s, tackles, clearances and shots on goal. But as we know, stats don’t tell the full story. Like so many games in the past few years, West Coast have managed to wallpaper over being beaten on paper through one aspect – efficiency inside 50. We’ve had and still have a great forward line. Kennedy, Darling, Cripps, Rioli, Ryan, Allen. When the ball comes in, we have the talent to score. It just so happens that this is precisely the problem we’ve had this year – it’s simply not coming in enough. And even though they lost the entry count by 16, West Coast had 26 shots at goal, only one less than Essendon for a tidy 62 percent.
I’d like to say Optus Stadium, but I think I’d be swiftly shown the door. Fair go, give me a break. It’s bloody hard work being a Bombers supporter. There were an abundance of areas where the Bombers shot themselves in the foot, how much time have we got?
It started with wasted dominance. The Bombers held the upper hand early when it came to clearances, centre clearances, hitouts, inside-50s, disposals, marks, marks inside 50, almost every key stat you could ask for, yet once again, like the 20 point lead in the first quarter, they managed to sqaunder it.
When the game was on the line, it was the same old players making the same old mistakes that just allowed West Coast’s foot to remain in the door, then nudge the door open a little, before ultimately forcing it open and moving on in like the parents in Everybody Loves Raymond.
I touch on this a little further down in the article, but the Bombers ruck display was pitiful. In a game that should’ve been a slaughtering at the hands of Essendon’s rucks, it was nothing short of embarassing. Their forwards also had ample opportunities throughout the game, but failed to convert when the side needed it most.
The biggest downfall of the Bombers’ season has been their inability to even muster a resistance against transition football from the opposition’s backline. Once again, we saw how easily a team can score against Essendon when they decide to kick long and fast out of the backline, it’s as if the Bombers players just freeze and hope that standing still will stop the imminent score that’s going against them. It might work on a Tyrannosaurus rex in Jurassic Park, but it doesn’t work on a football field. You’ve been the easiest side to score against this season, and this is exactly why. The Eagles hadn’t kicked more than 100 points in over 26 games, you just had to know that win, loss or draw, that was going to be rectified against this terribly non-defensively minded side.
Tom Barrass and Liam Duggan really awoke in the second half to Peter Wright’s ability of taking the ball on the lead with ease, applying his much-dreaded body pressure and improving their timing turned the tides back on the Essendon spearhead, after scoring 3.4 in the first half, he only managed the one major for the remainder of the game. Harry Jones was also kept to a murmur, with two goals eventually coming in the final quarter, I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for Jones to appear and present as Peter Wright handled the two key defenders on his own, but whether he jsugw want able to find the right position, or the ball wasn’t kicked to his advantage, there was little shown by Jones to stamp any of his authority on the game.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
Peter Wright had an absolute monster of a first half. It felt like he was always open and those great big hands of his had Velcro attached to them. But he also had some savvy team members who helped matters along by creating targets else and by bodying Barrass to help give him a bit of space to present. It took way too long for the Eagles coaching box to make some changes that helped nullify the big fella. They were very lucky that Wright was unable to convert from the shower of entries that was rained down on him.
Turnovers were also a massive issue (for both teams really) – The Eagles racked up 58, however, I’m willing to overlook this as the Eagles’ new game plan of moving the ball quickly through the corridor is so damn good to watch after years of the slow, deliberate kick we’ve been accustomed to. So, what would have I done differently? Encouraged the team to keep true to this new gameplan and live with turnovers. They can fix the execution over the off-season. Take the game on, boys!
Gee, isn’t this the trillion-dollar question for Essendon this season? I think a more apt question is: Where do you start?
Against the Saints last week, the Bombers managed to stop a team from transitioning the football with ease for the first time since Round 8, when they choked the life out of Hawthorn and completely capitalised with their own ball movement. Against the Eagles, they slipped back into their same old habits of failing to defend quick kicking, forward pressing, chaos footy.
The matchups of Jordan Ridley and Jayden Laverde with Jake Kelly as somewhat of a floater did little to quell the marking and presence of Josh Kennedy, Jamie Cripps and Jack Darling in the forward half.
The inability of the Bombers to tackle crept back into their game once again, at half time there were 10 Bombers players that hadn’t registered a single tackle – and it showed. Elliot Yeo was allowed far too much room to move in the back line, especially in the first half. His ability to sidestep many a lacklustre attempt at a tackle, and run the ball out of defence was a key factor in the Eagles getting themselves back into the game in the second quarter.
If someone could have whispered in Peter Wright’s ear and reminded him that early in the season he was the most accurate set shot in the competition, that would have been handy. The Bombers definitely squandered their chances in front of goal, kicking an inaccurate 14.13 and missing numerous more-than-gettable opportunities, especially when they needed them most.
Archie Perkins was allowed next to no midfield time in this game, after showing exactly what he was capable of last week when afforded some midfield minutes, the powers that be opted to have him toil away at half forward, alongside Ben Hobbs, leaving two of the Bombers brightest young talents to go stagnant like a stale bottle of piss whilst their go-to midfielders struggled with the intensity that the Eagles turned on them in the second half.
Although Kyle Langford got through most of last week’s VFL game unscathed in his return to football after suffering a reoccurring hamstring injury in his first ten mintutes of football this season, I think in hindsight the inclusion of himself and the returning Will Snelling was too much for a side travelling to Western Australia. Whilst Langford wasn’t poor, the Bombers got themselves into a position where every player was required to be at their best, and unfortunately that left them wanting when it came to tall, big-bodied mids out on the wing. Snelling was quiet, I felt his inclusion was the bigger surprise, especially given that he didn’t play a full game of VFL upon his return last week.
Speaking of wingmen, the move of Dyson Heppell onto the wing/half-forward flank is either going to be a make-or-break decision for his career and for the Bombers’ side. There were times where he attempted to send the ball towards forward 50, only to cock up the kick and waste an opportunity, but then there were some brilliant field kicks that hit their target lace out at all sorts of perpendicular angles, the sorts of kicks that we’ve come to expect from Zach Merrett and Nic Martin. My jury is still out on this move, but I feel he’s doing more in that position than he was toiling away at half back unsuccessfully this season.
MOST UNDERRATED PERFORMANCE
What’s most pleasing about this question is that a number of Eagles could have fit the bill. Hough had a great first half, setting up a number of goals with his run and precise kicking. Jermaine Jones was able to shake off an error-prone first quarter to produce a quality, fast-paced game off the backline. But who I truly thought had an underrated performance was none other than Jake Waterman.
Waterman was pivotal in being that last link before going inside 50, an area the Eagles have been abysmal in this year. Jakes finished with 8 marks, 4 inside 50s, 14 touches and a goal, but what truly made his performance underrated was his 8 score involvements and that was owing to his great running into space and his prudent decision making. Can we see more of this in the future, Jake?
I’ve been very critical of Jake over the past few years. After his debut season in 2018, I have always felt like he hasn’t been living up to his potential. I’ve always felt something wasn’t quite right and have often put it down to attitude. To be fair on him though, he has often been played out of position on the wing and defence, hampering his development, which is not an uncommon story for West Coast.
Performances like this are reassuring that some of our younger talent have what it takes to make an impression on the game. I really hope he continues to perform at this level and stays with the team (there is talk that Sydney is interested in acquiring him), because I still think he had another level to go to and let’s face it, one of the reasons we want him to succeed is his famous name.
Mason Redman – Especially in the first half, Redman was once again that running presence behind the ball, often finding himself in space or able to win the ball back on a turnover and drive it forward for the Bombers. He finished the game with eight intercepts and seven marks as well as eight score involvements from his 21 disposals.
Zach Merrett – Started the game a little subdued, but burst to life in the second half after being moved around a lot as a general accumulator, his role was to do what the team needed at that exact moment, whether it was get back and give the defenders a chip out, provide a number one clearance option in the centre or put the block on for someone like Stringer or Shiel to win the ball, Merrett got better as the game went on. Unfortunately, his teammates for the most part did the exact opposite. Merrett won a game-high 28 disposals (10 contested), six marks, six tackles, six score involvements and two direct goal assists thanks to his brilliant field kicking going inside 50.
Dylan Shiel – That’s three weeks in a row that we’ve seen Dylan Shiel play a consistent, impacting game of football. After copping the wrath of every person in the AFL world with a heartbeat earlier in the season, Shiel has really turned his season around. Toseenight he amassed 26 disposals (11 of which were contested), a game-high nine clearances, eight score involvements and most notably, seven tackles. His inability to apply pressure has been as big of a knock on his skillset as his wayward kicking, but he’s now laid 22 tackles across his past three games, a better return than any player on his team, clearly showing that he’s worked on the defensive side of his game. Hopefully, that’s something that he’s able to continue, and that we’re able to see more of.
Nic Martin – Although he did disappear for a period in the second and third quarters, Martin showed once again how efficient he is for a first year player that was overlooked in multiple drafts. He won plenty of opportunities, kicking 2.2 for the game and earned himself plenty of the football. When he gets it and uses it, he almost always uses it well by foot. His composure and ability to make time around him seem to slow will see him become a key feature in the Bombers’ best 22 for years to come.
THE MOMENT THAT MATTERED MOST?
Fortunately, I am not writing about Petrucelle being caught holding the ball in the final moments of the game, because I could definitely feel a momentum shift when this happened.
But the moment that mattered for me was in the dying moments of the game. With a few minutes to go and 4 goals up, the Eagles chant went up around Optus Stadium sealing our win. But no one seemed to have informed the Bombers who went on an attacking blitz, scoring two goals within 30 seconds. Suddenly the lead was cut to 10, the chant died in the throat of the supporters and we all became very anxious that we were going to blow it.
With just over a minute to spare, Essendon drove the ball straight into their attacking 50 and we all expected two-metre Peter to be at the end of it. But it was Tom Barrass who calmly and confidently marked the ball and steadied the ship. It was a game-winning mark and exactly what the team needed at that precise point in time. If that moment doesn’t have captaincy written all over it, I don’t know what does. I’d personally love to see Tom take on the job at the end of the season.
Essendon kicking 2.7 to the Eagles 7.0 across the second quarter and early into the third was the turning point in this match. They just allowed West Coast far too much leeway with the ball in hand, being unable to competently defend their ball movement, and extremely wasteful in front of goal all but dahsed the hopes of the Bombers, whilst their lack of showing only caused the Eagles holes to rise, and their game to improve drastically from there on out, until it was too late for Essendon, the damage was done.
WHICH PLAYERS LET US DOWN THE MOST?
The Eagles have been spoiled by their ruck stocks over the years – Coxy, Nic Nat, Lycett, hell even Vardy during the latter half of 2018 – we’ve not had deficiencies in that position for as long as anyone can remember. Until now. With Nic Nat out, we’ve had to rely on Bailey Williams. Touted as a successor to the big man with dreadlocks, Eagles fans were excited about this prospect. However, reality has definitely not meet expectations with this one. And why he is still young and may grow into a competent ruckman, Bailey has yet to have a big breakout game. And while he wasn’t completely abysmal, he failed to make his mark against another young ruckman who is still developing himself.
Bailey really needs to embrace the mongrel that we all know is inside him and show a bit of fight to win the ball. Because someone that tall and well-built should not be getting easily beaten around the contest.
Sam Draper – First and foremost. Draper would have to be the biggest disappointment coming out of this game for the Bombers, bar none. Anybody wanting to argue because he finished the game with the most hit outs needs to take a seat. The Eagles without Nic Naitanui have had the worst ruck division in the competition this season, yet fresh off the back of monstering Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall last week, Sam Draper barely managed a whimper in the West. Neither he, nor his freshman protégé in Nick Bryan managed to take a single mark for the game, as Bailey Williams and Callum Jamieson outworked and outbodied their opponents. Nick Bryan is afforded a pass given that he’s playing only his fifth senior game at age 20, but with Essendon pinning their future ruck hopes solely on the back of Sam Draper, and opting to rest their senior backup in Andrew Phillips by leaving him in Victoria, this game was ripe for Draper’s pickings, yet when the Bombers needed his height, his grunt and his aggression, he was barely sighted (outside of the first quarter).
The Back Three – It’s no state secret that Essendon’s back line hasn’t just been their Achilles heel this season, I’d say it’s been more of a glass sledge hammer for them – damn near useless for all but any practical purpose. Jayden Laverde tries his heart out each week, but he is plagued by the disparity of being a few inches shirt every week – I know how he feels in that department. But neither he, nor Jordan Ridley could get a hand in to spoil, nor get body contact on their direct opponent at the best of times, as Jake Kelly spent a fair chunk of time as the loose man, and whilst he accumulated plenty of the footy, his decision making and panicking when under pressure cost the Bombers dearly.
Peter Wright’s Inaccuracy – This game could have been put to bed early had the Bombers been able to make good on some errant goal kicking. Whilst Wright still contributed four goals in the end, it went hand in hand with the four behinds that he kicked, all in the first half at a crucial time in the game. Whilst Essendon did inevitably piss away a 20 point lead, Wright kicked 3.4 in the first half, had two or three of those regulation set shots by his goal kicking standards gone through for goals, then all of a sudden the bar is set a hell of a lot higher for the Eagles to jump.
Same Old Essendon – Once again the opposition walked the ball out of their back line and scored heavily, once again we did little to stop them. It wasn’t just the long hail-mary kicks that always tended to fall in the advantage of Kennedy, Cripps or Darling, it was the sheer blindness to get an early step in with the likes of Liam Ryan and Willie Rioli, whose football sense left their opponents for dead whenever the ball was on its way into their forward 50.
PLAYER FROM THE OPPOSITION I ADMIRED MOST IN THIS GAME?
List management at West Coast must be kicking themselves after having the opportunity to pick up Nic Martin last year. What a revelation he has been for Essendon. I really love the way this kid goes about it. He’s got a good footy brain, evidenced by his brilliant decision-making that led to a number of early goals for the Bombers.
He always seemed to know precisely when to get involved in a contest and was a pivot ball winner for Essendon in this clash. And who doesn’t love a ball winning forward who knows his way around the goals? To go with his 20 touches, he also hit the scoreboard for 2.2.
And while he has a few improvements to make to his game, at 21, he has a bright future ahead of him. Bomber fans must be ecstatic with this pickup.
Elliot Yeo – I have no doubt that the relentless attack on the game from Yeo in the first half was a key reason in the Eagles keeping themselves in the game, and ultimately gaining the composure and belief to go on and win the game. Despite being out of the game for much of the last quarter, Yeo finished the game with more metres gained (585) than any other player on the field. Returning to his former stomping grounds where he earned an All Australian blazer, his role behind the ball as a swift and agile sweeper to get the ball in the corridor or straight through the middle has become a new toy for the Eagles to tinker with, and one that will cause sides a massive headache for the remainder of the season if he’s able to keep himself fit and healthy.
Jamie Cripps – There was a brief period within the game when Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling actually appeared somewhat subdued by their corresponding opponents, enter Jamie Cripps. The veteran forward was able to bob up with two goals in the second quarter when the Eagles slashed the Bombers lead, and another in the third quarter, proving to be a real thorn in the Bombers side, especially when they thought they had this opposition forward line all figured out. He also set up two direct goals off his own boot.
Willie Rioli – Love, love, love when Willie is on like he was tonight. He patrols that half forward line and at the faintest sniff of opportunity, he is able to ride like the wind, Bullseye. He pounced on numerous chances when they appeared, to finish with 3.1 for the night and a heap of pressure applied to the Essendon half-backs.
Josh Kennedy – There isn’t much that I can say about Kennedy that I haven’t reported over the years. My adoration for the man runs deeper than our mutual bearded men’s club fraternity memberships. Kennedy is the quintessential key forward of this generation that’s beginning coming to a close, but whether be calls time on his career at the end of this season, or the next, it’s games like tonight that I look back on and Marvel his genuine forward craft. There were many occasions where Kennedy impressed me once again with his footy brain; making false leads inside the forward line and taking his man away from the space, allowing Cripps, darling or even Ryan the chance to drop in the hole and take an easy mark, highlight how unselfish he is as a player, and just why he’s rated as highly as he is. He finished the game with a lazy five goals to take his season tally to 23.
Jermaine Jones – Another player that I have begun to notice over the past few weeks. It’s hard for any small forward to break into a forward line that already consists of Liam Ryan and Willie Rioli, so the transformation of Jones into a flashy, rebounding half back has been a masterstroke in the latter half of this season, and his ability to get behind the play and provide a speedy set of legs on the last line of defence saved the Eagles time and time again tonight. He’s not a player that will rack up ridiculous numbers, but he’s a player that doesn’t stop applying pressure and makes his presence known.
I’m going early crow and declaring that there is no way West Coast are winning the spoon this year. Nup, not going to happen. Mark 17th for us in pen and underline it. And while missing out on the top pick (who is going to Brisbane via father-son anyway) is a minor disappointment, having some belief around the club is going to be much more valuable going forward. Let’s collect a decent talent at pick three, reset over summer and come back next year and give it a good crack.
Having Elliot Yeo across half-back has been a masterstroke from Adam Simpson, and both the coach and the player deserve credit for this decision, as well as the application in the role. His hardness at the contest and willingness to take a risk gives us a potent weapon to complement the work of Hurn and Duggan on the rebound. If he wasn’t so great in the midfield as well, a permanent role in defence would be perfect for him. Maybe even as a replacement for the 300-game former captain, eventually.
Yeo’s first efforts this season spoke of a man who was rushed back into the side. He was not ready and struggled in the midfield after his osteitis pubis battles. Off half-back, with the ball in front of him and options aplenty, Yeo looked like he was completely comfortable and was a huge difference for the remainder of the season.
There isn’t much more that I can say about the levels of disdain and disappointment that Essendon fans are rightfully feeling at this time. I wish I could say that it’s all going to get easier, but I’m a realist.
The Eagles were able to turn the game around early, and once the Bombers had kicked themselves out of the game from a scoring perspective, they opted to play it safe as their opposition found new levels of moving the ball and scoring ability.
With every ensuing game seeming as inevitably bleak and bland as Mum’s apricot chicken, the prospect of the Bombers taking on Sydney at the MCG next week is major surgery without anesthesia levels of painful, even just to think about.
The Eagles travel to the MCG on Sunday afternoon for another date with Richmond, one that they’ll be hoping doesn’t end up like their last outing. Unlike a tinder date, this is a date that the Eagles will be hoping doesn’t end in excessive scoring.