There were points in this game of footy where it appeared as though the Swans were ready to break things open.
Early in the first quarter, Sydney looked set for a big win, as they slotted five of the first six goals and moved the ball from end to end with apparent ease. And again in the last quarter, when they pushed their lead out to three goals on the back of goals to Callum Mills and Chad Warner.
But each time the Swans made their move, Essendon was able to counter and they did so with sheer will and determination – elements that have been a little too rare for the Bombers this season.
In a game that had no huge numbers from players, as we’ve come to expect, it was quality over quantity as players like Nick Hind, Mason Redman, and Massimo D’Ambrosio used the footy well to pick holes in the Sydney defensive set-up. The Swans’ stars failed to deliver, having five more scoring shots but falling nine points short as the Bombers looked to salvage something from their 2022 season.
In terms of impact, the win does not do a lot for the Bombers aside from restoring some pride, whilst for the Swans, it places them in a precarious position with seven rounds of footy remaining.
Plenty to sort through in this one, so let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Loves and Hates.
LOVE – DOING IT WHERE IT COUNTS
I enjoyed watching the Merrett v Rowbottom duels around the park in this game, with the Swan paying a fair amount of attention to the multiple Crichton Medallist at stoppages. It was effective, too, with Merrett picking up just nine first-half disposals and zero clearances.
However, what great players do when tagged is find a way to hurt sides, and a quick check of the goalkickers in this game would leave no doubt in the minds of both Essendon and Sydney supporters that Merrett inflicted more than his share of pain on the Swans.
Three goals from a midfielder is in the elite realm, and Merrett seemed to enjoy allowing Rowbottom to ball-watch, peeling off and finding the footy on the outside as his opponent was dragged into the contest.
It is difficult to be critical of Rowbottom for permitting this, as we are not privy to the exact instructions he was given, but my guess would be that “forget about Merrett around goals” would not have been amongst them.
Merrett finished with 24 touches, doing most of his damage in the last quarter, as he notched nine touches and one of his three goals. On the flipside, Rowbottom managed just 14 touches and had a tough time getting his mitts on the footy in the last quarter.
HATE – INACCURACY
Much like Carlton last night against the Saints on Friday night, the Swans had plenty of chances to kick away, or take the lead back, but squandered the opportunities.
Misses to Lance Franklin in a position where he usually eats up the goals were so costly, but misses earlier in the game, en route to a 12.14 scoreline, were just as damaging. Tom Papley was the main offender, but boy, did he have some help from his teammates when it came to missing the target.
Very gettable shots at goal to Logan McDonald and Sam Reid must have had Swans supporters tearing their hair out, and when you leave the door open to a desperate team, you sure as hell better believe that they’re going to barge on in.
Sydney largely have themselves to blame for this loss. They will sit back and review this game at some point, and heads will drop when the number of missed shots hits home. This was a chance to secure a real shot at the top four, and in short, they blew it.
LOVE – DEFENDERS GETTING FORWARD
How good was some of that run from behind by the Bombers!
Nick Hind, Mason Redman, hell, even Jake Kelly managed to push hard on the rebound and hit the scoreboard.
Redman’s towering 55-metre goal in the last quarter was a team-lifter. It followed some gutsy work from Darcy Parish to set it all up, but the strike from the defender was picture-perfect, and you could just feel the Bombers’ belief grow as that ball sailed through.
HATE – DISAPPEARING ACTS
Where’s that dead horse? I am going to beat it some more.
Where was Ollie Florent in this game? The difference between his best and worst is huge at the moment. One week, he is racking them up and looking as though he is capable of taking on the world, and the next… he seems like a timid child, better suited to hide behind his mother’s skirt.
Eight touches for a player of his ability is a travesty, particularly following his 27-disposal outing last week as the Swans demolished the Saints. Eight pissy little touches in a role at half-back that should permit him to find the footy when he is not even meaning to… this is simply not good enough.
I had to smile last week as whichever boneheaded commentator offered that Florent had been “very consistent” this season. Seriously, which bloke is he watching? Florent has under 15 touches more times than he has had over 20, and with just the eight touches in this one, a new season-low was established.
And about that dead horse… the Swans are now 5-5 when Florent has under 20 touches. When he gets 20+, they are 4-1. Get the boy involved, Horse – he can hurt teams.
LOVE – THE KID STEPPING UP
What a vote of confidence in the ability of Ben Hobbs in this game.
With the game on the line and the Bombers needing a lift, it wasn’t the old reliable sources that put their hand up and took the game over – no, no, no. Instead, it was a youngster playing game number 11 that went into the middle of the ground and stamped his authority on the contest.
Ben Hobbs was a huge part of the Bombers’ last quarter lift, registering ten disposals and three clearances as Essendon powered the footy forward and stunned a Sydney team that must have felt the game was theirs just five minutes before.
The number 13 pick had clean hands and had no issue putting his head over the footy when the game was at its hottest. He finished with 19 touches for the game, and whilst he may have been a little careless with the footy at times, when the pressure came in the last quarter, he stood up and did his part for the team.
And you know what they say about pressure, right?
It creates diamonds.
HATE – THE USE OF CALLUM MILLS
Is Callum Mills in the top five players at Sydney right now? Top three, maybe?
Okey doke, then why was he not in the guts for the majority of the game? Patrolling the wing or the flanks, Mills was not a factor for the first three quarters of the contest. It was only in the last quarter, with the game on the line, that we started to see why he is so highly regarded.
The Swans have plenty of players that can win the footy at the coal face – I will happily concede that – however, on this occasion, outside of Luke Parker and Chad Warner, they really seemed to struggle. Tom Hickey is usually a maestro at positioning himself to take clean possession, but he was consistently thwarted by Sam Draper, and that left… nt much else to get the job done.
As a result, the Bombers were +8 for the game in clearances, and for most of three long quarters, Callum Mills sat on the outside looking in. If he is injured, fair enough, but he didn’t look too bloody injured when Horse threw him in there in the last quarter and he helped spearhead some excellent attacking forays.
I know coaches are constantly attempted to keep things fresh and ensure their pieces are able to adapt to different roles, but I reckon he pulled the wrong string today. The Swans needed Mills’ leadership on the ball.
Sadly, he was unable to offer that from the wing.
LOVE – THE HERO
Geez, you watch Jake Stringer with your heart in your mouth, sometimes. He can do the mercurial, or the idiotic, depending on which way the wind is blowing, and in this one we saw both sides of a very complicated fella.
His insertion into the middle of the ground in the last quarter gave the Bombers plenty of grunt out of the guts, and with his two goals, it looked as though Jake had picked his moment to shine.
And man, he was shining brightly…
HATE – THE VILLAIN
… And then this dark cloud emerged over him and he almost cost his team the game with a 50 metre penalty that gifted Chad Warner his third goal and reduced the margin to a single kick.
I don’t pretend to know what goes on in the head of Jake Stringer. The words “not much” spring to mind, but I reckon in some cases it may be “too much” as he tries everything in his power to get the game on his team’s terms.
But sometimes, you’d just like to see him play the percentages and… well, not do dumb things. I know, I know… it is a lot to ask, but when you’re on the verge of being the hero, doing something that casts you in the role of villain is something only masochists would do. Is that what you are, Jake? Do you both love and hate yourself the way I loved and hated the actions in the last quarter?
In the end, all is well that ends well and the Bombers got home largely thanks to Jake Stringer’s big last quarter, whilst they also got themselves out of jail in the last quarter, and they were in that spot due to Jake Stringer’s big last quarter.
I guess the upside of having an anti-hero on your team is that there is never a dull moment.
Now, get him home to bed before he cannot take the adulation and needs to do something else to restore the love/hate balance.
LOVE – THE ENTHUSIASM
About a month or so ago, a young bloke named Sam Durham played a massive third quarter in the wet against Port Adelaide to drag the Bombers, kicking and screaming at times, back into the game. He rose to the occasion in that game, finding the slippery conditions to his liking as he flew for marks, threw his body into the contest, and won the footy with good, old-fashioned contested footy.
He was at it again in this one, once again saving his best for the third quarter, as he laid the smacketh down on Nick Blakey a couple of times to win contests and drive the Bombers forward. Others may have reaped the scoreboard reward, but it was Durham doing the hard yards to set them up, and if you missed how good he was through the first 15 minutes of the third quarter, I suggest you take particular notice when you sit back on your couch, put your feet up, and decide you’d like to enjoy the win all over again.
However, there were some areas of concern for him…
HATE – OVER-ENTHUSIASM
… yes, a little over-enthusiasm – I know the feeling well.
I can remember being a young man, feeling pretty pleased with myself when there was some interest from a member of the opposite sex in my life. Yes, life was good when that happened, but… well, I have to admit, I did get a little overenthusiastic at times.
And that leads to errors.
Much like the teenage version of me, Durham was all about the effort, but the execution left a little to be desired. I am not saying he released the ball prematurely or anything, but there were times, in another scary parallel to my love life at the time, where he seemed to have spent the footy before he got it, and it opened the door for the opposition to swoop in.
Man, I think I may need some counselling about this…
Anyway, whilst he has clearly demonstrated that he possesses the ability to find the footy, I would like to impart a little bit of wisdom I really needed someone to give me all those years ago. Sam… slow down, mate.
LOVE – A LITTLE BIT OF MCGOVERN ABOUT HIM
I made a note to really watch the way Paddy McCartin went about things this week, and how the Swans opt to use him.
Like so many intercept players, finding the right matchup to exploit is integral in getting McCartin the space to operate. I reckon the Swans pulled the right string early on in this one, with Harrison Jones the designated dance partner for the older McCartin.
Whilst Jones tried, and was often alone around half forward, he had to learn a valuable lesson about positioning in this game. Getting open in places where your teammates cannot get you the footy is pointless. McCartin was aware that Jones was open. He was also aware that there was very little chance that the Bombers couple get him the footy without two or three possessions to do so. And that permitted Paddy the freedom to come in over the top and control the air.
There was an eerie similarity between the way Paddy McCartin played in this game, and the way Jeremy McGovern has performed at West Coast over the years. His positioning looked very reminiscent of the multiple All-Australian, and it should be noted that Gov did not really dominate the position until his mid-20s.
Whilst McCartin sat out a number of years due to concussion-related injuries/precautions, at 26 years old, could he grab himself an All-Australian blazer over the next few years as that intercept role at half-back? He has taken to it like a fish to water this season, and if he manages it, it’ll be one of the great footy stories.
HATE – SELECTIVE RUNNING
Here Is a blunt message for Nick Hind, Sam Durham, and Sam Draper.
When Nick Blakey gets the footy at half back, kicks it forward and takes off, you either go with him, or put the bumpers up and make sure he is not simply allowed to motor along to the next contest, receive the handball and run toward goal.
The Swans were able to convert a goal to Sam Reid as a result of Blakey’s run in the first quarter, as he simply carved the Bombers up through the middle, and whilst the commentators pointed out Durham as the main culprit, I was more of the opinion that a speed machine like Hind should have been aware of what was happening, and put in the big ones to ensure there were no follow up possessions.
He didn’t. No one did, and that is an error you cannot make against this team.
LOVE – THE CHAD
He was easily the best Swan on the ground in this one – he just makes things happen, and has the composure to lowe the eyes to hit a target, or go for home when the time is right.
He did a bit of everything for the Swans in this one – he won clearances – seven of them, hit the scoreboard – three goals, and got teammates involved – two goal assists and ten score involvements. In a team that made errors aplenty, he was clean of hand and demonstrated great poise.
Often left out of the conversation around the best young Swans about 12 months ago, he is likely one of the first mentioned now. I’ve often thought that Will Hayward had a bit of Stevie Johnson about him, but I may be swayed toward Warner more so these days. he just seems to see things unfolding before others – it is a wonderful talent to have
LAST LOVE – BZERK
Man, I have been waiting for this from Brandon Zerk-Thatcher since I watched him play in the preseason a couple of years ago. I’ve always thought his development would be key to the Bombers’ back six getting some stability.
At 23, he has taken his time, but how big was he in the last quarter of this game! Making big plays, big intercepts, big spoils – this is the version I’ve wanted to see, and I don’t even support Essendon. I can only imagine how his performance would have made die-hard Essendon supporters feel.
With Michael Hurley only now getting back to training with the group, this effort from Bzerk probably came a little late to really mean something important for 2022, but it is what it means to this club going forward that is important. A Brandon Zerk-Thatcher that can play like he did in this one on a regular basis can have a huge impact ongoing, and given that he could become a cult figure in the league, I am here for it.
Come on… how can anyone not love a player named Bzerk?
Special mentions to the work of Sam Draper, Dyson Heppell, Dylan Shiel, Jake Kelly, and Luke Parker in his 250th, all of whose games I liked, but didn’t love to the point I loved those who got their own sections
And that’ll do me – the Swans face the Dogs next week in something of an elimination final for them… and definitely an elimination final for the Dogs. Meanwhile, Essendon head to the Gabba Fortress and take on the Lions. They’ll need to be at their absolute best to give it a shake up there.