If we jump into the Mongrel Time Machine (patent pending), and journey back just over 20 years ago would take us to a time when a powerful Essendon unit was hunted by a hungry bunch of Lions.
Their leader spoke the words – “if It bleeds, you can kill it,” and that became the mantra the Lions operated under, not just in their clash against the Bombers, but for the majority of three-straight premierships.
How times have changed.
Essendon are no longer a powerhouse, whilst the Lions have been building toward a premiership for three years, now. And coming into this clash, the Bombers smelt some blood of their own.
A wounded Brisbane had nine outs heading into this clash, and if there wasn’t the scent of blood in the air before the bounce, the haphazard structures of the Lions soon sent the Bombers into an attacking frenzy.
Despite a late surge, and the chance to steal the game, Essendon was able to hold on, dropping the Lions down to fourth and putting them in danger of missing the top four.
Here are The Mongrel’s Talking Points
PRESSURE… HELLO, PRESSURE?
The beginning of this game was like watching a training drill, as the pressure gauge was dialled right down for both teams, allowing free-flowing footy through the middle of the ground.
Whilst the tackle count in the first quarter seems about right, the ease in which the teams – and Essendon, in particular – moved the footy from end to end was quite astonishing.
Whether this was due to the huge number of outs in the Brisbane Lions outfit, or a general drop-off in intensity, is up in the air, but Essendon went coast-to-coast far too many times for Chris Fagan’s liking.
As the stakes rose in the last quarter, the desperation around the footy grew, but Essendon continued to find a way to find space on the Gabba and mark/kick their way through whatever Brisbane could throw at them.
Could this be a little of the coming of age of some of the Bombers, who have been… well, they’ve been messy at times this season? Or was it more a reflection of the poor structure of the Lions in the wake of missing so many pieces to their defensive puzzle?
Sorry to say, Bomber fans, but I reckon it was more of the second than it was the first. Still, you take this win and savour what worked against a team you found in disarray.
TAKING ON THE CHALLENGE
Jye Caldwell is one of those recruits that was always going to take a little time to really show what he was capable of. With limited opportunities at GWS, he came to Essendon in 2021 and after a good start, had to sit out most of the season with a hamstring injury.
This year, his efforts in the midfield have really come on, and today was probably his most complete game of the season.
Taking on Lachie Neale has been the undoing of many taggers, and when players choose to go head-to-head with him, they often get their backsides handed to them.
But Caldwell was right up for the challenge in this one, matching Neale both at the contest and around the ground. His 26 touches, nine score involvements, and seven tackles tell the story of a young man on the precipice of becoming an excellent two-way midfielder. Believe it or not, there are not that many of them around that truly know how to both restrict their opposition and win their own footy. When a player can do that, his value to his team is immense.
Whilst Caldwell’s value is not yet immense, it is well on the way upward.
In comparison, Lachie Neale, who was captaining the Lions in this game, had 21 touches – his lowest total of the season.
Essendon have tried taggers over the last few years, with Dylan Clarke the one that leaps to mind, but when you have a player that can do the role and punish a team going the other way, well… I know which one I’d rather have. Great game from Jye.
When word filtered through that Jake Kelly had been left out of the Essendon side to take on the Lions, I have to admit, I may have raised an eyebrow.
Ben Rutten must have seen a thing or two he didn’t like from Kelly in recent weeks and a trip back to the VFL must have sounded like a good idea. The defender was one of the players I thought had been a winner for the Bombers in 2022, not really having the luxury of time to adjust to a new role in a new team. He started slow but had really ramped up his output in the weeks leading into this game.
Of course, coaches see what I miss, so when the team was announced and Kelly was omitted, there was a but of confusion on my end. A late out, with Mason Redman unable to take his place in the side, saw Kelly back in the mix, and perhaps the distinct possibility that he was going to miss a game was enough to spark him into action.
Much to the chagrin of his opponent.
Kelly got the crucial matchup on Charlie Cameron and proceeded to clinically dismantle the Lions’ spark plug.
Wherever Cameron went, Kelly wasn’t far behind, chasing, harassing, tackling.… he gave Charlie no room all day.
Cameron’s only goal for the afternoon came when Kelly had to make a choice whether to stay with Cameron and give up an easy short pass to Eric Hipwood, or leave his man and force the kicker to make a tougher kick. The tougher kick was made and Charlie got “Country Roads” played at the Gabba for the only time of the day.
After a performance like this, you’d think that this would be the last time in a while Kelly is threatened with a run around in the seconds, but it is indicative of how Rutten is learning to push the right buttons with his team.
Following on from the section on Jake Kelly, it would be remiss of me to mention him in such detail without paying homage to the remainder of the defence, who hounded and, quite simply, outworked the Brisbane forwards all day long.
Jayden Laverde had his working boots on against Joe Daniher. Really, this should have been the type of match-up that had Daniher licking his lips, but in true Daniher fashion, there was plenty of sizzle about his game – attempted hangers, long booming kicks at goal – and very little steak.
Joe finished with ten disposals for the game, but only two marks. He did a bit to get teammates involved, but without Dan McStay to play the lead-up role and create space for Daniher to move into, he was rendered quite useless by the doggedness of Laverde.
Jordan Ridley stood tall in this one, as well. With nine intercepts and six rebounds, he was consistently reliable for the Bombers, making any errant inside 50 delivery his own.
And then there is Bzerk.
I like Bzerk. He has taken his time coming on, and really, this was the season he had to. Late in the game, his intercepting really came to the fore, as it appeared the Lions were deliberately kicking the footy to him. People, that’s what happens when you position yourself well in defence.
Zerk-Thatcher finished with 21 touches, eight intercepts and six rebound possessions as he did very little wrong.
When you add in the run and carry of Nick Hind, some good sweeping work from Andrew McGrath, and some excellent help defence from Sam Durham at times, the Bombers’ back six really took their opportunity to shine in this one and made the Lions look rather inept inside 50 for the most part.
PETER, PETER, THE LION EATER
There are those that will argue that had Harris Andrews played in this game, there was no way Peter Wright would have snagged five goals.
I wonder what their thinking was earlier this season when Andrews did play, and Wright took 11 grabs and kicked three goals. Andrews was playing that day, and Wright just consistently led him to the ball.
Eventually, people are going to have to face facts and acknowledge that Peter Wright is a bloody good forward, and when he is able to attack the footy the way he did in this one, there are very few men in the game that can stop him.
The big fella took four big contested marks in this one, and really could have had a couple more goals to his name (that roost from outside 50 that hit the post… I thought that one was home until the very last moment). He was way too much to handle for Jackson Payne, who is better suited to the body-to-body contests than flying for grabs, and whilst the commentators remarked that Marcus Adams should move over onto Wright, it appeared to me that he was hobbled and struggling to make up ground when the ball wasn’t in his immediate area. I saw that he had his thigh strapped, and it appeared as though he may have tweaked it during the game.
Don’t get on me about the title… it works when you say it out loud.
At one point, it looked as though Kyle Langford had been given a free pass to work within forward fifty without an opponent in this game. He constantly found himself in space, and as the Lions’ defence collapsed on contests involving either Wright, or Jake Stringer (who does not seem fit, to me), Langford would just bob up, take a grab and slot a goal.
As the players hit the sheds at halftime, he had three of his four goals on the board, leaving Brisbane defenders looking around at each other wondering whose responsibility he was.
Things slowed after that, but Langford’s ability overhead has always been underrated by those outside Essendon. Whilst playing on the wing in years prior, his marking has been something that set him apart from his opponents, and that translates perfectly to a role up forward.
In a contest where class seemed to take a bit of a holiday at times, the work of Hugh McCluggage inside forward fifty in the third quarter dragged the Lions back into the game. His quick hands, exceptional front and centre work, and his ability to find an open teammate whilst drawing the defence to himself, was top notch.
It is such a pity that this bloke gets the yips whenever there is a set shot ripe for the picking. He is almost the complete package as a player, and his 29 touches yielded two goal assists and eight score involvements, but, once again, it was the set shot from 40 metres out that became his Achilles Heel.
I know Lions fans have been saying this for a while, but if McCluggage can get some consistency with his goal kicking (and no, that doesn’t mean consistently kicking behinds), we are looking at the difference between a bloke who continually makes the AA squad of forty, and a bloke who is a perennial AA player.
Right now, Clug remains a squad of forty player.
IS THERE A PLACE FOR MITCH ROBINSON IN THE LIONS’ BEST 22?
My jury is well and truly out on this.
Watching the first quarter of this game, Robbo attempted to set a tone with his physical play. Sure, he cost the team a free-kick and a fifty-metre penalty for dissent, but the intent was great – he was playing this game as a reminder that he is still part of this Lions outfit and wants to remain that way.
He also kicked a couple of snags to further ram home his value, but if we’re looking long-term, you can see what the Lions are doing. James Tunstill is out there on the wing, as well. You have Jaxon Prior out of the side this week, but he is coming on nicely. You can see where this team is headed in the next couple of seasons…
Robbo is capable of making a difference right now. Whether you like or loathe his crash and bash nature, he is offering more to the side right now than Tunstill or Prior, and if the Lions are going to make noise this year in the finals, they ride with Robinson has he gives his all to go out in a blaze of glory. His move into the middle in the third quarter gave the Lions some real mongrel around the footy.
He could be the spark that lights the fire under this Lions team in September.
Or, he could burn the place to the ground.
WHICH OUT HURT THE LIONS MOST?
I know most will say it was Harris Andrews, and it is probably difficult to argue against it.
But I’ll try.
The Lions looked lost going forward in this one. Eric Hipwood made some searching leads up the wing, but at the moment, he is just not doing it for me at all. I really feel the Lions missed Daniel McStay.
There are those in some footy circles who say he doesn’t do enough – hell, I used to be one of them. However, he provides a string marking presence up the line and is very, very rarely outmarked. With the Lions forwards blanketed by a wonderful Essendon team defensive structure, having McStay actually clunk a couple of marks and open up space behind him for Daniher or Hipwood to lead into would have made a huge difference.
The other bloke, of course, would be Daniel Rich, whose precise kicking and composure makes the Lions better every week. They really struggled to break through the Bombers’ set up so many times without his skill from half-back.
Probably the most suspect I’ve seen Massimo D’Ambrosio since his debut. It just wasn’t working for hi today prior to his substitution. He fumbled and turned the footy over too easily.
The old form at Essendon of Zach Merrett and Dylan Shiel were right in the thick of it for most of the contest.
Has anyone ever seen a moment where Jake Stringer concedes that the umpire made the right decision? I’m on the hunt for such a moment, but I am not really sure one exists.
Really solid outing from Matt Guelfi in this one. Held his ground well, marked strongly, and played a vital role across half-forward.
And that might just do me this fine afternoon.
The Lions head to Canberra to take on the Giants next week, whilst the Bombers head home to take on the Suns in what should be a belter.
And hey, if you liked this review and would like to access our weekly feature articles, please consider supporting our work by becoming a member. It works out to like $1.50 per week – less if you pay annually (is it a worry that this corrected to “anally”?. I reckon we’re worth a cup of coffee every three weeks.