Port Adelaide v Essendon – Alternate Worlds

It was a game that will be remembered for the life being sucked out of the crowd by the visiting Port Adelaide team. Essendon supporters – those who stayed and supported their team until the bitter end – sat and watched without comment as their side fizzled and the Power punished them on the scoreboard.

With nothing on the line but pride, it was Port who played for the jumper and each other, whilst Essendon barely played at all.

Two Mongrels watched this with a focus on a specific team. Jimmy Ayres wore the red and black of his beloved Bombers, whilst HB slipped into the prison bars because he likes to roll like that, and jumped on the Power.

Here’s what they saw.

 

 

WHO WAS THE MATCH WINNER?

 

HB Meyers – There has been a lot of criticism for Ken Hinkley and the way he has opted to maintain Jeremy Finlayson as the number one ruck option at Port, even though there are others available. At times, it has appeared as though that criticism has been entirely justified, and then you get a game like this that makes you rethink things.

Look at it this way – Sam Draper murdered Jeremy Finlayson in the ruck – he jumped all over him to dominate the hit outs. And then what?

Finlayson often found himself roving the ruck taps of Draper and running away with the footy, punishing the Bombers for their poor structure and lack of discipline around the footy. You would see Finlayson running hard forward while Draper was struggling to catch his breath 50 metres away, hands on hips.

The makeshift ruck ended the game with 25 touches and two goals (and six hit-outs… he is a ruckman, after all) whilst Draper and his backup, Nick Bryan managed ten touches of the footy between them.

Finlayson will have games where he gets monstered in the ruck and doesn’t have this type of impact at ground level, but when it works, it works beautifully.

Though there were a few contenders hot on his tail, I have to make special mention to Aliir Aliir, who monstered Peter Wright in the one-on-one contests all game, with Wright’s only goal coming whilst Aliir sat on the bench.

Aliir had a monster year last season, but teams seemed to have put a fair bit of work into this season and forced him to defend one-out a lot more. Maybe he is now getting used to it, or maybe Wright was just the perfect opponent at the perfect time, because Aliir barely looked like losing a contest all game.

 

Jimmy Ayres – Jeremy Finlayson – You could honestly choose any one of at least half a dozen Power players to fit this bill, and the argument would be as easy to mount as the bucking mechanical bull at your cousin’s 21st.

Finlayson lost the hitouts to Essendon’s ruck duo of Draper/Bryan 45-6, yet the Port ruckman was one of the most influential players on the ground. How’s that, you ask? Because he’s not one-dimensional like the majority of the opposition side he lined up against today. Whilst being easily beaten in the hitouts, Finlayson makes himself useful in the midfield as a high marking target, but also as an extra ball-winner, with the Bombers having nothing to answer for his durability around the ground. He finished the game with 25 disposals, 10 score involvements, six marks, four clearances, four intercepts, two direct goal assists to compliment two goals off his own boot, as well as a game-high 626 metres gained. There was very little more that the makeshift ruckman could have done.

 

WHERE DID WE WIN/LOSE THE GAME?

 

HB Meyers – Sorry to be so simplistic, but the second quarter hunt was where this game was put to bed.

It was as though the Power got the scent of weakness from this Essendon team and went in for the kill. They added seven goals to zero for the term and ran riot, with seven individual goal kickers making the Bombers look like statues out there.

I have heard the phrase “given up” applied to the way the Bombers worked in the second quarter and though they were deplorable, focusing on them does not give Port enough credit for the hard run and relentless pressure they applied.

Essendon were shell shocked by the continuous attack on the footy by Port and their conversion from stoppages. Again, they moved the footy around Bomber players who appeared to be moving in slow motion in reaction, setting up goal after goal as Essendon did… nothing.

Though the margin blew out late in the game, Port put this one to bed by halftime with a blistering second quarter that demonstrated just how good they can be.

 

Jimmy Ayres – Where do I begin?

That Second Quarter –  This is the glaringly obvious selection for starters. Essendon conceded 8.2 in the second quarter alone, with seven of those goals coming from stoppages. Completely unbelievable numbers. It’s bloody hard to put into words just how poor the Bombers were in that quarter. All that equated to 12 goals scored against them in the first half, not even managing a whimper in the second quarter, scoring one solitary behind in the dying minutes of the quarter to let Port Adelaide walk into their rooms 51 point leaders at half time.

Stoppages – For a team that boasted all offseason about the new “blue-collar” brand of football that they were going to shake up the competition with, I can tell you now that no collar colour designation describes the poor performance dished up, largely by the Essendon midfielders and defenders in this one. I would go as far as to say that Essendon’s efforts were akin to the filthiest of dole bludgers that leech off the hardworking members of society, if you’re looking for some sort of workforce comparison to fit the metaphor.

Selection Table – Just stop and consider these ins and outs for a second.

In: D.Shiel, J.Caldwell, N.Bryan.

Out: B.Hobbs (sub), H.Jones, J.Stewart, W.Snelling.

So James Stewart goes out with a foot injury, he’s become your second ruckman and forward option that has provided four goals in his two games back late this season as a forward.

Harry Jones has played second fiddle to Peter Wright as number two in the forward line this season, unfortunately but correctly omitted due to a string of quiet games.

Will Snelling suffers yet another soft tissue injury, but let’s be honest here, his return from numerous soft tissue injuries and mismanagement of ailments has led him to struggle immensely at senior level. He was a candidate to be dropped on form, regardless of injury.

Then there’s the omission of Ben Hobbs. This one makes me scratch my head to the point that my wife requests I use some tea tree shampoo. An 18-year-old who has repeatedly shown more ticker than most of his teammates. Rest him? Sure. Your season is shot. But register it as an omission and relegate him as sub? I can’t actually say I’m surprised. This is the same club that has completed the masterstroke of debuting three players as sub this year.

So, take into account that Essendon have lost two tall forwards, a small mid/utility and a hard inside midfielder at the selection table, who is it that they decide to bring in?

Nick Bryan, an 18 year old ruck prospect that has been playing well at VFL level, played six senior games this season and is building to what will hopefully be a successful career.

Dylan Shiel, arguably Essendon’s best midfielder in the second half of the season.

And Jye Caldwell, an inside mid that has just ticked over 30 games and is yet to establish his true role inside this positional revolving door of an Essendon side.

I’m not sure exactly where the Bombers expected their goals to come from, with Port’s tall defenders being one of the strongest parts of their game, Essendon still opted to play a shorter forward line. Whilst I’ll concede that Aliir Aliir could have gotten away with murder with the way that the umpires allowed him to handle Peter Wright, the Bombers leading goal kicker could have done a lot more to influence the game, just as the Essendon ball users could have tried a better avenue of kicking, rather than sending it to the advantage of Aliir every single contest.

Disposal – In perfect conditions under the roof at Marvel Stadium, there was no excuse for the poor disposal from some of Essendon’s usually reliable users. Zach Merrett has turned the ball over more in the past fortnight than any other in recent memory. Darcy Parish was rushed and wasteful – a symptom of his side being smashed in the midfield relentlessly in the second quarter. Mason Redman made some uncharacteristic errors, and Jayden Laverde all but sewed himself up the reverse Coleman Medal by refusing to put body on Charlie Dixon, as Port’s rapid ball movement caused havoc.

The stats sheet says that the Bombers finished with 73% disposal efficiency, but I feel that is being very generous. It wasn’t even the quick dump kicks that blazed away to nothing, it was the poor shot selection, the lack of awareness and the vehement disregard for a teammate in a better position.

 

WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?

 

HB Meyers – What can you say when your team does everything but strip the opposition team down naked and make them walk around the boundary?

Maybe Ken Hinkley could have pulled the old Under Tens trick and swap his forward line to defence and let the backline have a chance at kicking some goals? Hell, they were so good all over the park, it may not have even mattered in the end.

If pressed, I perhaps would have liked to see Xavier Duursma used a little more. I mean, a lot of that would have been up to him to get involved, but he played a pretty selfless game holding his width on the wing so a little reward for that effort wouldn’t have gone astray. Plus, I have been watching him since he returned – I reckon he needed the personal win and some confidence back.

From a team point of view, Port took the foot off the pedal a little in the third quarter, and whilst the Bombers didn’t do any real damage, a little more killer instinct (which they did demonstrate late in the game) could have made this a 100+ point win.

Whilst nobody celebrates completely burying a team – they tend to remember those things – it would have done the Power a world of good knowing that a four-quarter effort from this team results in an absolute massacre.

But I am starting to sound ungrateful about a team that just won by 84 points, so I’ll put a sock in it.

 

Jimmy Ayres – As I mentioned previously, I firmly believe that this game was lost at the selection table. The Bombers simply went into the game far too short in their forward line, expecting players such as Kyle Langford and Archie Perkins to be somehow combat Port’s sturdy defence, when neither player has spent much time as a stay-at-home forward this season. Before the ball was even bounced, I would have selected a team more capable of competing against the side that Port are currently selecting each week.

Sam Draper and Nick Bryan were always going to get the better of Jeremy Finlayson in the ruck. Where Port have made interesting inroads with their ruck situation this season, is using Finlayson as another midfielder. Not relying on him to win the tap, rather using his extra body at the contest to win clearances. It sounds simplistic, but it works, and he had four clearances to his name in the first half, all of which led to Port Adelaide goals. I would have put some extra time into him early and taken advantage of the hitout dominance going our way, rather than being forced into ridiculously poor turnovers, to which the opposition scored relentlessly from. Finlayson finished the game as one of the best on the ground, with two goals also added to his impressive stats sheet.

Ideally, I would have instructed Jayden Laverde to put some physical presence into his opponents. Charlie Dixon is strong enough and has the height advantage as it is, the last thing he needed was an extra 20-30 metres of space to operate in. The same can be said about Todd Marshall and Mitch Georgiadis.

Another key component of this loss was pressure around the midfield. The Bombers ended up winning the clearances, comfortably, but it was the next step in the chain where the Bombers constantly let themselves down. An inability to defend in the middle, especially after you’ve won the clearance and wasted your next disposal.

Lastly, I’ll sound like a busted record here, but Essendon’s inability to stop transition football against them has single-handedly been the biggest blight on their season this year. Set to finish the season inside the bottom four, the Bombers have been nothing short of terrible this year at stopping teams from moving the ball against them with utter ease. If it weren’t for West Coast and North Melbourne having historically poor seasons, the blowtorch would rightfully be held on Essendon and how disgustingly subpar their progression from last season has been. I’ll touch on the Bombers waving the white flag early in the third quarter later in the piece.

 

MOST UNDERRATED PERFORMANCE

 

HB Meyers – There are a heap in this one who should be feeling pretty good about their efforts.

Zach Merrett had 26 touches, but the pressure from Willem Drew caused him to be a little wayward with his disposals. Most people look at the simplest form of numbers when assessing how a defensive mid performed, but with Merrett running at just 62% efficiency, he was a fair way removed from the power running and precise kicking machine we’ve seen at points of his career.

Jase Burgoyne only had the 12 touches, but whilst so many compare him to his dad… and why wouldn’t you? He is his father, after all, right? Anyway, I kind of see a different player in him at the moment. He reminds me of the young Gavin Wanganeen. There is nothing of him – he looks like a strong gust of wind could really unsettle him, but he reads the play well and knows what to do with the footy when he gets it. And courage… he has plenty of it. At the moment, his role in this team is understated, but within two years, we are going to see him either morph into an elite small defender, or move into the midfield and start using his evasion to turn heads.

And Jed McEntee got in on the party in this one, slotting two goals and starting to look dangerous around the contest. He was completely robbed of a holding-the-ball free kick at one point which must be infuriating for the players as they do everything right, the bloke with the footy is given three or four seconds to get rid of the footy, and then it just falls out and the ump yells “that’s a handball” when it was clearly incorrect disposal.

 

Jimmy Ayres – Dylan Shiel – I eagerly await the Metres Gained Groupies who will string Dylan Shiel up in the media this week for his 27 disposals that netted only 37 metres gained for the match. I guarantee you that they’ll neglect to mention his 12 clearances, which I’ll admit ultimately didn’t help a side that was demolished out of the centre. But most importantly for me was Shiel’s 10 tackles for the game – four more than any other player on the ground, and six more than any other Bomber, as well as two direct goal assists.  This is a hill that I’ll die on, but Dylan Shiel was the ONLY Essendon player that showed an equal willingness to defend the play going back the other way, as he was to attack the game head-on. Yes, some of his disposals were poor. Yes, his disposal selection at times left a little to be desired as he sold his teammates into trouble, but when he’s facing an 84-point loss (your side’s biggest loss of the season), Dylan Shiel can still walk off the ground with his head held high as one of about four players who genuinely gave it their all in this game, and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

Jordan Ridley – A star Bomber that hasn’t hit the heights of previous years this season, Jordan Ridley was about the only defensive player for the Bombers that you could say won more battles than he lost, except maybe for BZT’s first half. I had Ridley as Essendon’s second-best player after Dylan Shiel with his 30 disposals, 11 intercepts and nine marks (three contested).

 

THE MOMENT THAT MATTERED MOST?

 

HB Meyers – The entire second quarter broke the hearts of the Bombers, and if not the players, then most certainly the supporters. Their season was done and these people rocked up to support their team one last time, only to find players moping about the field like they‘d listened to too much My Chemical Romance, whilst their opponents ran rings around them.

Port players lined up to walk into open goals as the Bombers stopped working for each other, and at points, stopped working entirely.

Port sensed the malaise of the Bombers and capitalised – when you have the favourite for your best and fairest award cocking up kick after kick and turning it over, it is time to abandon all hope, and in the second quarter, all hope from the Essendon poi t of view had vacated Marvel Stadium.

 

Jimmy Ayres – It really depends on what you define as “mattered”. This moment didn’t matter most in terms of where the game was won or lost, but in terms of where the Bombers are at with a week to go in their season, seeing them almost literally waving the white flag in the third quarter was an embarrassment to football in general, and mattered more in the reflection of this club than any of the few highs we’ve seen this season.

I listened to a press conference last week where Damien Hardwick lauded Shai Bolton for his work ethic. In the dying minute of the game, Bolton chased his opponent for over 100m at full pace, even though his side was already winning by over six goals and facing a certain victory, Bolton continued to run and chase, when he could’ve easily let his man go and still walked away with the win. That’s commitment.

Although the circumstances are different in that the Bombers were facing a loss that can be described as nothing short of embarassing, seeing more than a dozen players physically give up in the second half when there was still game to be played is an indictment on the attitude around this playing group, and any Essendon fan that wants to try and justify it is equally part of the problem. What side can boast about establishing the best culture and the best brand in the competition when more than half their players take their bat and ball and go home midway through the third quarter, allowing the opposition to continue running away with the game?

You talk about the moment that mattered most, the moment I saw players not even bother to throw an arm out in a weak attempt at stopping their direct opponent from running straight past them said enough for me. This group already has their mind on their end of season footy trip, and they just want to get to Ibiza or some little European country or whichever exotic foreign location that they’ve booked to boost their Instagram content over the offseason, as quickly as possible.

 

WHICH PLAYERS LET US DOWN THE MOST?

 

HB Meyers – Geez, this is like trying to pick your least favourite child on a day they all behaved exceptionally well.

If you grabbed my arm, twisted it and forced me to choose someone, I might say that Connor Rozee wasted the ball a bit in this one, and that is making the largest stretch I can to find a player that could have been better, particularly when you know what he is capable of.

Karl Amon seemed to be in second gear all game long, but once halftime ticked by, there was no use killing himself to get the footy, especially whilst uncontracted.

Trav Boak got caught holding the ball a couple of times, but he continued to fight the good fight… far out, picking out players who “let us down” is bloody hard in a team that didn’t let anyone down at all today.

For the first time since starting to write this review, I genuinely wish I could swap places with Jimmy and cover the team with more contenders for who let them down than who did them proud.

Overall, a very solid contribution across all lines for Port, and really, those listed above didn;t let me down at all. I just feel forced to nitpick a little.

 

Jimmy Ayres – Make yourself a coffee before you strap yourself in, this is going to be a long ride.

Zach Merrett – I have zero hesitation in arguing that Zach Merrett is a firm choice for the best field kick in the AFL. Sometimes I watch the angles of which he kicks and ponder how the hell he envisioned his player successful being in that time and space whilst looking straight ahead, let alone executing the kick to hit that teammate lace-out. Anyone watching today’s game would have me chewed up, spat out and laughed off stage for such an opinion. I don’t recall a game in recent times where Zach looked so forced into horrible decisions and turnovers, especially when not under direct pressure.

Darcy Parish – Whilst I’ve been a firm defender of Parish not being a stats-sheet-stuffer every week, I can’t go in to bat for him much this week. You talk about poor disposal and disinterest, Parish looked a mile off his best, despite winning a lot of the ball and kicking a decent goal in the last quarter, when the game was on the line and being swept away, his lack of contribution cost his side.

Jayden Laverde – The whole love for the undersized defender taking it up to the big boys because the club had no one else to fill that role last season was a good little ditty at the time, but it’s either getting too close to the end of a wasted season, or Laverde is getting tired of the role he’s playing, or a little off both menus. Because the Bombers’ number one fullback looked about as interested in putting body on his opponent as Rebecca Judd was at receiving Tony Jones’ affection.

Dyson Heppell – This side is screaming for some leadership. Absolutely begging for a player that will grab the club by the horns and drag the playing list into line. Dyson Heppell is a terrific bloke and undoubtedly a good-hearted person to captain his players, but as was pointed out to me by my namesake at the Mongrel Punt who happens to be doing the other half of this article, nobody in this Essendon side is leading by example. Not Heppell, not Merrett, not McGrath, not Ridley. The latter three are names all touted as future leaders of this club, but none seem to demand anything of their players. This was evident today.

Mason Redman – I have LOVED Redman’s development into a damaging half-back that gallops through the middle and has the courage to go back and defend as much as attack – something rare in an era of flashy half-backs who love the attacking side more than the actual defensive aspect of the position. But today, Redman made uncharacteristic errors, his disposal was poor and as the game wore on, his interest waned.

Nick Hind – Would have featured a lot more heavily had the sheer desperation of switching his magnet to half forward had not paid off somewhat in the second half. I spoke before about half backs wanting to run and dash but not go back and do the hard yards of defending, this was Nick Hind in the first half.

Jake Stringer – Capable of some of the best, most entertaining football you can imagine when he’s at his best. But when he’s not, he drags his heels, throws his toys out of the cot and refuses to put in any effort whatsoever. Not something you want your young players to think is acceptable.

Jake Kelly – I honestly don’t even know where to begin with Kelly. Outside of a small handful of brilliant games, I would struggle to describe the former Crow’s season overall as anything more than barely-acceptable.

Peter Wright – After Aliir Aliir got the jump on Wright early, the Essendon forward popped back in his shell and didn’t look to influence the game at all. Whilst I agree that he was afforded not the slightest luxury from the umpire at the treatment he received from Aliir, Wright dropped a number of easy marks that he had a very good piece of.

Sam Draper – Showed some heart in moments, but when you smash your direct ruck opponent mercilessly in the hitouts, but he still manages to be arguably best on ground, something has to give. The Bombers needed more from Draper, and winning the hitouts alone wasn’t it.

I’m sure that there’s more, but I’m honestly tired of the negativity.

 

HB Meyers – See, I knew Jimmy would have a heap of them.

 

PLAYER FROM THE OPPOSITION I ADMIRED MOST IN THIS GAME?

 

HB Meyers – Geez, there aren’t many to choose from, is there?

Dylan Shiel ran hard all day and genuinely applied himself at the contest. He is one of the very few Bombers who could hold his head up high. Tackled well and cntinually put his body in.

Jordan Ridley is already a Crichton Medallist and his efforts in this one are a prime example as to why – 30 touches and 11 intercepts have him as probably the best Bomber on the park, and I reckon he would walk into any team in the league and take on the role of intercept defender immediately – he is 23; he’ll get a lot better over the next couple of seasons.

 

Jimmy Ayres – Zak Butters – Classy, controlled and composed. Zak Butters did it all from winning the ball in the middle, prancing forward with little resistance and slotted three goals for his trouble. An outstanding day from the 21 year old who just kept popping up and kept hurting the opposition.

Sam Powell-Pepper – Every team you come up against has that one player that always has a day out against your side. For the Bombers and Port Adelaide, that player is Powell-Pepper. His renegade crash-and-bash style netted him four goals to go with his 22 disposals and plenty of evasive run in the forward half.

Aliir Aliir – Given every opportunity by the umpires to physically handle Peter Wright, Aliir also managed to spoil any half chance that came his opponent’s way, out-marking, out-running and out-playing the Bombers leading goal kicker for the best part of the night to be one of Port’s best set up players behind the ball.

 

WRAP  UP

 

HB Meyers – This was like a gift from the footy gods. On the road with nothing to play for, the thought that this could have gotten ugly surely crept into the minds of Port fans prior to the first bounce.

However, whilst things did get ugly, it was Port inflicting the pain on the, at times, hapless Bombers.

A couple of weeks back, GWS coach, Leon Cameron labelled many in his side as having put the cue in the rack. The Giants retaliated with a win over the Bombers. Can Essendon do the same considering there were plenty who didn’t have their heart in this one?

As for Port, ending the season on a high note can come at the expense of the Crows next week in the season-ending Showdown.

Though again, there is nothing tangible on the line in this contest, Showdowns are a matter of pride, and it seems as though Port are playing his high levels of it at the moment. I love The Showdown – I am sure this one will be no exception.

 

Jimmy Ayres – There’s not a lot more to say. The Bombers copped their biggest loss of the season, as for the second week running they opted to let an opposition side take full advantage of their shortcomings.

With Richmond at the MCG next Saturday evening to come, the end of the season can’t come quick enough for the Essendon players. They’ve long since checked out of season 2022, and the red-hot Tigers on the eve of finals footy spells a complete bloodbath. If the Bombers thought Port Adelaide at Marvel Stadium was brutal, then next week is set to get damn ugly – and I’m talking beyond Cameron Ling levels of ugly.

 

 

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