Richmond v Essendon – Mongrel Talking Points

This was always going to be a good game to watch in terms of gauging responses.

For Essendon, how they responded to a week of disarray, disconnect, and downright disrespect at club level was something to keep an eye on. I expected the players to huddle up and take on an “us versus the world” attitude headed into this game.

So, on the flip side, I wanted to see how Richmond would respond to a team that could be galvanised by the pressure at the club, external to the playing group. Would they match the emotion and the ferocity of the Bombers? Or would they do what the Tigers have done to this mob for 13-straight times and overwhelm them with a ferocious attack of their own before the Bombers had a chance to put their stamp on the game.

For a game where there was emotion, it was a wide-open first half, with the momentum shifting depending on who won the centre breaks. As a matter of fact, I cannot remember a game this season where the centre breaks were more telling than this one.

Merrett, Parish, and Shiel powered the Bombers out of the guts, but every time they looked like getting a run on, the most underrated midfielder in the game, Dion Prestia, seemed to step in to say “no fellas… not so fast.”

We had a surprisingly even first half before the Tigers put the foot down behind five minutes of Tom Lynch domination. I’ve written about the Tigers so often since starting The Mongrel Punt at the conclusion of the 2017 season – you could argue I have seen the absolute best this club has to offer, and as such, I, and you, can sense when the Richmond Football Club know they have a team wounded.

It’s at that point they go for the kill.

The third quarter is labelled by many as the premiership quarter, and with six goals to two, Richmond put their stamp on the game in the third term, effectively ending the Essendon resistance.

From there, we played out time as Richmond cruised into the 2022 finals series and Essendon limped away from a season they’ll want to forget, but should use as a cautionary tale so as not to make the same mistakes again.

Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Talking Points.

 

 

ANYTHING TO WORRY ABOUT WITH TOM LYNCH?

Only if you’re the opposition during finals.

How do you reckon his substitution went?

“Okay Tom, we’re going to leave you off because we don’t want to risk you getting hurt.”

“Yep… isn’t that illegal?”

“Damn – you’re right”

*Coach looks around, grabs an icepack and throws it to him.*

“Put that on your groin or something and tell them you’re tightening up.”

Am I saying that Richmond were in complete protection mode of Tom Lynch when they opted to sit him for the remainder of the game?

Absolutely, I am. However, I am not against at all against putting him in cotton wool to make sure he is right for finals. The last two weeks have demonstrated that when motivated, Lynch is a yellow and black wrecking ball, and… I don’t throw this comparison around too much, but for five or so minutes in the third quarter, he tore the game apart like a bloke who used to wear number 18 for the North Melbourne Football Club in the 90s.

Carey used to look as though he was being well held and had little influence on the contest and then… bang, he’d kick three, blow the doors off and turn the momentum of the game with a blast of power football.

Sound familiar?

Lynch is like a monster at the moment, and to see him working hard, not only to take marks and kick goals, but to pressure and put the hard yards in defensively, we could be about to see him have a huge September.

And if he does, god help the defenders trying to stop him.

As I am writing this, I hear Lynch is going to go in for scans on his groin. My thoughts – they kind of have to say that, don’t they? They subbed him out of the game and people will make a big deal out of it. He’ll go, get his scans, get cleared, and be there in two weeks to play finals, I reckon. And if he isn’t, well, then I am a giant idiot who doubted the seriousness of a man’s groin issues.

And I swore I would never do that after having some of my own. Now, let’s never speak of this again.

 

I’M JUST GOING TO SING THE PRAISES OF TRENT COTCHIN HERE FOR A WHILE

Last year and early this season, I labelled Trent Cotchin as a “moments man” in the league. That is by no means a putdown on the former Richmond skipper at all – no, far from it – it is more an acknowledgement that time was catching up to him and we probably were,’t going to see him dominate games from start to finish anymore.

But it also suggested that Cotchin could still wield huge influence in individual contests to tilt the balance of power toward the Tigers. The third quarter was littered with those moments.

Looking at my trusty notepad, which is absolutely packed with useless info about the 2022 season in the handwriting of a doctor with no discernible calligraphy skills, Cotchin’s name came up several times.

Without context, here are the notes, word-for-word.

Cotch wants it more – second and third effort keep him involved – taken too high – goal.

Cotch creates for others again.

Cotchin clearance – important.

Moments that mattered from the moments-man.

Richmond in 2022 are not the side they were when they reigned over the competition. They have not dominated teams and have often been their own worst enemies, but they still possess an absolute weapon in Trent Cotchin. His desire to get to the footy first is second to none in this league and even in the twilight of his career, can still produce moments, or in tonight’s case, quarters that can have a huge impact on the game.

Whilst he probably takes a back seat to Tom Lynch in terms of what he brought to the table as the Tigers dropped the hammer on the Bombers, he remains one of the true game changers in the league.

 

WHICH KEY DEFENDER SHOULD THE BOMBERS TARGET?

They have to target someone, as it was painfully apparent in the third quarter that they had nobody that could even get close to stopping Tom Lynch. It was like a man against boys.

I like Jayden Laverde – he tries his guts out each and every week and genuinely looks like he gives a shit. I give a shit about how high my electricity bill is, but I still manage to leave lights on all the damn time – point is, it doesn’t matter how much you care if you are incapable of doing something to change what’s happening.

Laverde is an excellent third defender. The problem is that he is having to be the first option in defence and that spells trouble.

Essendon picked up Jake Kelly last off-season and he was manhandled by Lynch in the third quarter, as well. I know the injury to Michael Hurley and retirement of Cale Hooker (who was playing forward anyway) may have caught them on the hop. And yes, the non-factor that is Aaron Francis this season has not helped at all, but they know what they’re playing with now and need to take steps to address this issue in a hurry. Zac Reid is 20 and built like a stick of bamboo. Bradon Zerk-Thatcher is showing bits, but he is not ready to be the lockdown man just yet – Essendon need to recruit a big body to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with players like Lynch and break even in contests.

So, who is on the table?

Unless they can pry a contracted player away from somewhere, the pickings are slim.

Griffin Logue looks set to be on the move, but I have not heard his name connected with the Bombers… yet. If the Bombers are serious about fixing the issue down back, they need to be aggressive in their approach. If Francis wants to head home, let him. Save some coin and throw it at Logue to get some damn strength back there instead of asking too much of players who simply cannot deliver.

Carlton really hit the jackpot when they plucked Lewis Young from the Dogs this season – Essendon need that diamond in the rough. I’d be watching the delistings this season very closely, and possibly even a player or two that hung the boots up this season. Essendon are in need, and a position in the Bombers’ back six will not be difficult to crack for a well-rounded defender.

 

THE MOST UNDERRATED MID IN THE GAME

There are a few that could lay claim to this title, often overlooked for players with more name value in the league and indeed, on their own teams.

But is anyone as underrated in the midfield as Dion Prestia at Richmond? Not amongst Tiger supporters, I know, but by the wider footy community?

We’ve been spoilt by Richmond over the last five years thanks to players like Dustin Martin working his magic and even now, the mercurial Shai Bolton mesmerising us with his dancing feet and magical hands. However, the 2019 best and fairest winner should not be forgotten.

The three-time premiership star is the spark that starts the fire at Richmond. I rambled on about the work of Cotchin, but Prestia was every bit as damaging as the Tigers took control of the game in the third quarter. He had ten of his 31 touches in the premiership quarter and punished the Bombers as he took the footy out of the guts with three centre clearances in that period.

With the undersized Bombers needing their mids to hold the footy up in order to call in the cavalry, Prestia made the most of things, pumping the Tigers inside 50 and giving his forwards every chance to take advantage of the even numbers.

It was no coincidence that Prestia’s 2021 season came as Richmond failed to make the finals. Without their spark plug in the guts, Richmond had trouble getting things started.

Not so this season.

Prestia is compiling an excellent back half to the season and with 30+ disposals in four of his last five games, he is performing at a level he hasn’t since 2019…

… and we all know what happened then, right?

 

SOME BRIGHT SPOTS FOR THE BOMBERS?

This may have been the best game from Zach Merrett this season, and when I say that, I am not just talking in terms of numbers  – I mean in terms of impact.

He ran hard, collected a tonne of footy, tackled hard, put himself in good spots to cut off any Richmond kick that was in any way haphazard… he was everywhere in the first half, compiling 25 touches and genuinely trying his guts out.

His tackle on Toby Nankervis summed up the effort he was generating – he just latched on and refused to be pushed away, dragging the big fella down t win a holding-the-ball free kick. He played like a captain of the footy club.

The Bombers also got plenty of run from Dylan Shiel, but unlike Merrett, he wasted the footy far too often.

Some excellent moments from Massimo D’Ambrosio early and some solid contributions in the first half from Archie Perkins bode well, whilst the debut of Jye Menzie provided enough to have Bomber fans looking forward to seeing what he can do next season.

On the down side, Sam Durham struggled to get into the game, which is uncharacteristic for him, as his pressure and defensive work usually prop him up when he is a little bit quiet. Not this week, though.

 

WHY I RATE MARLION PICKETT

I could go and record this off the TV and have the AFL come after me for using their vision and all that crap, so I will err on the side of caution and describe it to you, instead.

Again, I find myself wandering off to the third quarter and my trusty notebook to back up my memories of this play, but the first, second and third efforts of Marlion Pickett to win the footy for his team on the far boundary gave Richmond an inside 50 and scoring opportunity built on hard work and determination. Pickett just flat out refused to give up on the play, even when the Bombers looked like clearing the footy and perhaps heading into attack.

He tackled, harassed, smothered, clawed, bit, fondled, and cajoled his way to winning the footy for the Tigers (and excite people with the way he did it, apparently) in a series of acts that told a story of a man, and a team, who know what it takes to play great footy at the right time of the year.

Pickett finished with just 12 touches for the game, but that one play and what it means to a team should not be understated. We remember the highlight plays and big goals, but the grunt work, especially grunt work that is this damn good, deserves to be acknowledged, as well. I see you Marlion – I don’t know how people could miss you with that type of effort.

 

IS JACK RIEWOLDT PAST IT?

Hahaha… no.

I had someone message me saying that he looks cooked.

I then sent them a message back, stating that he had five direct goal assists in this game. Strangely, I haven’t heard back from him, yet.

There I no doubt that Riewoldt is in a situation not too dissimilar to Cotchin in terms of his advancing age and ongoing ability to impact games. He is now a moments-man, as well and though he kicked just the one goal in this game, the fact he was able to set up his teammates five separate times should give you an indication as to where his head is at.

Is he cooked?

Nah, he is just about medium at the moment. You’d prefer him medium-rare, but we’re being realistic. He’s got a bit left in him – maybe enough for a fourth flag?

 

SHOULD MICHAEL HURLEY HAVE PLAYED?

Probably.

Nice sentiment and he got his moment at the end, but he was going up and down on the one spot for most of the game and couldn’t follow a man out of defence at all.

I understand that it is important to send off players who have meant something to the club, and it was a great moment when he kicked his snag in the last quarter, but he looked a fair way off the pace. I suppose that’s cool, though, given what he went through to get back. There was nothing for the club to really gain from this game – may as well do the right thing by him.

Pretty difficult to begrudge him a farewell game.

 

SO, WHERE TO FOR THE BOMBERS NOW?

Ben Rutten was asked about the situation at the club in the post-game presser and the one line he uttered which, I think, stood out above the others was  “there’s a board meeting tomorrow and I’m not involved in it.”

Watching him in the post-game, and hearing him talk, he sounded like a man who loves someone that just doesn’t want to love him back. Really interesting to see some of the Richmond players get around him after the game. There is a general feeling in the league that Rutten has been treated poorly and I am not sure how salvageable this is after the last seven days.

Yes, Essendon had a poor season.

Yes also, Essendon’s list management and injury list has not helped (I covered the key defenders above). Is this Rutten’s fault?

Only in part.

In the end, he might be too good of a person to be stuck at a club where there are some who genuinely don’t believe in him. I hope he walks, for his own sake.

 

And that’ll do it – a pretty comprehensive win for the Tigers, with their second half demonstrating a level of both skill and determination the Bombers couldn’t match.

This may be the biggest off-season for Essendon since the infamous days of Dank, Hird, and the AFL stitch-up, whilst for the Tigers, they’re either going to get the shaky Lions at the Gabba – they’d be feeling pretty confident going into that one, or the Pies at the MCG in what should be an absolute cracker.

As with all finals, your old pal, HB, will be covering it for our members first and then opening every game up for everyone else later… if I feel like it. Maybe I’ll keep ‘em locked – who knows? Massive thanks to our members – without you, there is no us. Cheers.

 

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