On a murky Sunday afternoon celebrating the 3000th V/AFL game at the home of footy – the MCG – staunch, blood rivals went to war. Two of the three youngest sides in 2023 in Hawthorn and Essendon wrote a new chapter to their decades-long rivalry, on the day the 1983 Premiership Hawks held their reunion. Would the Hawks of today continue the celebration or would the Bombers fly up, up? After a frenetic opening quarter where the Hawks jumped the Dons, the Windy Hill boys soon got on top of their rivals piling on nine consecutive goals through the second and third terms to blow the game apart. Here’s my perspective of what I saw.
On the same day he signed a four-year contract extension, Peter Wright (the AFL player, two-metre-Peter, not to be confused with the two-time darts world champ known as snakebite) dislocated his shoulder. Wright was the central target inside 50 for the Bombers last year and he brings others into the game by at least making a contest. Many wondered how the Bombers would find avenues to goal without two-metre-Peter present. The answer came in the form of a much-maligned new recruit and a cult-figure ruckman!
Sam Weideman had a good first showing in the sash. He led to good areas, competed well, and was clean when he got the ball. He finished with 2.1 from 11 disposals. Harrison Jones benefitted as well, finishing with 1.1 from 12 disposals. It was, however, the Weide-man who provided an anchor point as well. At other times, it was big Sam Draper who pushed forward and created contests – either bringing the ball to ground or capitalising himself finishing with two-straight and some fun celebrations.
O Captain, My Captain
Today’s match saw two first-time skippers lead their clubs into battle. James Sicily has long been earmarked to lead the Hawks. Yes, he can be a bit hot headed at times – and that emotion threatened to boil over at times today – Sicily was the general. As a Cats fan, I have become conditioned to not praise Hawthorn as a club, or their players. However, Sicily is one of those players you can’t help but wish they were on your team. He is passionate about his club, and does all he can for them – and wears the long sleeves, which I’m a fan of. By sheer weight of inside 50s, the Bombers were able to bypass Sicily. However, he had a lazy 30 disposals, and a game-high 15 marks, regularly repelling the Bombers coming forward. He was also instrumental in the Hawks’ fast start with his kicking.
For the Bombers, some may have been surprised by the appointment of Zach Merrett as skipper. However, from the opening bounce he brought a tenacity and appetite for the contest. He chased, he tackled, he spread well, and he set the tone for his team. He was well held early by Finn Maginness, but the longer the game went, the more influence he began to have. Merrett, based on this initial sample, looks like he will take the captaincy in his stride and will excel in the role.
First Goal Wonders
Kicking your first goal is a special moment for any AFL player. Today saw six players kick their first goal for their club – and for some of them, in their career.
Having played a handful of games previously, Fergus Greene played his first game for the Hawks, and got on the scoreboard early. He only had the six disposals, somewhat influenced by some lacklustre inside 50 entries by the Hawks, but he didn’t have to wait too long for his moment, kicking the Hawks’ first goal for the game; and it was a great finish. Joining Greene, was Karl Amon who kicked a sensational long-range goal, also in the first term, to have his first for his new club.
For the Bombers, both Will Setterfield and Sam Weideman kicked their first goal for their new club. Joining them, Alwyn Davey Jr, on debut, kicked his first as well. He had a few sighters earlier in the match, showing some glimpses of brilliance – through speed and evasiveness – and it was great to see his twin brother and father in the stands to celebrate. And, in game number 69, Jordan Ridley found himself in the F50 and managed to find the footy, which resulted in him kicking his first career goal. Some great moments at the home of footy.
Running in Waves
Both coaches have spoken about wanting to play a fun brand of football. And at times today, we saw that. Both teams chose the corridor and chose to run in waves. With their forward handballs, spread from contests, and ability to slingshot from the defensive 50, both teams reflected the desire of their coaches.
We are seeing the resurgence of full throttle footy in 2023. Both teams were hurt on turnover, but are embracing the ability to take the game on and navigate avenues to goal.
From the Viewing Gallery
Congratulations to Dylan Shiel for hitting 200 AFL games. He cops a lot of flak – including from me – however, he has been a good contributor at both of his clubs.
The Chad is good; the Chad is great. Wingard kicked an early contender for Goal of the Year today. Trapping the ball at ground level, he evaded one, then evaded a second player and finished well. Before going off with what could be an injury, it looks like Chad has bought into Sam Mitchell’s game plan.
When athletes get the ball in space, it’s fun to watch, as it was with CJ today. Getting the ball on the wing, he had eyes only to take on the game. He took off, and couldn’t be caught, kicking a long-range running goal that got everyone excited. He even finished with a kip-up to celebrate. And Jason Bennett, the Rock did the kip-up well, but he didn’t make it famous. That was the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels … if you’re going to make sports entertainment references, get them right please. We here at the Mongrel take out wrestling seriously!
The Return of the King happened today – well, you may have thought that with the roar that welcomed Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti playing footy! And it didn’t take long for him to kick his first goal upon his return. He then narrowly missed a second goal, which was followed by a goal assist. Tippa is back. Let’s sit back and enjoy the show.
Cam McKenzie is good at football. He is calm, uses the ball well, and makes good decisions. There was lots to like about the kid today.
Archie Perkins continues to improve. Today he was close to best on ground, gathering 20 disposals and sharing in a game high three goals. He finished with 3.3, so could have had a very big day. He looks stronger, to be moving well, and is becoming a key cog in the Bombers machine. I’m definitely a fan of the way Perkins plays the game.
The Hawks desperately need Mitch Lewis back. Jacob Koschitzke looked lost today. He ran under the ball, crowded the space of his teammates, and wasn’t able to get a handle on the game. Hopefully the Hawks can find a pillar up forward to support Lewis when he returns.
And a shout out to the ever-reliable Mason Redman. He is the general for the Bombers, when it comes to rebound and outside run. He covers the ground well, is unafraid to take the game on, and he impacts the scoreboard. He was best on ground today.
Well, the Bombers kicked off their 2023 campaign in style, bringing some flair back to the hangar under Brad Scott. The Hawks are young, and are still learning. They will need to find ways to move the football though, when they don’t win it from the coalface. Otherwise, their defence will be overwhelmed and they will struggle to score. Both of these teams will be a fascinating, and seemingly fun watch in 2023. Next week, the Hawks travel to the Harbour City to face the Swans, while the Bombers host the Suns at Superhero Stadium.