Essendon v West Coast – The Ayres Files

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, readers of all ages and persuasions, this review of Saturday night’s blockbuster fixture from Optus Stadium in Perth is proudly brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood publication – The Mongrel Punt.

Introducing tonight’s challenger: In the white trunks donning the red sash and hailing from Essendon, Victoria – a week after pulling themselves off the canvas in the dying seconds of the final round to land a thrilling knockout blow and steer their season back on track; please give a rousing welcome for The Bombers!

Now let me introduce to you this evening’s hometown hero: In the blue trunks whilst sporting the blue and yellow, hailing from the Western Coast of Australia and having lost their past eight fights by way of knockout, including last week’s demoralising loss to an unranked amateur; please stand and make some noise for the West Coast Eagles!

The following match will be contested over four rounds (quarters) with the winner adjudicated via points decision or clear knockout. Please take your seats, because the action is about to begin.



Quarter One

The Bombers jumped out of the blocks, kicking the first three goals of the game thanks to Kyle Langford, Mason Redman and Archie Perkins whilst locking the ball firmly inside their forward half. Dominating the clearances and maintaining possession, the early parts of this fight were shaping up to be a very red-and-black affair, before back-to-back goals to Oscar Allen regained some ascendency for the home side, with Sam Draper scoring Essendon’s fourth and final goal of the quarter with ten minutes left to play.

A couple of late scoring opportunities for the Eagles went begging as Jayden Hunt and Bailey Williams failed to convert their shots on goal. Sam Draper was up and about for the travelling side, showing a vast improvement on the last month and taking some impressive marks around the ground, along with his partner in crime Nick Bryan. The Eagles first put the clamps on the Bombers’ ball movement this quarter, forcing the Dons to chip the ball around to one another, which eventually worked to force their opponents into a turnover.

Whilst on the contrary, some swift ball movement from the Eagles compliments of Tim Kelly and Jayden Hunt with a dash of Elliot Yeo forced the Bombers to rethink some of their tactics and concentrate on stopping the rot of scoring that was going against them.


WCE 2.3.15 – ESS 4.1.25


Stats That Matter


  • The Bombers dominated clearances this quarter, beating the Eagles in this stat by 9, with Zach Merrett and Sam Draper each racking up three to their names.
  • West Coast led the tackle count by five, which was an indicator of how much the opposition handled the ball. The Eagles also led with seven intercepts for the quarter.
  • Zach Merrett had the ball 10 times in that quarter alone, with Redman accumulating nine touches and a goal, and Martin with eight.


Quarter Two

It was goal for goal during the entire second quarter, with Will Snelling, Jack Petruccelle, Jye Menzie, Oscar Allen and Matt Guelfi all snagging goals for their respective sides, up until Jake Stringer scored a goal halfway through the 28th minute of the quarter to break the deadlock.

Jayden Hunt and Tim Kelly were instrumental for the Eagles during the second quarter, accumulating possession after possession and transitioning the ball swiftly and winning back the numbers at the clearances. Bailey Williams started to gain an upper hand in the ruck contests over the Draper/Bryan combo and Dom Sheed showed plenty of poise with the ball in hand.

Jake Stringer was the catalyst for the Bombers in this term with some brilliant contested ball, a goal and some terrific play that saw the utility set up scoring chain after scoring chain. Nic Martin’s run and carry is starting to cause havoc for the Eagles as Essendon adjusted their game plan and began to embrace the chip kick and ‘keepings off’ style of play.


WCE 4.5.29 – ESS 8.5.53



Stats That Matter


  • Sam Draper began to lose a few ruck contests in this quarter, but the Bombers’ big man dominated the contested possessions, leading all comers with his game-high 10.
  • Despite many highlighted boot changes mid-game, including running around for a period of time with two different boots on, Jayden Hunt led the stat if metres gained for the game to this point.
  • The Eagles found a way through contested ball to win more clearances, narrowing that margin back to only four in the opposition’s favour, while Essendon tackled their way back to a lead of one in that state column.
  • Bombers captain Zach Merrett laid three tackles in that quarter and Mason Redman chipped in with both of his direct goal assists from some kicks that rivalled laser precision.



Quarter Three

Ben Hobbs would kick the first goal of the third term, something that the Bombers found themselves able to do at the start of each quarter, before Jake Waterman kicked a settler halfway through the term. A couple of behinds either way were Ridley interrupted by back-to-back goals to Kyle Langford in the space of little over a minute, as a low-scoring quarter petered to an end.

This term it was Essendon who moved the ball a lot more freely and with some ascendency, transitioning from defence with some masterful kicking and an array of running prowess, thanks largely to Nic Martin’s run and carry as well as decision-making, and Mason Redman’s elite ball usage.

Despite the scoreboard continuing to climb in the Bombers’ favour, West Coast managed to win a lot of the ball and earn more shots on goal. If not for some below average kicking on goal, the margin heading into the final quarter would have been a lot closer. Elliot Yeo seemed to really adjust to the pace well this quarter and proved a great challenge for the Dons to overcome.


WCE 5.9.39 – ESS 11.6. 72


Stats That Matter


  • Zach Merrett didn’t need to win a lot of the ball to make his touches count. Nic Martin continues to move the ball with fluency, Jordan Ridley chops off forward entry after forward entry as the Eagles become wasteful when kicking inside their forward 50.
  • Liam Duggan, Shannon Hurn and Alex Witherden all win impressive contests throughout the third term, taking a combined 13 marks between them.
  • Dyson Heppell continued his brilliant second half from last week’s Dreamtime at the ‘G to float around as a loose utility in defence and held numerous West Coast opponents to account.
  • Numerically, the stats continue to even up throughout the third term, as the Eagles showed plenty of signs of improvement after last week’s debacle.



Fourth Quarter

Despite being wasteful when kicking for goal this quarter and missing multiple promising opportunities, the Bombers churned out the first three goals of the quarter off the boots of Jye Menzie, Ben Hobbs and Will Snelling before a last second infringement against Dyson Heppell handed Oscar Allen his fourth goal after the siren from almost point blank range.

Although the scoreline blew out to 50 points in the end, the Eagles were far from stowing the cue in the rack before the final siren. Fatigue and player management caused the rundown home side to kick a plethora of unforced errors and genuine clangers in the final quarter.

Zach Merrett and Mason Redman were amongst the best ball winners and ball users for the Bombers, as was Nic Martin. Ben Hobbs was hard-nosed and aggressive, as is the 20-year-old’s custom, and activated sub Massimo D’Ambrosio made an immediate impact with some mouth watering agility and good foot skills.


Stats That Matter


  • Despite amassing 10 in the first half, Sam Draper would only go on to record one further contested possession for the remainder of the game, as Bailey Williams nullified the Bombers’ ruck at the contest and around the ground.
  • Shannon Hurn highlighted his importance to this side as the most senior of players, with a stoic effort in defence accruing 27 disposals and 10 marks.
  • The Bombers’ efficiency inside 50 of 65% was one of their best games for the season, having 30 shots from 46 inside forward 50.
  • This game would be the Bombers’ biggest win in Perth for over 20 years.


WCE 6.10.46 – ESS 14.12.96



Now, onto one of the simpler parts of my game review.


Things That I Liked –


Jye Caldwell ‘s Hayabusa hands – ever see the movie Torque? That early 2000’s action banger that was supposed to be “Fast and Furious” on motorbikes? Well that Hayabusa motorbike at the end of that film is rather slow when compared to Caldwell’s hand passes.

Bailey Williams having a day out – the 23-year-old ruckman in just his 37th game for the club come up against a genuine threat in Sam Draper and Nick Bryan, and despite those on the broadcast naming the battle a draw, I’m much more inclined to award the Freddos to West Coast’s big man. Save for Draper’s goal and contested marking around the ground, Williams well and truly handled business in the ruck department.

Seeing Bombers players other than Zach Merrett regularly identify and successfully hit up targets inside forward 50 – taking into full account the quality of their opposition, it was refreshing to see an Essendon side not just bomb it long inside forward 50 and hope for the best, nor continually kick it to an aerial contest with a small forward. Players like Mason Redman, Nic Martin, Matt Guelfi, Jake Stringer, Jye Menzie and Archie Perkins all made my notes for some beautifully crisp kicks inside forward 50 to set up scoring shots.

True leadership returns to the Eagles – the inclusion of both Shannon Hurn and Elliot Yeo should not be understated for this struggling side. Despite the final margin, the Eagles clearly walked taller with their former captain in Hurn direction traffic in the back line and leading by example, being as solid as the 327 game rock that the 35-year-old has been throughout his career. Even Liam Duggan leading by example and being amongst the Eagles’ best players for the game.

Mason Redman and Nic Martin – these two running the ball out of defence may not possess the blinding, chaotic speed of a Saad and McKenna of years gone by at the Bombers, but what an upside these two players provide. Nic Martin is a seriously talented player that has smooth skills and a deadly mixture of ability and ability. Mason Redman has some more defensive nous and a raking long boot on him that makes any forward foray risky business. Priority number one for Essendon: re-sign Red-Dog ASAP.

Oscar Allen – with zero need to harp on about the dismal season at West Coast, a shining light for me is the form of Oscar Allen. Having now kicked three bundles of four goals and two hauls of three, Allen’s season tally is now out to 29.12 from all 11 games, failing to go goalless even once, and only kicking less than two goals on one occasion thus far, and currently sitting a single goal behind third place in the Coleman Medal rankings (at the time of writing). That also makes one more goal than the 28 that Allen kicked in his last full season (2021) when the young forward kicked 28 goals from 21 games.

The way Ben Hobbs goes about it – this kid is still a teenager, yet he throws his body around like a player ten years his senior, almost haphazardly. Forming a terrific partnership of sorts with Jake Stringer that usually sees one of the two facing a centre bounce whilst the other runs in from our attacking fifty, Hobbs is showing why he was taken as a top-ten pick, with no fear of a contest, a knack for finding goals and ferocious tackling, the Bombers have made handy use of Hobbs since his recall into the senior side, which leads me to…

The absence of Dylan Shiel, Will Setterfield and Darcy Parish – no, I don’t necessarily like their absence as such, but I do however enjoy the different ways that Brad Scott looks to cater for their loss. Tonight we saw Jake Stringer attend more centre bounces than any other Bombers player. That’s right! More than Merrett, more than even Draper. But also popping in for some on-ball time where the likes of Jye Caldwell, Ben Hobbs and Archie Perkins, all players in their late teens-early twenties, were awarded with midfield minutes and a chance to show what they’re capable off whilst ball magnets and big bodies that are usually mainstays, are out with injury.

Tim Kelly – just in general. A shout out to the former Cat’s workrate and ability to keep his team looking honest. Even as the scoreboard ticked away from the Eagles, Kelly never took a backwards step and was amongst the best players on the ground for either side.

Kyle Langford in the forward line – enough said.



Things That I Didn’t Like

Umpires that botch the bounce of the ball – over and over and over and over and over again. If at first you don’t succeed, throw it in the air. If at second you don’t succeed, time to just throw her up at every contest.

Seeing more injuries pile up – Luke Edwards was officially subbed off in the second quarter under concussion protocols, which means he’s certain to miss at the minimum a small chunk of footy. Dom Sheed was receiving attention numerous times on broadcast for ailments to his leg, and a postgame interview seemed to hint that there may be more damage coming out of this game

This one hurts me to write, but please afford me the benefit of an explanation before you crucify me – the current Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti conundrum. Let me preface by saying that Tippa is one of my favourite current AFL players and that I personally admire and respect what he’s been able to do in returning to play football this year.. but something just has to give. Does he need a rest? Does he need confidence? Strangely enough, his running and pressure are great right now. He forces defenders into taking quick kicks, he pressures his opponent into holding him accountable, and he runs and finds himself getting up the ground. All great signs for any small forward, but more so for someone that has suffered with fitness issues in recent times, right? Well, what about the rest? The forward nous? The goal kicking? The hard ball gets? The ground ball gets? The super silky smooth pickups of the past? The crafty goals in play that had you leaping out of your seat? The unbackable odds to flush a se shot from anywhere inside the 50? The list goes on and on.. I want to see Tippa play as many games as physically possible, but right now he seems down on confidence amongst other issues, and something needs to be done.

Andrew Gaff – what a shell of his former self Andrew Gaff has become. I really thought that in the absence of so many key players, that a senior body such as Gaff would stand up and help guide these kids, but it’s just not there. I barely recall Gaff’s name being called by commentators tonight, and I was almost shocked to see him shaking hands with players at the end, having forgotten that he was even a part of the team.

BZT – this isn’t a direct attack, more-so highlighting a developing player that had a poor day at the office today. In the first half, I counted five different opponents that Zerk-Thatcher lined up on, and numerous examples kicked goals on him. Some weeks his long sleeve jumper and long-ish black hair are almost reminiscent of a Sticks Kernaghan floating around the back line. Whilst the 24-year-old has looked like bouncing back from the absolute mauling that Tom Hawkins dished out a few months back, this game was a step backwards for the key defender.

Missing those goals – this game would’ve been knives edge levels of tense had the Eagles kicked a little straighter in the second half. The majority of those missed shots were regulation and something that could have brought this game right back down a leg or two, had they been nailed.



Where To From Here 

The Bombers take on the embattled Kangaroos at Marvel Stadium next Sunday in the graveyard shift, before heading to the MCG for a Saturday night blockbuster against the old rival Carlton the following Saturday evening.

The Eagles will host the Magpies at home next week in a Saturday twilight fixture before travelling to Adelaide oval where the Crows await, in another Saturday twilight game.


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