R11 – Essendon v Richmond Dreamtime

Bombers defenders stand tall against improved Richmond effort


Standout performances from a stout defensive unit led Essendon to a fourth straight victory with 10.14 (74) to 12.14 (86) win over an improved Richmond side in their Dreamtime at the ‘G clash on Saturday night.

The annual headline fixture loomed as somewhat of a formality given Richmond’s form leading into the match, but thankfully for the 80,000-odd fans in attendance, the Tigers rocked up with an improved resolve to provide what was actually a rather entertaining game of footy.

In fact, it was a treat from the get-go as Jake Stringer and Dustin Martin traded blows at opposite ends of the ground in the early goings.

Stringer came bursting out of the blocks in game 200 to pile on the Bombers’ first three goals, while Martin wound back the clock with eight disposals and a goal in the opening term.

Scores were tight as the old rivals went back and forth across the opening two terms, but the stronger side shone through in the second half as the Bombers’ back six led them to a gritty two-goal win.

Jordan Ridley was fantastic on his return to the side, collecting intercept possessions at will to finish with 31 disposals, 12 marks and a goal. It was enough to earn him the Yiooken Award as best afield as his return gives Brad Scott yet another weapon in an already settled backline.

Joining the former best and fairest winner among their side’s best were fellow defenders Mason Redman, Nick Martin, Ben McKay and Jayden Laverde.

The unit made life hard for Richmond to finish off the many promising passages of play they put together throughout the game, and eventually were the difference in the contest.

Oh… and it didn’t help the Tigers that Shai Bolton was subbed out, I guess.

Anyway, this was a fun watch, so without faffing about any further, let’s get stuck into some key takeaways.


Oh hey there, Dusty, nice to see you again!

So it turns out Dusty is actually still pretty good at footy… not that you’d know it having listened to the eye-roll-worthy conversations about his future doing the rounds in the AFL media lately, though.

The speculation around the all-time great’s future beyond 2024 is fair enough given his up and down form this season, but can those suggesting (or dare I say, calling for) his retirement from footy just park it for a little while?

He was fantastic in this Dreamtime clash, collecting 23 disposals to go with his three goals and giving us a hearty serving of classic Dusty moments (including an absolute strike of a goal in the opening term).

It was his heroics, along with those of running mate Shai Bolton, that ignited a run which almost saw Richmond take the lead in the third term.

He’s now two weeks out from celebrating 300 of the best games you’ll ever see, so let’s all just continue enjoying it while we can, because god, he’s a good watch.


McKay providing the stability Essendon’s defence requires

The return of Jordan Ridley to a defence that has already helped the Bombers entrench themselves in the top eight felt like a luxury addition on Saturday night.

But while the 25-year-old’s stellar performance will take the headlines, let’s take a moment to give Ben McKay his flowers.

Not only has the off-season recruit held the back six up beautifully in his first 11 games at Essendon, his ability to take the opposition’s top key forward now allows Ridley to do what he specialises in: zoning off and using his elite foot skills to ignite attacks.

In the past, when McKay played for some other team we won’t speak of here, Ridley was often asked to take on key defensive assignments which restricted his ability to provide offence.

That’s no longer the case, and coach Brad Scott will no doubt be very excited at the prospect of being able to unleash Ridley further up the field while knowing McKay is holding down the defensive side of things.

Some people were critical of the McKay recruitment. Some labelled him as overrated, and many quickly moved on to call him overpaid, but THIS was the reason he was brought to the club. This was McKay doing the job deep in defence to allow Jordan Ridley to float and play the role he was born to. It was an astute recruiting decision by a club who are now well and truly in the window. McKay’s presence makes others better, and Ridley was always going to be the player to benefit most from the move.

And now, after Ridley’s time on the sidelines, we get to see it all in action.


Friendly fire all but ended Richmond’s hopes in this one

Mykelti Lefau’s knee has some explaining to do…

Okay, that’s a bit harsh on a bloke who was simply going for the ball, but boy did this unfortunate act of friendly fire drive a dagger through Richmond’s aspirations for premiership points.

The Tigers looked to be on the charge when Lefau’s knee cannoned into Shai Bolton’s back and eventually led to the superstar being subbed out of the game. From that point on, the home team found it hard to muster the skill and poise needed to finish their work.

Bolton was impressive, compiling 16 disposals and kicking two goals, with his lightning fast change of directions and Houdini-like sleight of hand on full display before he was forced from the field.

He was the last bloke Richmond would have wanted to sub out in this one, and unfortunately, his absence paved the way for Essendon to do what was necessary for the win.


So, what do we actually make of Essendon now?

Second on the ladder, having won six of their past seven games (the draw to Collingwood being the remainder) and with games against the Gold Coast, West Coast and a now struggling Geelong side among their next four weeks.

The Bombers are getting their plaudits, which are well deserved… so why do I find it so hard to take them seriously?

Now, I know Essendon fans will be mad with me questioning their team here. They’ve done everything they can to demonstrate they are a genuine finals outfit, but I’m just struggling to believe they’re on the same level as some of the teams next to them on the ladder’s upper rungs.

Still, their win over GWS in Round Nine remains their only genuine scalp on the season, and while doing enough to garner wins their past fortnight against North and now Richmond hasn’t blown anyone away, they’re still racking up wins at an alarming rate.

They clearly look bound for September action, but are they going to be able to break the dreaded 20-year drought when they get there? I’m not sure yet. And also, the Bombers have been prone to late-season fades in recent years. This time last year, they appeared as though they were bound for finals, as well, remember? Not as impressively as they look this year, but even still, they were in the conversation.

Their clash with the Blues in two weeks’ time will give us a much better indication of their standing among the league’s elite.