Essendon v North Melbourne - The Good, Bad and Ugly

The AFL had a glimpse into the game as they want it to be played in the first half of the Bombers v Kangaroos clash at Etihad Stadium…. and it was spectacular football.

Here’s the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly, but please keep in mind... it's late and I'm tired. This could go to some dark places.

 

THE GOOD

The entire first half

If this is the style of footy the AFL wants played, how can you argue against it?

At half time I looked at the scores and smiled – 23 goals were kicked between the two teams, which almost equaled the full time score line in the night before’s Adelaide v West Coast clash.

The game was open, the ball movement was crisp, the forwards had a copious amount of opportunity to find space and kick goals, and the little men turned it on once the ball hit the turf.

The Bombers and Kangaroos have been involved in some classic shoot outs before, and this one had all the makings before North realised they simply could not sustain that speed and complete with the blistering Bombers.

You could imagine someone watching their first game of AFL, being treated to this and thinking ‘Wow… I love this game!’ I may have watched over a thousand games in my time, and I was thinking the same thing.

Six bounces down the wing

You know what you’re gonna get with Adam Saad, right? He grabs the ball, puts the head down, and runs! He doesn't think - he just does!

It’s one thing to know what he’s going to do, but it’s another entirely to prevent it. Just ask Jack Ziebell.

The North Melbourne captain saw Saad tuck the ball under his arm and take off. Ziebell tried to play the angles and cut the Bomber defender off, but with a turn of speed few possess, Saad blew past him and accelerated away, leaving Ziebell looking like a man wearing concrete boots as he started bouncing down the wing.

The crowd rose as one as Saad’s little legs powered him from half back to half forward, and I have to admit, there was part of me wanting him to take on whomever was unlucky enough to encounter him at half forward. He did the team thing, though. He may have dished off,  but I am already looking forward to the next Saad mad dash. Hopefully he goes one bounce, and a goal further next time.

Shaun Higgins’ first quarter

People are now touting Higgins as a potential Brownlow medallist this season, and he burst out of the gates, leaving little doubt that their predictions had more than a little merit.

He had 14 touches in the first, and just looked like a cut above everyone else on the ground through the midfield. He was poised, balanced, and he does what the really good mids all do – he breaks the lines, and gut runs. His pairing with Ben Cunnington rocked the Bombers back on their heels early, and it was only through some individual brilliance by Brian Taylor’s favourite man that the Bombers were able to stay in touch.

Higgins’ output slowed considerably after quarter time, with the Bombers forced to pay a little more attention to him. He finished with 31 for the game, meaning that he averaged seven touches per quarter after the first. Still nothing to sneeze at, but by comparison to his massive first, he was subdued well.

Dyson Heppell’s captain’s last quarter

Nine touches in the last quarter doesn’t sound like a heap. Not when you’ve got Tim Kelly in Geelong racking up 19 like he did the other night, but disposals aren’t everything, and Heppell had a couple of moments that screamed “leadership” in the last quarter.

His smother as the Roos attempted to exit their defensive 50 arc set up a shot at goal for ‘Eyeshadow’ Guelfi, and his willingness to throw his body in, take the hit and push the ball forward was exemplary.

Heppell cops a bit of criticism at times for his leadership, or lack thereof, but today he stood up when it mattered. He and Zach Merrett refused to allow the Bombers to be overrun.

Fantasia

Well, if BT needed a reason to get excited, Orazio provided it.

He was the catalyst for the Bombers to claw back into it in the first quarter. He kicked the first of the day, but it was his two goals in a minute later in the quarter that halted a run of three straight goals by North.

Fantasia didn’t just kick the goals in the first quarter; he set them up as well. His handball allowed David Myers to bang one home from 50 in the first as well. Over the course of the day, he had nine score involvements and two goals assists to add to the four goals to his name.

His read of the ball in flight, to be front and square at full pace as Tarrant spilled the mark in the first quarter was top shelf small forward play. The only player to hit the ball at pace like that consistently this season has been Luke Breust of Hawthorn, and he’s in line for All Australian.

Jamie Macmillan

North have such a strong back line, which made the high scoring today a pleasant surprise, but even with the chaos going on all around him, Macmillan was able to keep a cool head.

He provided great run off the half back line for the Roos all game, and took some telling intercept marks in the last quarter. North just seem to have the Macmillan, or Thompson, or Tarrant, or McDonald that pop up and have a big game here or there, resolute in defence. Today, it was Macmillan who stood out in a very balanced defence.

It would be wonderful to sit in on the review of the game at Arden Street tonight/tomorrow as Brad Scott looks at where things broke down. I reckon a few of the mids not pushing back hard enough will be tabled, but one thing that won’t will be the job of Macmillan, who was fantastic again.

The ruckwork

There was a period in the first half when it seemed that every time a ruckman got a clear tap, it turned to gold. And sure, that could be a play on words, because Goldstein was excellent early on, and gave his mids first use from the centre on multiple occasions.

But Tom Bellchambers is no shrinking violet, and he fought back manfully, quelling the influence of Goldy in the second half. Bellchambers also managed to sneak forward and clunk a mark in the goal square against Goldstein, which marked the commencement of his fight back.

Goldstein was considered a spent force as recently as a month ago, but his renaissance has been a joy to watch. He took some solid marks today, and was pretty clean at ground level for a big fella. Bellchambers remains an enigma – at times seeming unfazed by what’s happening around him, but completely aware that he could change things at any given moment.

I reckon these two could star in yet another remake of the The Odd Couple. I’ve got Bellchambers pegged as the guy who is a bit of a slob, and Goldstein as the one who wants to keep the place tidy and is forced to clean up a little more than a man should after a housemate. It’d be hilarious. Imagine the cameos?

What’s that? Bellchambers has a date but Goldy doesn’t like the way he’s dressing for it? Here comes Jake Stringer to offer some fashion tips! Or how about Goldy runs into who he thinks is his coach on the street, only to find out it was his coach’s twin brother, and he’s somehow given away crucial parts of the Kangaroos’ game plan for their upcoming game against Geelong. Now Tom and Goldy have to team up to… I don’t know… maybe KILL Chris Scott! That’d be fun…

I’m pitching this to Fox Footy…

 

THE BAD

Dyson Heppell’s disposal by foot.

Yeah, he had a massive last quarter, but geez this bloke hacks it at times. The funny thing is, it isn’t reflected in the stats, which say he went at over 71% by foot, but I reckon the flaw is the stat itself,  as Champion Data consider anything gaining over 40 metres as effective. All I know, is if I were a forward, I would hate Heppell kicking it to me.

Overall this season, afl.com.au says his kicking efficiency is up, but the eye test tells me different. Heppell got the praise above in the ‘good’ category, but when you accept the praise, you have to take the criticism, and his disposal is still way below what is to be accepted of an elite mid, particularly when no pressure is on.

Hit targets, Dyson!

Majak missed tackle

It wasn’t a great game from Majak, but one moment made me shake my head in the tense last quarter.

A player like McDonald-Tipungwuti is a tough man to tackle. He is a nuggetty little fella that rolls along like a boulder. You ever tried to tackle a rolling boulder? Nah, I haven’t either, but I am not built like Majak Daw. If I were, I may try tackling a few boulders, maybe a couple of stationary ones as well if they weren’t expecting it – that’s the kind of fella I am.

But he had the chance to tackle Tipungwuti today, and the little man slipped through his grasp. The result? A goal to McKernan.

Majak is a divisive figure. There are days when he looks like he has the world at his feet, and there are others where he looks like he might fall over it and break his neck in the process. He was by no means horrible today, but that moment… I reckon he’d like to have it all over again.

 

THE UGLY

Mason Wood… if Mason could

Though it felt like the Bombers had control of the game by this stage, Mason Wood had the opportunity to drag the Kangas back to within striking distance. He marked approximately 35 metres out as North transitioned into attack, and was on the receiving end of a lovely pass from Nathan Hrovat

It was a bread and butter shot for a legitimate forward. As a matter of fact, it was a bread and butter shot for a decent suburban forward. No wind, no adverse conditions under the dome… all he had to do was go back and slot it and the Roos were a chance.

He shanked it… again, taking his tally for the day to three goals and three behinds.

The Bombers took the ball away and it eventually made its way to their end of the ground. There, Conor McKenna streamed through half forward and hit Anthony McDonald-Tipungwiti in a similar position to Wood at the other end. He kicked truly and iced the game.

Though Wood showed plenty today, when the chips were down and North needed him to step into the spotlight, his kick drifted off into the shadows of the post. He failed to deliver when his team needed him to.

 

OTHER BITS

Great to see Zach Merrett bullying his way to clearances all game long. He had 12 for the game – seven more than the next best! It was his clearance that set up Fantasia for the first goal of the game.

Really liking what I’m seeing from Kyle Langford. He was moved to Higgins halfway through the first, but Higgins was already running riot. I kind of felt it was a harsh ask for the kid to put the brakes on someone already rolling along so beautifully.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Shaun Atley does not do enough for the skill he possesses. I loved seeing him run with Adam Saad early. He’d be just about the only North player that could keep up, and keep up he did! He had 14 touches for the game but I expected him to be a star by this stage of his career. He is a free agent at the end of the season, and should be commanding big money – I’m not sure he’s worth it.

Speaking of Atley, I have no idea how he got away with jumping then ducking into a tackle in the first quarter. If you duck, it should be automatic holding the ball. If you jump and then duck, well... maybe you should get a foot in the backside as well.

What a ripping mark by Mckernan in the first quarter, but he really screwed the pooch on the kick. Just uuuuugly.

Jack Ziebell made Michael Hurley pay for zoning off him as North went forward. His gather, step and goal were excellent. Meanwhile Hurley was headed back to the square, not expecting the Higgins kick to be so shallow.

I thought that Ben Brown made a couple of half-hearted efforts to chase in the first quarter. Unlike him.

Impressive game from David Myers, and really… I’ve never been that impressed by him before. 25 touches for the game, two goal assists and 96% efficiency means he botched one disposal all game.

For a mid, Cunnington may have the best hands overhead in the game. Maybe only Steele Sidebottom could match him. He just marks under pressure all the time – one grabs, as well.

See where I spoke about Heppell’s disposal above? Case in point was his shot at goal in the second from about 45. It missed everything – didn’t even threaten a score, but because it travelled just over 40 metres, it is considered effective. It was not bloody effective; it was shocking!

Goldstein’s repeated hits to advantage were wonderful. He found Anderson in the middle, who kicked inside 50. The next stoppage was 20 metres out from the North goal and he found Turner on the run for a goal. He also took a bounce through the centre of the ground in the second quarter… anyone aware of whether it’s getting a little chilly in hell at the moment?

Matty Dea had a clear arm chop not paid against Ben Brown. That sort of thing happens now and again, but watching Mason Wood goal from the spillage… that hurts.

It wasn’t a popular call, but it was the right one to not award Travis Colyer the mark 30 metres out in front of goal. It did hit the ground, despite the cacophony of boos from Bomber fans as the ump called play on. Good call.

Does Goldstein have anything to answer for regarding his dumping of Merrett in the middle? I don’t think so. It was cheap, but not too malicious.

Tipungwuti keeping the ball in and setting up the Merrett snap was great, but the North defence should’ve killed that contest. No way should Walla have been allowed to get that handball back over his head and into play. Poor intensity.

Nice throw from Majak at the stoppage in the second. I used to do that in Volleyball and the other team would go nuts complaining. Haha… screw them losers.

I wrote in an earlier review that the Bombers would get a game like this eventually, where the opposition would allow them the space to run. They ran, and North paid. The Bombers have the jets to really go, and Etihad is the fastest track in the league. Could we simply say that allowing this style was a really big coaching error from Brad Scott?

Here’s a contentious one. Goldstein was pinged for in the back on Colyer in the second, but I reckon he did everything he could to NOT fall into his back. I do think that Colyer dropped to his knees and lurched forward trying to milk an in the back free kick. It worked, but the umpire really got sucked in by that. I don’t like seeing good tackles punished.

First goal of the third quarter to Fantasia made it six straight to the Bombers. While they were piling the goals on,. I think Ben Brown looked a little out of sorts. His decision to change and lead at the ball as the ball was being kicked long to him looked like a guy whose head was simply not in the game.

I did not like the advantage call to Baguley after Stringer was interfered with in a marking contest. It was a good 3-04 seconds before Baguley grabbed the ball and strolled in to goal. All play had stopped. Also, Stringer was doing his arms-out-wide appeal for the free kick. I love when he does that. You’re guaranteed AT LEAST one per game.

I thought Mason Wood was stiff not to get holding the ball on Ambrose in the third. Just a blatant drop of the ball.

Another really good call by the ump on Stringer’s low mark. Did not hit the ground and the ump called what he saw – he didn’t guess.

McKenna’s kick in, marked by Ahern was a clanger of Corporal Clanger-like proportions. Yes, I know it was Corporal Klinger. I watched MASH with my dad back in the day.

With the scores at Ess 98 – NMFC 84, Trent Dumont had a shot 35 metres out directly in front. Scott Thompson pinpointed the pass to him in a congested area of the ground so well he didn’t have to move and took it uncontested. It was great vision by Thompson… and it made the miss all the worse.

McKernan tried to do the team thing late in the third as he crossed the 50 and ran toward goal. His squaring kick was the “team” thing to do, but sometimes it pays to be a little selfish. It was cut off beautifully by Sam Wright.

Scott Thompson did what Colyer did earlier on and milked an in the back free kick to start the last quarter. One-each on that tactic. Should’ve been 0-0.

What did people think of the changed tactics of North? The slower, methodical ball movement was nowhere near as exciting, but it was pretty effective for a period. The precision kicking ending with Cunnington finding Brown 30 metres out was gorgeous skill.

Cunnington’s late hit on Stringer was pretty soft in terms of impact. It was more a push than anything else, but I’ll give Stringer a bit of credit here. After getting the 50, he milked every second of the clock he was allowed to before slotting the goal. I know these words don’t often go together. Smart by Stringer.

 

And that’s about it. A blistering, running display by the Bombers showing exactly what their fans hoped for when this team was pieced together. They were crisp, they were gutsy with the ball and they were gooo-oood. Like what you’re getting from The Mongrel? Give us a Like on Facebook or a Follow on Twitter. We live to please you…