Essendon v Sydney - The Good, Bad and Ugly

Are the Bombers back? They couldn’t make the finals after their start to the season, could they? Well, they’re in the mix, and they put a huge dent in the aspirations of the Sydney Swans in the process, running out winners by 43 points.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

Michael Hurley

It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it, huh? Earlier this season we had Michael Hurley running around, picking up cheap kicks behind the play and basically trying to replicate the role Brendon Goddard was playing at that time. It wasn’t working, and Hurley is so much better than that.

Fast forward to Round 19, and it’s hard to fathom that this contested beast is the same player. If we talk about it succinctly, Hurley gave Buddy Franklin a bath tonight. The stat sheet will say Buddy kicked two but one of them was a Franklin special – no one stops those raking bombs from the acute angle, and one came after he manhandled Hurley and should’ve had a free kick paid against him.

Hurley looked like a man on a mission tonight. His stats of 12 disposals, 3 marks and 0 tackles do not tell the story. In one-on-one contests, he owned Franklin. He was quicker off the mark to read the play as kicks came inside 50, and his recovery when the ball hit the deck was exceptional as well. Even when out of position, Hurley battled to split the contest.

I reckon it’s safe to say that this game dwarfs anything he produced this season playing as a loose man. What Hurley did tonight was play as a legitimate defender, and he played it so well you’d be hard-pressed to rank anyone else ahead of him.

Walla

OK, I’ll come clean – I haven’t been the biggest fan of this bloke. I know he runs hard and does the dirty work that doesn’t end up on stat sheets… I think I was more railing against a couple of Essendon friends who would just rave about him.

Well, I thought he was excellent tonight. His actual pressure, combined with the implied pressure, plus his work ethic made for an excellent game overall.

His tackling was fantastic, and I loved his work at the opening bounce of the last quarter. I think he was matched up on Luke Parker, and the Swan knocked him over before the ball was bounced. Rather than remonstrate, McDonald-Tipungwuti did what good players do – he won the ball. He got the clearance and handed off to his captain, who hit Mitch Brown at half forward.

We’re fans of the little things at The Mongrel Punt, and tonight Walla did the little things to help his team. You could argue that he found himself in the right spot at the right time several times, but it’s how you get to that spot that makes the difference – you don’t just appear there. It’s the result of hard work, and he worked his backside off all night.

Darcy Parish

This was the best game I’ve seen from Parish. He looks like a choirboy but is anything but. He had 13 contested touches amongst his 26 disposals, and was valuable as a link man through the centre. I thought he demonstrated a good ability to read the opposition tonight, and was able to get into the right spot to cut off their exits from 50 and movement through the middle.

I loved his tackle on Will Hayward in the third quarter. It was hard and it was fair. What I hated – absolutely hated – was Hayward laying on the ground trying to milk a dangerous tackle free kick. Did you see how quickly he jumped up when he realised one was not forthcoming? Bloody disgraceful! Don't stop tackling that way, Darcy, but Will... you have a bit if work to do, sunshine.

Up the guts!

How good do the Bombers look when they run up the middle of the ground?

Etihad is the fastest track in the game, and looking at the way Essendon play it, you can tell that speed is their best weapon. Saad and McKenna grabbing that ball off half back and taking off, you just know the Bombers will be running in numbers to get the hand off when the defenders are drawn to those two running machines. They’re not afraid to make sure the opposition commits to tackling, and they handball backwards to open up space where necessary to keep the ball moving.

It’s the sort of game style that can either make you look like a king, or a fool. Tonight, the Bombers were reigning supreme. They exposed Sydney on the outside, and they matched them on the inside. Merrett and Myers matched Heeney and Parker at clearances. Importantly, Josh Kennedy had only one clearance for the game!

Essendon look like they want to run at every opportunity. At this stage of the season, if things start clicking through the middle every week the way they did tonight, the Bombers are going to give some teams nightmares.

Aliir Aliir’s first half

I have to admit, there was part of me that thought his game against the Kangaroos was a little inflated just to highlight two young Sudanese men playing AFL, but his first half tonight was simply a young man reading the play, dropping in the hole and clunking intercept marks.

There were times throughout the first half where you could see Essendon mids running forward and they had to either hold the ball or hesitate at the very least, because there was Aliir, sitting back there, ready to gobble up any kick that dared to be close to a long bomb.

He finished with eight intercept marks for the game to be Sydney’s best defender, and arguably their best player. Looking at him taking overhead grabs, and watching Heath Grundy toiling away and being moved forward, you have to wonder whether we’re seeing Grundy’s swansong… pardon the pun. He looked slow tonight, but the positive is that Aliir seems to have got it all together this season, and will make for an ideal replacement.

The tackling pressure

I hadn’t looked at this stat til now, and I’m glad I waited because it validated what I’d been thinking about the game  - Essendon just nailed their tackles!

The Bombers had a 65-47 advantage in the tackle count for the game, but there was one sequence where you just knew they were taking no prisoners tonight. In the space of a few seconds just after half time, Zach Merrett nailed Ollie Florent in a ripping tackle. It was then David Myers’ turn to crunch Ronke in a tackle. Those two young players have been instrumental in Sydney’s 2018 success, and it was as though Essendon knew it.

The way both Merrett and Myers tackled those youngsters was almost as though they were saying “Hope you enjoyed your charmed run. You’re not pulling that crap against us!”

Add to that kind of pressure eight tackles each from McDonald-Tipungwuti and Devon Smith, and you have the makings of an excellent defensive structure.

THE BAD

Dane Rampe

Well, to me, Dane just had a really poor game tonight. He had his 17 touches and only one of them missed the mark, but it’s the stuff he missed, or messed up that you don’t get stats for.

The Conor McKenna kick that bounced past him is something that people may highlight, but that was just terrible luck. There was one earlier where he was clean bowled by a ball coming inside 50 and McDonald-Tipungwuti was able to swoop in and goal around the corner behind him – that was a big error.

He dropped the mark after doing all the hard work in the last quarter against Devon Smith and looked like a statue as Smith recovered, gathered and goaled. He was completely outclassed in a marking contest against Kyle Langford in a duel where he should’ve absolutely killed the ball, and he failed to man the mark after being pinged for a deliberate out of bounds in the last quarter.

It seemed to me as though Rampe pinballed from mistake to mistake all night. I’m not sure I can remember him winning a genuine one-on-one all game. I don't think he’s had many worse ones than this.

Lance Franklin

Listening to a radio interview before the game, Sydney coach, John Longmire stated that Franklin has spent about 20 minutes on the training track.

Not this week. Not this month.

THIS SEASON!

Yep, Franklin is managing to play games, but he just can’t get his body right to do the training sessions. This spells enormous trouble for the Swans. If you remember vintage Buddy performances, you remember the long runs – those goals against the Bombers, the goal where he leapt over the Collingwood players and slammed a goal home from inside the square. It’s a different world for Buddy at the moment.

He looks a bit heavier, which isn’t a bad thing for a big forward, but those long searching runs are gone from his game at the moment. It’s not to say they won’t be back, but what we saw tonight was a Lance Franklin chained to the forward 50 zone. He’s obviously battling through several injuries (taking nothing away from Michael Hurley’s ripping job on him at all) and is doing a great job to get up for the games on a weekly basis, but can the Swans make an impact in September with Franklin playing at 75% fitness?

In an ideal world you’d give him a couple of weeks off – get him on the bike and in the pool and ease whatever problem he’s having (is it still his heel that is hurting most?) and then roll him back out as we near the finals.

Tonight’s loss, and a run home that includes Melbourne, Collingwood, GWS and Hawthorn means that Franklin is required to perform for the rest of the home and away season just to ensure the Swans play in September. I haven’t thought this in a long while… or ever for that matter, but Buddy looked a step slow tonight. He looked heavy and he looked tired. And he looked beaten by an opponent who wanted it more.

 

THE UGLY

Zak Jones

Well, he may get a week for a bit of a Softy McSoft whack to the chin of Zach Merrett before the opening bounce, but it was his decision to bump Kyle Langford late in the game that will get Michael Christian’s attention.

Jones opted to bump and made solid contact with Langford’s head, and it took the young Bomber a bit of time to recover. It was a pretty crude hit, and whilst the intention may have been to put physical pressure on and knock the ball loose, he made contact to the head, and will have to face the music.

To Langford’s credit, he got up, took his kick and played on – gutsy kid. But Jones would also be pretty happy that Langford recovered so well. I still reckon an effort like that deserves a couple of weeks. Decent whack to the head, opted not to tackle… makes sense to me.

EDIT - Kyle Langford was sent to hospital after the game. Jones in big trouble. 

Ollie Florent’s schoolboy error

What was he thinking? You’ve got Mark Baguley at 50 and everyone watching knows he’s going to struggle to kick the distance. You’ve got David Myers, with one of the best legs at Essendon, hovering around like a hungry seagull hoping to get a hand off and a shot at goal. And you’ve got Ollie Florent, who does the right thing initially and runs to Myers to prevent him getting the handball.

And then he just runs off to the bench? Boneheaded move!

Baguley gave the handball, Myers ran to 50 out and crunched a goal, and Ollie Florent sat on the bench mouthing the F-word as he realised his error.

I’m guessing this won’t be an error he makes again.

OTHER BITS

What a fiery start! I have to say, I loved it. After all these years, I’m a bit of a fan of a bit of biff.

McKenna’s bump on Buddy looked really innocuous, but must have hit him right in the sweet spot. No head contact here; just body on body. Lovely by McKenna.

I noticed Ollie Florent playing down back a bit tonight. I also noticed it the last time I watched the Swans play. Why then, can media performers get away with dumb comments like saying that Florent has been playing mostly forward over the last few weeks and he needs to go back to generate run through the middle? He’d been doing that!

I didn’t think pushing in the side was a free kick, but apparently the umpires did tonight. Rampe was pinged for pushing McKenna in the first quarter and tbe free simply was not there.

Great sale of the candy by Goddard in the first, but his ensuing kick was smothered. Really liked the way the Bombers were able to recover, settle again, and then you had Aaron Francis look inboard and find Walla (with a nine metre kick). Lovely team goal.

Has anyone seen Tom Papley since half time? Started well, but far out he drifted out of the game quickly. Not quite fit?

McDonald-Tipungwuti’s tackle on Jones in the forward pocket was one of the most obvious holding the ball decisions I’ve seen go unpaid. I guarantee you that if that was Cyril Rioli laying the tackle, it would’ve been called holding the ball. Jones took the ball to the ground despite having prior opportunity and only then managed to release it. It was made worse by Nic Newman being awarded a free kick for holding the ball a minute later despite it being nowhere near as obvious a free kick. Walla was very stiff on this one.

Interesting to see Matty Dea off with a concussion after running back with the flight of the ball. I reckon we see just as many head injuries from impacts with the flight of the ball as we do from bumps to the head these days. Let’s hope the AFL doesn’t ban that as well. “Free kick! Dangerous running…”

Great spinning goal from Cal Sinclair for the Swans. I didn’t know he possessed that sort of agility!

Really liked the second and third efforts from Aaron Francis tonight. He doesn’t give up when the ball hits the turf.

Devon Smith’s tackle on Ollie Florent was an absolute ripper, made even better by the fact he was chasing Zac Jones flat out before seeing the hand off, changing direction and getting a holding the ball decision. Tenacity.

Liked what I saw from Tom McCartin again tonight. He only had eight touches, but six of them were score involvements. Seems simple really, huh? Get the ball to him and he’ll make something happen.

Not many people shepherd these days, but Devon Smith does. It went unnoticed, but he laid an excellent shepherd on the half forward flank to allow Langford the space to run onto it, hand to Merrett, who gave to Stringer, who delivered to Baguley for a goal. It was a completely selfless act by Smith, and another reason I am sure he is loved by his teammates and coaching staff. How far in front of the Essendon Best and Fairest would he be?

Absolutely nothing in the 50 metre penalty paid against Darcy Parish and resulting in a goal to Isaac Heeney. The ump simply guessed at that one, and guessed wrong.

More from Heeney – he was awarded a holding the ball free against Devon Smith even though he obviously took him high. Yes, Smith had prior opportunity and had broken a previous tackle, but if a tackle is illegal, as Heeney’s was, it can’t be holding the ball. It was barely even a tackle – just a hand around the neck. I don’t know what’s going on sometimes…

The trip… hmmmm… if they get Daniel Howe for three weeks for a similar incident, how can Devon Smith NOT cop a week? Yeah, the broken leg for Zac Fisher last week was incredibly unfortunate, but the AFL needs to stop penalising the outcome and start penalising the intent. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything in this, but to have it go unpunished the week after a bloke gets three weeks… well, it’d be classic AFL, wouldn’t it?

Good to see Mitch Brown getting a good run at it. His bookend goals before and after half time were complete daggers to the Swans.

Really surprised to see Andrew McGrath finish with 18 touches. I barely noticed him.

Walla’s piercing kick off half back to Fantasia in the third quarter was perfect. Threaded the eye of the needle through traffic.

Jake Lloyd did his All-Australian claim no harm tonight. Adding to his 29 was a ripping spoil on Baguley on the wing in the third. It’s a tough ask to spoil with the flight of the ball, but he did it with aplomb.

Heard the Bomber fans screaming about Guelfi’s marking attempt being called unrealistic, but I reckon the umps got it right. Leapt into the opponent’s back, didn’t make contact with the ball and took the opponent out. Clear free kick, for mine.

The game really opened up in the third quarter. Players just found space everywhere, and you could see at that point that the Bombers were loving it.

Jake Stringer… an interesting game from him. He came good once the game was in hand, but his really quiet first quarters have worried me this year. He had one touch tonight in the first. I reckon the key to beating him is that you just have to work hard and not do anything really silly… such as Rampe’s kick out of bounds which was called deliberate. Stringer uses the ball so well, and when he gets the chance to hit up a teammate, he makes you pay. His first goal came from a handball from McKenna. It was a bit of a gift, but the conversion from 50 was niiiice.

Who would you give the nod to in terms of the ruck tonight? I think Bellchambers probably had a few moments where his ruck work resulted in quick breaks from the stoppage, so he gets my vote.

Adam Saad seeing Ben Ronke on the charge to run him down and taking off from half back anyway… scintillating stuff. I love when Saad takes people on. It was as though he looked at Ronke and though ‘oh well… if you think you’re good enough…” and just put the foot down, himself!

I’m making a few admissions here – I didn’t think David Myers was capable of being a good midfielder. He had 25 touches and 14… yes 14 score involvements today. I would’ve loved to have seen where he’d be at if injuries hadn’t hit him so hard.

I reckon he went out of it, but I had David Zaharakis as best on ground in the first quarter. He was the anti-Stringer. His game will be largely unsung, but he was very important early on, as was Dyson Heppell. Heppell is a very nice link man through the middle. I still don’t trust him hitting targets by foot.

The Bombers' clash against Hawthorn in Round 20 is a mouth-watering prospect. A win there would be like an eight-point gain on the Hawks. It's safe to say that every game is a do-or-die prospect from now on. As for Sydney, it was only a few short weeks ago they were viewed as THE legitimate challenger to Richmond. How times change... Their matchup against Collingwood will be mammoth irrespective of what happens tomorrow. The pointy end of the season is fast approaching, and the Bombers are finding form at the right time.

You think Joe Daniher might start feeling a little better soon???

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