Essendon v St Kilda - The Good, Bad and Ugly

The Bombers kept their slim finals hopes alive with a 43 win over the disappointing Saints under the Dome at Docklands.

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

 

THE GOOD

Devon Smith

I absolutely love what this guy has been able to do for the Essendon Football Club. As some cast shade on how the Bombers’ recruits would fare this season, Smith left no room for doubt as he set about building a season based around his ferocious tackling.

He finished with another eight tackles this evening, to move within 14 of the all-time record set by Andrew Swallow in 2010. Smith now has 169 tackles for the season. With two games remaining, if he hits his average, the record is his.

But tackling is not the only thing he’s brought to the table this season. He added another all-round game to his year tonight with 24 touches, seven marks and five inside 50s, but my favourite passage of play from him tonight was all desperation. Within a minute in the second quarter, Smith made two huge defensive efforts. First he made great ground to get a fist on an exit 50 kick, and spoil the marking attempt of Jack Steven, and moments later, he crunched Jack Sinclair in a huge tackle in the middle.

He is the runaway favourite for the Essendon Best and Fairest this season and will be a worthy winner. Hard work pays off.

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti

He has been instrumental in the turnaround of the Essendon season. Early in the piece this year, Walla looked to be nowhere near it. With four games in the first half of the year where he registered single digits for disposals, you could be forgiven for thinking that McDonald-Tipungwuti was not earning his spot. He looked out of sorts at times, and was a non-factor during some of the harrowing Essendon losses.

However, with a career-high five goal haul, and seven tackles to his name tonight, the Walla resurgence continues. He has had one poor outing in the second half of the season, and continues to get better as the season progresses. What a shame the Bombers probably won’t make the top eight this season. I reckon right around finals time, McDonald-Tipungwuti would be ready to fire.

He travelled at 93% efficiency this evening, and was involved in 10 score involvements. His pressure, even when not credited for a tackle, was enough to rush the opposition all night. Seeing a player look over his shoulder, realise Walla was bearing down, and rushing the ensuing kick indicates just how much he can influence the contest without being directly involved.

Andrew McGrath

This was his best game for the year by a long way.

McGrath used the ball well running off half back, and was deployed perfectly by the Bombers, particularly in the absence of the hard-running Adam Saad after quarter time. He had two direct goal assists and was involved in eight scoring thrusts overall.

I’ll put my hand up and say that I have been a bit disappointed with McGrath this season. A lot was expected from him after his Rising Star win in 2017, but he has fallen short. Tonight was a great step in the direction to rectifying things.

Membrey v Hurley

This was a really interesting tussle, with Membrey appearing to be on top when you look at things on the surface. He seemed to be leading Hurley to the ball through the first couple of quarters, and was judging the ball well in flight.

The problem here was that Membrey was doing all this nowhere near the goals. His marks were taken predominantly on the wing as he used searching leads to get space against Hurley. From my count, once the ball was inside 50, Membrey had only one win for the game – and he missed the resultant set shot.

Hurley’s touches seemed to come from the stock-standard chip kicks across half back as part of a switch, so I guess that Membrey at least earned his kicks. Hurley ended up with 13 marks for the game and his 21 touches ran at 91% efficiency. He had only three intercept touches, and no contested marks. Membrey faded after half time, adding only two to his total to finish with seven for the game. He did provide a good hit up lead for the Saints, and added a couple of contested marks to his total.

David Myers

I kind of want him to do well as we almost share a surname, but at the same time I am kind of disappointed in him because his ancestors obviously took a short cut and didn’t spell that surname well enough.

Myers has been a work-in-progress for quite some time, with a raft of injuries plaguing him for years. This year, he has been a real highlight for the Bombers, and he continues to stand up. I thought at one point during the season that, if Myers was one of the Bombers’ main midfielders, they probably weren’t September-bound. They still lack hard, inside players, and Myers was filling that void for them. I waited for his body to give out, as it has done so many times before, but he has really surprised me. With Langford emerging as well, and Parish also providing grunt, those clearance stocks aren't looking so bad.

Myers is averaging over 20 touches per game, and bettered that by nine tonight, and some of his penetrating kicks off half back were worth their weight in gold. His 60 metre kick to Stringer at half forward in the third quarter was the kind of delivery that can break games open. If he can get some time and space next week against Richmond, he may be able to give the Tigers nightmares with players getting out over the back.

He had an equal game-high in clearances with six tonight, and also had a game-high 13 contested touches. I have to eat my words a little, irrespective of whether the Bombers sneak into September, he has been a wonderful surprise for Essendon.

Five minutes of brutal efficiency

From the 23 minute mark of the second quarter, the Bombers blew the game wide open with five minutes of wonderful football. A running goal to Conor McKenna after the St Kilda defenders fell asleep, another to Jake Stringer, and a pair of snags to McDonald-Tipungwuti took a neck-and-neck game and gave Essendon the breathing room to pull away.

As the Saints fumbled and bumbled, Essendon put their foot on their opponents’ throats, and set up their win with precision football. Their pressure on the ball exiting 50 created opportunities to score, and they capitalised on all but one occasion, which was a Heppell miss from long range.

During this period, classy handballs from Darcy Parish, and fantastic gut-running by McKenna from half back really set them up well

Zerrett

There were a couple of times tonight when Zach Merrett’s vision made Essendon a better team. Being able to quickly survey and assess the surrounding players and pick the best option is a talent many players do not possess. Merett has it in spades.

He had another ripping first quarter, and is making a habit of getting his hands on the ball often early in games. He had 10 touches for the quarter and went on to have 33 for the game. His 11 contested touches and 10 score involvements enabled the Bombers to capitalise on their clearance advantage over the Saints.

He had a slower start to the season, but has really elevated his play in the last two months. He is a great barometer for Essendon at the moment. As goes Merrett, so do the Bombers. After his first eight games of the year he was averaging slightly fewer than 22 touches per game. With a stellar second half the year under his belt, those numbers have jumped to just a shade below 27 per game. That’s a great turnaround.

Ben McNiece

This’ll be a short one. Was really impressed with the way McNiece was able to knuckle down and curb the influence of Gresham after half time.

After the five minute mark of the second quarter, someone tapped McNiece on the shoulder and told him to tighten up on the Saints’ best small forward. He did, and took him right out of the game.

 

THE BAD

Adam Saad pole axed

He just didn’t see Nathan Brown coming, and I get the feeling Brown knew he was completely unaware.

Whilst one could argue (if you’re a Saints supporter) that Brown had every right to bump Saad, I reckon it’s a bit of a stretch. The ball was well and truly released when Brown collected Saad, but it was the huge jolt that saw Saad suffer a whiplash-like reaction that elicited a groan from the crowd, and plenty of boos for Brown for the remainder of the game.

It was a bump right out of the 80s, and though I really do like that sort of stuff, I can’t quite see the AFL allowing Brown to play next week. If Aaron Francis was fined for what looked to me to be a perfect bump on Jaeger O’Meara last week, this one will definitely be looked at.

Watching the replay, it’s hard to discern correctly if it is Brown’s shoulder making contact with Saad’s head, or whether it is the severe whiplash-like motion that caused the Bomber defender to sit the game out. Saad seemed to be okay on the bench later in the game, but this hit put the Bombers down two players – something that may have come back to bite them had they been playing against more polished opposition.

I had someone I was watching it with compare it to the Ryan Burton hit on Shaun Higgins earlier in the year, but I don't think it was anything like it. This one was a bit of a decisive act, whereas the Burton hit was a last minute adjustment, for mine.

So I am interested in your verdict on this one? I have actually just watched it 5-6 times again as I write. He might just get off if it is just about the contact, as the vision I see makes it look like it's the whiplash that sends Saad's head into Brown's shoulder and the majority of the contact is shoulder to shoulder. Then there's the contact with the ground as well to consider... will actually be an interesting adjudication. Then there's the question as to how far away the ball was on impact? Does that become a factor? I guess it's lucky Brown isn't in contention for the Brownlow... this'd be a bigger story.

Whatever comes of it, I am sure someone will use the line "out of character" to describe Brown's actions, right? One day someone will just say "Yeah, the prick does that all the time!"

Injuries

I mentioned Saad above... and yapped on forever, but Hooker, Fantasia and Goddard - those are some mighty big outs for the Bombers should any of them not come up for what is ostensibly a do or die game against Richmond.

Goddard's landing and jarring knee looked horrible but he seemed optimistic enough. Hooker looked proppy, but the big one for me is Fantasia. He is a livewire, and really looks to be getting back to the kind of form that gives defenders nightmares. I could see him giving Richmond a really hard time. Hopefully it's just a little tightness and he'll be right to go in front of a big crowd next weekend.

 

THE UGLY

Too many plodders

Who are St Kilda’s line breakers? Jack Steven? He is the poor man’s Dane Swan. How about Seb Ross? Hmmm, maybe.

For mine, St Kilda have too many plodders; one speed draught horses that run up and down between the arcs but don’t possess that burst of blistering speed to rip a game open. Watching Saad and McKenna running off half back really rams home the Saints’ inability to break lines.

Check out this midfield rotation. Steven, Newnes, Ross, Steele, Armitage, Acres. Now, tell me – who are the line breakers? Who is going to take on someone and back their leg speed to pull away and drive the ball long inside 50? If they are capable, they didn't show it tonight.

The Saints have got plenty of problems. Whether it is a potential full forward who keeps knockong his head on things, or a potential All-Australian forward pocket who simply can’t kick straight at goals, the Saints have a lot of work to do. Adding Dan Hannebery to this mix of one-speeders surely can’t be the answer. The Saints need speed, and their chasing a tortoise.

They’d be much better off putting some dollars in front of Jared Polec. His line breaking off half back would work well in concert with Jimmy Webster and would provide St Kilda with a bit of run and carry at speed. Right now, they have jog and carry.

 

OTHER BITS

Was that a great shepherd I saw tonight from Rowan Marshall, allowing Jade Gresham to kick his first of the night? The shepherd is a dying art in football. It means you have to put aside your chance to get the handball receive in order to make space for your teammate. It was good to see Marshall do it so readily, when there would’ve been plenty who would’ve wanted the ball in their hands.

It must be hard to be a St Kilda forward when you have both Jack Sinclair and Daniel McKenzie absolutely hacking the ball off the half back line. In the space of a minute or so, these two combined for two nominees in the worst kick of the year award. They were complete shanks, and if you were leading at those kinds of kicks, it'd be difficult to remain quiet.

I didn’t put Dyson Heppell in the ‘good’ category because… well, I just thought others deserved it more, but his read of the ruck tap in the first quarter, to run onto it and kick a goal was exceptionally good. His kicking was a lot better tonight as well. No horrible turnovers.

If you were Alan Richardson, you’d do whatever you could to buy some space for Blake Acres to operate in. Smoooooth mover.

I’ve made mention in past reviews that Jake Stringer goes missing a bit in first quarters. Whilst he by no means had a heap of it this week, his hard tackle on David Armitage was directly responsible for Walla’s first goal.

Now, to seemingly defuse a potentially volatile situation in the first quarter following the Saad hit, the umpires decided to take control. A soft free kick was paid to Aaron Francis for “illegal contact”… welcome to netball, by the way, and then, a disastrous 50 metre penalty was paid for Langford “being slung to the ground” in what looked like two players simply wrestling off the ball. It resulted in a goal to Francis from 20 metres out which is way too big a price to pay for the sake of the umpires feeling in control of the game.

The Jack Steven miss from 25 metres out in the dying stages of the first quarter is everything I dislike about Steven. All sizzle, no steak.

Jack Steele’s work above his head tonight was pretty impressive. He led the game in contested marks, with three for the game.

It was great to see Nathan Freeman kick his first goal in footy after such a long road back, but his first couple of kicks in the second quarter were absolute shockers, and caused headaches for the Saints as a result. You just have to hit your kicks, particularly inboard ones or you’ll be eaten alive.

Best Seb Ross play of the day came in the second quarter when he managed to smother a Heppell handball at the centre bounce, then pressure David Myers and win the ball himself to release. Forget the other 42 touches, this was his best.

What a brilliant decision to keep the ball in by Cale Hooker in the third. How many players would be content with seeing the ball over the line and setting up? Plenty would! But not Mr. Hooker. He kept the ball alive and it was as though the Bomber mids saw it as a challenge and accepted gleefully. They drove it forward and ended with fantasia who kicked a nice goal. That was all Cale Hooker’s goal. Thank you, Mr Hooker.

It will be interesting to see what Ben Long becomes. Right now he looks good down back, but there is potential match winner written all over him. He’s quick, has great balance and looks graceful on the field… like Princess Grace or the other one…. Diana.

The commentators really harped on about players kicking round the corner tonight, huh? Yeah, well I’ve seen a heap of drop punts missed at close proximity in my time, too, so I am not buying into that. Yes, both Billings and Links probably should've had a traditional shot, but they didn't. And I don't think it's about giving themselves an excuse if they miss. I think it's about doing what they are most comfortable doing.

I found myself barracking for Fantasia to kick the goal after he completely burned off Jack Newnes in the third quarter. He missed, but again the lack of Saint leg speed was apparent. I wonder if this was where Fantasia got his "hamstring awareness"?

Interesting to see Jarryn Geary giving his teammates a mouthful after Fantasia marked in front of him. I wonder if the word “lazy” was mentioned, given that there plenty back inside 50 and none willing to move and drop on the hole?

The Bombers’ misses in the second and third quarters could’ve seen them have a mammoth win if they kicked truly

If the game was in doubt, Devon Smith laid it to rest quickly in the last, roving the Merrett long bomb and snapping a ripper.

Lovely spin out of the Long attempted bump by Aaron Fracis in the last quarter. Great composure and confidence.

I don’t know how many times I have seen Jake Stringer appeal for a free kick this season with his arms stretched out wide like he’s attempting to take off… I'm calling it the String-Eagle because I'm tired and can't think of a better name. I spotted three String-Eagles tonight, and one look back at the ump as the ball was still in play. I don't have a dumb name for that one.

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The Bombers running through the guts is a sight to see. I’m not sure any team players Etihad Stadium better than them when they’ve got ahead of steam. But it also comes down to delivery. I loved McKenna’s ability to delivery cleanly when the opportunity presented.

Of the injuries that little red the Essendon bench, which ones do you think are most significant. I really like Saad – his run and carry makes him a 70-80 metres player in terms of distance covered.

 

 

So, how about that? The Bombers can still make the finals! Everything will have to go right, but it is quite amazing after where they sat after the first half of the season. Give us a Like on Facebook or a Follow on Twitter and we’ll get BT to sat Orrrraaaazio several times at your next birthday party. Even if it’s recorded, and not actually BT stating it. Orrrrraaaazio!