In what was billed as a mini elimination final, Essendon’s commanding win over bitter rivals Hawthorn kept their season alive, and left Alastair Clarkson heading back to the drawing board and staring down the barrel of a rare September holiday. Here are the big questions from the Bombers 19-point triumph.
Can Essendon mount a September charge?
Essendon’s fast-paced game style was in full effect in their win tonight, and at 6-6, the Bombers will believe anything is possible. If they are to make a run towards finals, they will need to improve their consistency, as the Bombers have only strung two wins together once at any point this season. Essendon supporters can take comfort in their back half of 2018, and this year they aren’t coming from as far back as last year’s herculean effort.
The key ingredients are in place for a run at the premiership, minus Joe Daniher, and young charges Parish, McKenna, Langford, Clarke, Laverde and Guelfi have all made significant improvement in 2019.
Where to for the Hawks?
Tonight’s loss showed that the Hawks suddenly have a lot of holes in their best 22. Key defence looks fragile, especially if James Frawley is somehow out of the mix, and the midfield is one-dimensional and suffering without extractor Tom Mitchell. Their once legendary forward six is bereft of any confidence. Tonight, the only player to kick multiple goals was defender Jarman Impey, and they are severely lacking a tall presence to kick to inside 50.
At 5-7, Alastair Clarkson will not concede that the season is almost over, but if the Hawks are unable to turn this slide around, it may be time to start the traditional veteran clear out to make some room for the young brigade to take over.
How good is the Adam Saad/Conor McKenna combination?
Teams know these two want to get it and go. It’s what they do, yet they just can’t stop it.
I watched the little legs of Paul Puopolo pumping as he chased McKenna in the first quarter – Poppy is no slouch, but McKenna had him covered easily, and arrogantly took a bounce as he put distance between them. I was waiting for Puopolo’s hamstring to burst!
However, that wasn't half as arrogant as McKenna’s little kick to himself a little later in the game as he tore down the wing.
These two are rated one/two in the game in running bounces, and not by a small margin. If you can’t find a way to put the clamps on them, they’ll tear you to bits, and that’s exactly what they did to the Hawks tonight.
Together, Saad and McKenna combined for over 1000 metres gained for the Bombers in a devastating combination off half back.
Which Hawks will be moved on?
It is fairly obvious by now that Jarryd Roughead will be out the door by the end of the season, and many more Hawks will likely follow, especially if they fail to see September action. Key forward Ryan Schoenmakers has been average at VFL level, James Frawley has struggled with injury, Shaun Burgoyne isn’t getting any younger, and Grant Birchall must know the end of his career is getting closer by the moment. All of these players have an heir apparent either waiting for their time to shine, or have already made into the senior side and are keeping the veterans out, Clarkson is ruthless in his pursuit of success, and any player over 30 that plays under him will be nervous come late August.
Who does Alastair Clarkson have in his sights?
With Alastair Clarkson at the helm, the Hawthorn dynasty is never really over. Preferring to rebuild on the run, and never afraid to move veterans on and trade high draft picks, Clarkson will still believe his side is only a few ingredients away from another flag. Rumours earlier this year suggested Hawthorn were chasing GWS key forward Jonathan Patton, and after tonight’s game, he suddenly becomes an important acquisition. While Tom Mitchell returning will make the Hawks a better side, another superstar midfielder is high on Hawthorn’s wish list, with Patton teammate Stephen Coniglio the biggest target.
Will John Worsfold be a senior coach in 2020?
While tonight’s victory was an impressive performance, wins and losses will ultimately decide whether Worsfold tenure at the Bombers continues beyond this season. If Essendon can make it into the top eight at the end of year, Woosha’s contract will likely be extended. However, too many more up and down performances and the Bombers may decide to enter the coaching merry go round.
Can Jarryd Roughead find his way back?
When Alastair Clarkson dropped young forward Mitch Lewis, it was seen as a head scratcher by some, as it was felt that Hawthorn lacked a big key target. This proved the case, as at three quarter time, the Hawks has only taken two marks from 40 inside 50 entries. If Clarkson would like Lewis to further develop his game in the VFL, it must pave the way for former captain Roughead to return to the senior side. Playing a variety of roles with Box Hill, Roughead has found some form and confidence, and at the very least, can provide Hawthorn a marking presence that was sorely missed against the Bombers.
Who was best and worst on ground for both teams?
Best – Michael Hurley
The marshal of Essendon’s defence, Hurley was everywhere, consistently cutting off Hawthorn forward thrusts, and was able to set up Essendon attacks from half back. Gathered 26 disposals (23 of which were by foot) at 80% efficiency, and took 12 marks. Rebounding from defensive 50 nine times (equal most with Conor McKenna), Hurley is Essendon’s most important player and his work with his fellow defenders cannot be understated.
Stiff: Dylan Clarke
Playing in just his third game, Clarke was magnificent in his shutdown role, taking Jaeger O’Meara out of the game. While O’Meara had 24 disposals, many of his possessions were in junk time, and his efficiency of just 54% is well below his average. Clarke, for his part, had 23 disposals at 82%, as well as five clearances. Has made himself an important part of Essendon’s midfield setup as the Bombers make a run towards finals.
Worst – Jake Stringer
One of Essendon’s most talented players, too often Jake Stringer goes missing in games and lets his passion get the better of him. As a forward, Stringer was disappointing, with his set shots lacking confidence, and his presence often felt like it was getting in the way of his forward teammates. Giving away four free kicks for silly incidents, Stringer is too talented to be spoken of in this manner, and with Joe Danaher sidelined for the remainder of the season, Stringer needs to find his best form quickly. Copping an injury late in the third quarter, Stringer deserves some credit for trying to return to the field when his team needed him.
Lucky: Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti
Aside from a brilliant mark, the man they call Tippa was uncharacteristically quiet in an Essendon win, with just seven disposals going through his hands. There was some discussion around Tipungwuti’s omission from the Mongrel All Australian team, and part of the reason he was excluded was his nature to go missing for big stretches. At his best, McDonald-Tipungwuti is electric, and one of the most exciting players to watch, but his inconsistency lets him down far too often.
Best – Ricky Henderson
Another brilliant performance in Henderson’s career renaissance, he combined well in a wing partnership with Tom Scully. Gathering 31 disposals at 87%, Henderson’s run through the midfield was vital in keeping Hawthorn in the game. Pushing closer and closer into All-Australian calculations, Henderson’s kicking ability is important to Hawthorn’s precision game style, and at 31, Henderson is still at his best in a team that isn’t shy in moving on its veterans.
Stiff: Tom Scully
When GWS let Scully walk to Waverly Park, many wondered if Scully has any football left in him. Tonight proved that Scully still has plenty more left in the tank. His renowned running abiliy is returning to its best, and his disposal average is on the rise. Saw the ball 24 times, going at 75% efficiency, Scully’s 10 marks and six score involvements were a big reason Hawthorn were only three points down at half time. Still has some improvements to make, but his season has gone from strength to strength since it began a lot sooner than anyone could have imagined.
Worst – Luke Breust
Hawthorn’s leading goal kicker with 21, the normally devastating Breust was totally irrelevant, with only 10 possessions and the solitary mark. Kicking only one goal, itself coming from one of the softest free kicks seen this season, Breust, and the entire Hawthorn forward line have a lot of improvement to make if they are to play finals this season. Often playing like a millionaire, Breust’s trademark forward pressure was nowhere to be seen, and if Jarryd Roughead can be omitted, so to can Breust, who could benefit from relegation to the VFL.
Lucky: Paul Puopolo
Much like fellow pressure forward Breust, Puopolo was a non-factor is Hawthorn’s loss, his most noteworthy impact coming from a David vs. Goliath battle at the three quarter time siren with Tom Bellchambers. Touching the ball just 11 times, Puopolo’s forward pressure wasn’t good enough for long enough, with Poppy only recording two tackles. Now 31 years of age, Puopolo needs to find his best form and fast, otherwise there could be a tap on the shoulder coming sooner than he’d like.
- Question without notice. Are Josh Begley and Matt Guelfi in some sort of competition for the worst haircut at Windy Hill?
- Ben Stratton’s pinchy pinch antics should not be part of our great game. Footage showed Orazio Fantasia’s arm with several bruises as a result of Stratton’s annoyance, and the umpires should’ve paid a free kick against the Hawthorn skipper. A good defender (which Stratton is) should not need to resort to this type of irritation in order to beat their direct opponent.
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