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The Good, Bad and Ugly - Essendon v North Melbourne

In one of the games of the season, Essendon rode a special game from Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, including some late-game heroics, to grab a spot in the top eight… for now.

The Bombers were banged up, with Michael Hurley sitting out the second half after a heavy collision with Cam Zurhaar, but were able to rally behind the brilliance of their electrifying small forward to overcome the best game from Ben Brown in a long while.

How did they do it?

Well, that’s why I’m here – to tell you what you may or may not already know, and maybe… just maybe impart some words of wisdom.

But probably not.

Here’s The Mongrel’s Good, Bad and Ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

DYLAN CLARKE

I’ll get to stuff about North’s inability to assist Cunnington later on, but Dylan Clarke is fast establishing himself as one of the premier stoppers in the game, and he added the name of ben Cunnington to his lift of victims today.

At 20 years old, Clarke has openly embraced the role of tagger for the Bombers. He has put the clamps of Jaeger O’Meara, Patrick Cripps and now Ben Cunnington. None of these match-ups are a walk in the park – they win contested ball and are supposed to be difficult to stop.

But Clarke has made it look easy.

But I am guessing there is an ulterior motive at play here, and John Worsfold sees Clarke as more than just a tagger. In running with elite midfielders, Clarke is learning valuable lessons about positioning, about structures and about when to release and find your own ball. This will serve him well as he ultimately develops into a key part of the Essendon midfield, himself.

He finished with just 13 disposals, but his 12 tackles led all players. I’d be interested to see how many of those tackles were on Cunnington.

At The mongrel, we like to reward influence on the game over spangly-looking stats. When I give votes for this one, I will be hard pressed to leave Clarke out… but I might have to considering what else went on in this one.

 

MARTY GLEESON

So I am a little ignorant on Gleeson, but I was pretty damn impressed with him today.

21 touches at 71% tells only a small part of his story. What I really enjoyed was his run and carry from the half back line, and the way he’d meet the ball head on and NOT immediately look sideways or backwards.

I’m sure it’ll be coached out of him, but the way he took off and went long to a one-on-one with McKernan in the second quarter… I reckon the forwards would be licking their lips when he gets the ball, because they know it is going to come in long and fast – it actually gives them a chance at a one-out win.

I’ve read a few comments from Bomber fans relieved that Gleeson was back in the side. I now see why. He had eight intercepts in this game, and was excellent with help-defence as well.

 

WALLA

He looks like a barrel, doesn’t he? Ever tried to tackle a moving barrel? I haven’t, but I’m probably not going out on a limb to suggest it’d be bloody hard!

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is at his best when he takes the game on. There are weeks when he looks a little passive but this was definitely not one of them.

I’ve watched a few Essendon games this year… maybe six or seven actually, and have seen the best and worst of Walla. He can either be the best on ground, or at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. No prizes for guessing where he was in this game.

Even without the game-winning snap in the last minute, Walla had pieced together a wonderful game. He was Essendon’s most dangerous forward, causing absolute havoc in the forward half with his evasion, tackling and hard run. His pressure around the ball was brilliant, and his 11 score involvements speak of a man who wasn’t just bobbing up to kick goals – he was doing things that benefitted his teammates.

I know Walla had a game earlier in the year when he kicked seven, but this game seemed to mean more. Maybe it was the grandstand finish? Maybe it was his goal of the year contender earlier in the game, or maybe it was just because of his pressure, but I loved watching him in this one. It was the complete game from a pressure-small forward.

 

BEN BROWN

This is probably not going to go down well, but I am giving Ben brown the three votes in this game. He was the difference between Essendon running away with the game, and the Bombers needing a Festivus miracle from Walla in the dying stages.

He has had bigger numbers, but this was the most complete game I’ve seen Brown play. He marked like Wayne Carey in this one – his hands fantastic above his head. There was no flopping around like one of those inflatable characters whenever there was contact made – he took the contact, re-balanced and clunked the mark. His last quarter was excellent, as he carried the third quarter momentum into it and ran until Cale Hooker couldn’t go with him.

Brown had four goals from the ten minute mark of the third quarter. It’s safe to say that without his influence, this game would not have been anywhere near as close. It was great to see him back in top form.

Sadly for him, North was unable to capitalise on their big forward’s best game for the season.

 

CAM ZURHAAR

Okay, this bloke may not get a vote when the Rising Star is awarded, but I would be tempted. He is a bull, and at 21 years old, he seeks out contact like he’s popped a few angry pills prior to running out on the ground.

This is an aspect of modern footy that is missing. Whilst I don’t want to celebrate Michael Hurley getting injured, the physical nature of Zurhaar’s game caused it. Well, that and the shitful grubbing handball from Mason Redman that caused Hurley to have to sit and wait for the footy.

His first quarter was electrifying and three goals was a just return for effort.

It wasn’t just Hurley that Zurhaar crashed into. He collected Dylan Shiel early in the game as well, flattening him at half forward, and was at it again in the dying moments of the game prior to McDonald-Tipungwuti’s goal.

North have four Rising Star nominations this season, but the most unlikely has been Zurhaar, but with the way he goes about it, he may end up being the best of the lot of them. There is no slowdown with him – he plays at full speed all the time, and there are a few players who are put to shame by his level of physicality.

 

ZAC CLARKE

Here is a surprise. I did not expect to be writing about Zac Clarke in this section… ever.

But here we are. Going into this game, I expected North to get great service from Todd Goldstein and dominate the clearances as a result. Nope…didn’t happen.

Amazingly, Clarke matched Goldstein in the ruck. Some may say he even beat him – stats back it up. Clarke had 35 taps to Goldy’s32 while the Bombers won the clearances 44-32 overall, and had a resounding 15-8 advantage at centre clearances. That is a dominance I simply did not expect.

I love a good underdog story, and I love it better when a player proves me wrong 9as long as he is proving a lot of other people wrong at the same time). Clarke had six clearances himself as he matched Goldy body-to-body, and I reckon that after several disappointing outings when given a chance, John Worsfold will feel some vindication tonight when he looks at the game Clarke played.

 

ROBBIE TARRANT

There was a point where I was wondering whether Essendon were actually trying to pick Tarrant out in their forward line and deliberately kick the ball to him, such was his ability to read the play and get to the right spot to intercept.

Yes, intercepts - he had the lazy 14 of them in this game, and when you combine that with his 11 one-percenters, you have the makings of the best defensive performance on the ground.

He came out this week like he had a point to prove after Josh Bruce got hold of the North defence last week, and prove a point he did.

Every time we review a game, or put out a list with the “best of” or most underrated”, you can guarantee that we’ll get a North supporter mentioning Tarrant if we have left him out of our article. People, we know how good he is – he has been doing this stuff for a long time now. He is rated very highly by all and sundry.

No one underrates Robbie Tarrant at The Mongrel Punt

 

ZERRETT

Now that his brother is history, can we just call him Merrett without the confusion?

We can? Oh good!

Well then, Zach Merrett had a very nice game in this one, leading all players in contested touches, and often putting his head over the ball when the game was at its hottest. He worked far and wide to collect 34 disposals, and as a result compiled fantastic numbers in the absence of his midfield partner, Dyson Heppell.

Merrett had six clearances, six tackles, and sent the ball inside 50 on five occasions as part of an Essendon midfield that refused to give in even when North came back hard in the last quarter to hit the lead. His six clearances all came before half time, with Merrett moving more to an outside role after the main break, and he was one of the few players gutsy enough to make that diagonal kick into the middle from half back.

Whilst Merrett has not yet hit the same highs as he did back in 2017 when he put the footy world on notice, there has been a distinct shift back to really good form recently. This is the seventh game of 2019 that he has notched 30+ disposals and as we start to inch toward September, his ability to run all day will be invaluable to the Bombers.

 

THE BAD

 

BREAK THE TAG

I’m not going to have a shot at Ben Cunnington here, but rather the entire North Melbourne team. Where were you guys? You had this bloke who has never been physically tested in an AFL game clinging to your best ball winner like Joe Ganino to the leg of a woman he thinks might be rich, and you just allow him to?

Jed Anderson; you were knocking people over like it was a competition. Why not lay some of that physical pressure onto Dylan Clarke? Why allow him to maul Cunnington to the point he becomes ineffective and, dare I say it, a liability at stoppages?

Cam Zurhaar; you were throwing your weight around all game long. How about a big, heavy block on Clarke to let him know you weren’t going to watch him maul your midfield champ all game.

Rhyce Shaw; how about instructing your players to give this kid some physical attention and see just how determined he is to stick to his task when he has grown-ass men knocking him over every time he is in the contest?

Ben Cunnington had a season-low two clearances in this game. He obviously needed a chop out, and for whatever reason, his tagger was permitted free rein to do whatever he wanted to do in order to get the job done. Poor form, North.

Clarke is 20. He had seven games to his name. Work him over and make him think twice about putting his hands all over Cunnington at the stoppages. Your inability to do anything to combat it in this game probably cost you four points, and the chance at playing finals.

 

THE FORGOTTEN ART

Do players remember how to shepherd? It’s still permitted in the game, but you wouldn’t know it at times.

Cast your mind back to the second quarter. I’d love to provide you with some footage, but that’d take a little too much effort, right? A ball went into North’s attacking 50 and got out the back. At once, Cam Zurhaar, Kayne Turner and Curtis Taylor all took off toward goal in the straight line. Zurhaar wanted the handball, as did Taylor.

Which left Turner running toward goal with Essendon players bearing down on him. He tried to do the team thing and centre the ball, but it didn’t come off and the Bombers swept the ball away.

Now, I relented and found the footage, but you’re going to have to do with still images because… I feel like being a little feisty.

No danger of a shepherd?

No danger of a shepherd?

 

So, what the hell is wrong with a shepherd? It’s selfish, stupid play by all three. There was no genuine option inside; you had three players running together and the goal beckoning. Taylor is a kid, but surely he was taught how to lay a shepherd. Turner is experienced enough to keep running, and if McKenna breaks through Taylor’s attempted, he has Zurhaar in support, and Zurhaar… well, he did nothing wrong, and I like him.

So Taylor and Turner… lift your bloody game. That was really poor communication, and really poor decision making. Most of all, the non-existent shepherd is really poor football.

 

THE UGLY

 

FANTASIA

So around a month ago the rumours starting flying that he was looking at heading back to Adelaide. And since then, he has played like a man who doesn’t want to be at Essendon.

That may not be the case, but his recent form has been absolutely atrocious. One of our readers was defending Fantasia on the basis that McDonald-Tipungwuti plays better with Fantasia in the team. Whilst there might be something to that, Essendon were basically playing one man down the entire game. Fantasia was absolutely useless.

Here’s his last month. He’s running at 7.5 touches per game, and 0.5 goals per game. You know what those numbers say to me? Just three letters.

VFL.

And they also feed speculation that he won’t be a part of the 2020 Essendon side. Oh wait… but he came out and denied he wanted to leave, right? So did Mitch McGovern last year. I’ll believe it when we get to the conclusion of trade period.

 

GARRY LYON HYPERBOLE

I usually like Garry. He is a little old school masquerading as a modern man. He sounded as though he was appalled that Ben Cunnington had hit Zach Merrett high in the second quarter, and was more or less imploring Michael Christian to do something about that dirty dog, Cunnington because he’s been doing this nasty kind of stuff all year.

And then they showed the replay and Cunnington actually didn’t very little wrong. He punched the ball and on the follow through it appeared as though his forearm made slight contact with Merrett’s neck. Great job by Merrett to accentuate the contact and get the free kick, but Garry… if you’re going to have a man drawn and quartered at least make sure you’ve got him for an actual crime.

Cunnington went hard at Merrett but that’s all he did. There was a free kick in it and that’s all. There was no need for Garry to attempt to bury Cunnington for what was a nothing action. Poor form.

 

QUICK BITS

Am I the only one thinking North aren’t exactly getting bang for their buck with Polec at the moment? This is the third time in four games he’s had under 20 touches. Once is an anomaly. Twice is eyebrow-raising, but three… that’s a bit of a worry.

So this next generation of North mids. Dumont, Simpkin… they really know how to be hot and cold, don’t they? With Cunnington being tagged, you think one of them could have stepped up? Apparently not. 16 touches for Dumont, and Simpkin came crashing back to earth with just 18 after back-to-back 30+ disposal games.

So I stopped counting at three but if you were having a drink every time Jake stringer extended both arms out like the statue of Christ the Redeemer, I reckon you’d have a bit of a buzz going in this game. He even clocked Marley Williams in the face as he waved his arms around like a demented traffic cop at one stage. It is a really unappealing trait in his game.

I’m not sure whether Mason Redman is really quick, or Nathan Hrovat is a little slow, but their contest on the wing was actually a no-contest. Redman galloped past Hrovat who looked like he was going up and down in the one spot.

Luke McDonald had a dirty night, but his first quarter hit on McDonald-Tipungwuti was a beauty. What was even better was the way Walla bounced to his feet. No bullshit, no remonstrating – he was just up and back into it. Loved it, from both guys.

I really ebb and flow on what Andy McGrath will end up being for the Bombers. I just cannot see him being the sort of player who averages 28 touches per week and runs through the midfield all the time. I love when I see him control the ball off half back, but part of me thinks he is too good to play that role forever. Bomber fans – where does he end up?

Nothing special tonight from Dylan Shiel in my book. Came in for a bit of physical punishment early, and with 22 touches, probably just did enough. He had some hard running in the third quarter to provide an option for teammates in a bind, but he hasn’t hit the magical 30-disposal mark since Round Seven. He probably needs to do a little more.

I thought Stringer was really important early on, and at the start of every quarter, where it seemed as though it was his job to win the clearance and then drift forward. I got to use “strong through the hips” as I was talking about him standing in a tackle to my family… who were ignoring me at the time, but I did see the missus smile when I uttered that. Nice to see Jake doing some really positive work with his cause today, as well.

Shout out to Marley Williams, who gave Fantasia a bath up forward. As a small defender, recognition doesn’t come your way often, but Marley deserves credit here. I was pretty harsh on him at times last year, but he has been really good in the games I’ve watched in 2019.

So is that it for North? This game puts them two games and percentage out of the eight, but if people are talking up Hawthorn’s chances after today, why dismiss North so readily? They’d have to win their next two… but the bad news is they travel to Brisbane and then to West Coast, soooo, I wouldn’t be making plans to attend any finals at the moment.

The Bombers, well this one was definitely required. Eight point game next week against the Crows in Adelaide should be a Friday night belter, and then they get the Suns, which could get very, very messy. I suppose this game against Adelaide either cements them in the eight, or drops them back to the pack. Whaddya think Bomber fans? Confident?

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