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The Good, Bad and Ugly - West Coast v Essendon

After a couple of weeks to end the home and away season that were… less than ideal, the West Coast Eagles moved into the final six teams in the 2019 season, with a 55 point win against the overmatched and underperforming Bombers at Optus Stadium.

It was a brilliant Eagles burst from half way through the first quarter until half way through the second quarter that set the win up, with Josh Kennedy and Jamie Cripps going to work up forward to kick eight between them.

And before I get started, I just want to touch on the incident involving Nic Naitanui and Zach Merrett that saw Merrett thrown into the fence by Nic Nat

There are a few things that you can’t get away with on the footy field with other players. If the umpires don’t stop you, one of your opponents just might. Racism is one these days. You have to leave deceased family members alone – there’s no going there with insults. No nut shots would be another.

And you can’t pull a bloke’s hair.

If you do, you probably deserve to be thrown into the fence.

I work with kids and there is a system I use when working with them that invokes natural consequences. if a kid chooses to do something and the response is a reaction that is unexpected, then the kid learns from it.

It’s usually a very effective way of teaching. I wonder if Zach Merrett learnt a bit of a lesson?

Every action has a reaction. Merrett did something he shouldn’t have and the consequence was that he got dumped into the fence. maybe he shouldn’t have pulled Naitanui’s hair? If he doesn’t do that, there are no consequences, right?

All this talk by hopeful/spiteful supporters that Nic Naitanui would cop a suspension for his retaliation… guys, please. This isn’t fourth grade – no one is being sent to the principal’s office here. It was a bit of argy-bargy amongst the boys after Zach Merrett pulled his ten year old girl move and yanked on Naitanui’s hair.

Don’t fine them. Don’t suspend them. Just let the boys work it out and get on with the business of playing footy. It might expose me as a little archaic, but I absolutely hate that any physical interaction has whistles blowing and threats of suspensions hanging over players. Things get heated, tempers flare, and in 99.9% of the time, the players show amazing restraint. The other 0.1% is when they go too far.

This was not too far.

This was the emotion of finals bubbling over. This was a bit of flexing the muscles, and this was partially the result of two weeks of build up exploding in a couple of seconds. And in terms of explosions, we’re not talking Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid using too much dynamite. This was more like one of those sparklers you get in packs of ten or twenty now. There was very little in it.

Play on, and stop feeding the narrative that has turned our sport into an endless procession of whiny bitches wanting people suspended for everything. Harden up!

And in case you didn’t notice, Merrett and Naitanui hugged it out at the end of the game. No harm - no foul.

 

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

 

THE GOOD

 

THE X-FACTORS

Earlier this week, long before the teams were announced, I wrote a speculative piece on our patron site citing the potential influence of Willie Rioli, Liam Ryan and Jamie Cripps on this contest. I called them the three amigos and thought they were in a position where their work at ground level would be a big factor. I’m pretty pleased with how that aged.

I wasn’t really sure the Bombers had anyone to go with Ryan toe-to-toe, as anyone who’s quick isn’t great overhead at Essendon, and vice-versa. Trying to curtail Willie Rioli, with his amazing instincts in reading the footy off the pack is an absolute nightmare, and though the Bombers had a few who might have been able to do a great job, if there were someone given the role of attempting to stop him in the first quarter, it’d be wise of him not to own up to it.

And then there’s Cripps, who slotted two of his four goals from Sheed-like angles, only one was quite further out, to display that you simply cannot leave him any space to work with at all.

Collectively, these three were the heartbeat of the Eagles. As the Bombers forwards struggled to have any sort of impact, you could argue that this trilogy of small/mid-sized forwards were some of the most impactful players on the park.

Rioli had six score involvements in the first quarter. Cripps and Ryan combined to finish with seven goals between them, and on a night when Josh Kennedy found some form, the reflected glory onto the three amigos was a welcome sight for Eagles fans.

 

MR SEPTEMBER

Remember the AFL had their calendar of players, half-dressed looking quite pensive? They had abs like me in those pics. Mine are still in here somewhere… there’s a fair bit of padding around them these days.

I digress… if there were a ‘Men For All-Seasons’ calendar produced right now, only one bloke can actually stake a claim that he deserves to slot right on in as Mr September. That man is Luke Shuey.

After a bit of a slower start, he exploded for 13 touches in the premiership quarter and once again teamed with the Batman to his Robin, or vice versa, with Elliot Yeo coming to the second half party to join in on the demolition of the Bombers.

Shuey is one of the few players whose overall numbers actually increase this time of year, and with another 30 disposals, ten inside 50s and eight clearances, Mr September had another solid night at the office and might go a fair way to adding to his Norm Smith medal last year  with a Gary Ayres medal this year if he can squeeze out another couple of efforts like that one.

 

THE PART TIMER

So, this ring-in ruckman has been a decent pick up this season. He seems to win a fair share of hit outs, and they’re so good, that at times it appears as though they’ve caught his teammates by surprise.

Any doubts about Nic Naitanui’s capacity to make an impact on this contest were dispelled in around the first four or five minutes, and if you ever needed further proof that Nic Nat is in wonderful athletic shape, you could cast your eyes below and watch him run down one of the quickest players in the business.

 

I know the commentators harp on about it, but Naitanui’s ability to move entire packs forward by ten metres was a sight to behold. His second efforts, though limited due to game time restrictions, are exemplary. In that regard, he is quite akin to Brodie Grundy – they know flags aren’t always won on the oval. Sometimes, they’re won via good planning and attention to detail, and that’s where Naitanui’s staggered minutes and well-timed periods of athletic dominance were so well laid out.

At one point you could just see he was going to put the ball down Luke Shuey’s throat at a centre stoppage. All Shuey had to do was get on the move and you knew Nic Nat was going to feed him. And he did, with another perfect hit out that gave the Eagles mids the advantage again.

The Bombers actually won the clearances overall by two, but the Eagles won more decisive clearances. Whilst Dylan Shiel resorted to hacking the ball at a 45 degree angle out of the square, Shuey and Yeo were able to penetrate 50 with powerful kicks on the run – it is these instances that skew stats, as on-paper you would think the Bombers matched the Eagles in the guts.

They didn’t, and that was largely due to the ruck brilliance of Naitanui. He played 60% of game time yet would be in the top few players on the park in terms of impact. The bloke is a freak.

 

PADDY AMBROSE

There weren’t too many highlights for the Bombers, but the form of Ambrose in curtailing the dangerous Jack Darling in the first three quarters should be acknowledged.

When Darling took a string one handed contested mark in the first quarter, things looked rather ominous for Ambrose, but he fought on, and as we neared half time, Darling had accumulated five touches – just two in the second quarter.

Ambrose is not fashionable at all, but this season has seen him emerge as one of the more reliable defenders in the league. The fact that he could go toe-to-toe with Darling in marking contests all evening long, with the Eagles forward managing just four marks for the game with one being contested, indicates that Ambrose is as close to being at the top of his game as any defender in the league.

He finished with 17 disposals and ten marks as he worked off his direct opponent multiple times to provide an option to exit defensive 50.

 

PINPOINT JETTA

You know those moments where someone hits a kick so perfectly, and you can see the game changing as soon as they make contact with the footy? That’s the experience that Lewis Jetta provided fans in attendance tonight.

His ability to assess, then pinpoint a player on the move through the middle of the ground is a skill many of his peers dare not try. I’m not sure whether they don’t trust their skills, but this is not an option at all for Jetta. He knows what he is capable of.

You could hear the collective “aahhhh” of a crowd in awe as he hit his first diagonal kick from half back into the middle in the first quarter, and the dose was repeated when he did it again moments later. He is a supreme kick of the football, and the fact that Adam Simpson allows him the opportunity to showcase his wonderful foot skills is a solid indication that Jetta is a bit of a freak, to the point Simpson trusts him to make that kick way more often than not.

With teams expecting the long, down-the-line kick every time there’s a mark taken at half back, having Lewis Jetta on your team completely changes the game.

At this point I reckon I’d like to address the omission of Dylan Clarke from the Essendon team. Jetta was the ideal match-up for him – as much as Jetta’s kicking hurts, he was receiving the footy in situations that allowed him the time to hit those kicks. With pressure, maybe a couple of them don’t hit that mark, and the turnover ensues. I’m a bit disappointed that Worsfold afforded Jetta that kind of space to operate in early in the game.

 

THE RUN OF SAAD

It was quite amazing that the run and carry of one of the two Bomber defenders (Conor McKenna being the other) could ignite the whole Essendon team, but it did just that in the second quarter as the Bombers fought their way back into the contest via the brilliant run of Adam Saad.

Tagged by Mark Hutchings, Saad soon realised that the West Coast tagger couldn’t go with him once got a head of steam, so Saad started taking off from the defensive 50, timing his run to perfection on a couple of occasions to kick telling goals to keep his side in it.

Hutchings is no slouch at all, but there was no way he could keep up with Saad, who looked as though he could have been the catalyst for an Essendon comeback at one stage. He had 583 metres gained from just 18 touches on the night, meaning that he averaged almost 40 metres per disposal, which is incredibly high. Usually when I look that kind of stat up, players in question rank in the teens, perhaps breaking into the twenties here or there. To be near  40 is startling.

 

THE BACK SIX

It was a great night at the office for the West Coast defenders. I’ll touch on how impotent the Bombers forward structure was in a minute, but you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Shannon Hurn, Brad Sheppard, Tom Barrass, Will Schofield and Jeremy McGovern – they completely and utterly shut it down tonight.

They destroyed contests, prevented the Bombers from doing anything meaningful with the footy deep inside 50 and made life absolutely miserable for a few Essendon forwards who looked as though the end of the season could not come quick enough.

 

THE BAD

 

STAT PADDING STRINGER

So, he finished with 13 touches, which is not a terrible day out for a deep forward, but when you consider that Stringer spent plenty of time in the middle, and had just one clearance for the game, you start to realise that he had very little impact.

To add to it, Stringer managed just five touches to three quarter time, and only really was able to get his hands on the footy once the heat was off. He had eight touches in the last quarter to make his numbers look respectable, but let’s be honest – he absolutely stunk in this one. Completely and utterly stunk it up.

You know, I have been quite open about not being a fan of the way Stringer goes about it. if you’re going to celebrate like you’ve won Powerball (I forgot to buy a ticket) every time you kick a goal, sticking your tongue out and playing up like it’s the first time you’ve ever done it, you’ve got to be ready to produce when the heat is on.

It was on tonight, and Stringer produced bugger all.

I remember the story about Alan Jeans singling Dermott Brereton out before the 89 Grand Final. He let Brereton know that he’d brought the attention on himself. He’d invited the pressure and now he had to respond. We all know what happened next.

Stringer has been good all season for the Bombers, but reputations are  made in finals. He’s invited the pressure. He brought the attention onto himself. And when the time came to stand up and take the responsibility, Jake Stringer faded.

Jake Stringer failed the big test. He won’t be the last to do so this September.

 

THE KICK AND HOPE

Dylan Shiel – this is for you. Zach Merrett, Dyson Heppell, Darcy Parish and Adam Saad, this is for you.

Long kicks… aimless kicks inside 50 do not work in finals. You had no composure, no vision and no poise. It was almost embarrassing to watch repeated kicks directly to the well-positioned Eagles defenders, who would clear, only to see the usual suspects listed above do exactly the same thing time and time again.

In the first quarter, the Bombers looked like a team devoid of confidence going inside 50. I’m going to touch on the Essendon forwards in a bit, and already had a section on the West Coast defenders above, but the Essendon midfield was atrocious in giving their forwards a chance in this one. They absolutely butchered it.

 

THE UGLY

 

SHAUN MCKERNAN

Wow, I’m not sure I’ve seen a bloke so comprehensively beaten as Shaun McKernan. He looked completely and utterly defeated by half time and barely gave a yelp in the second half, either. Whether it was Brad Sheppard, Tom Barrass, Will Schofield or Shannon Hurn closing down his space, McKernan could not get near it, and his inability to impact the game in any way was an indictment on him.

Am I being harsh? I don’t think so. He kicked two bags of four goals this season, although those efforts were against Gold Coast and Melbourne. Hmmmm, a bit of the Eddie Betts about him in that regard. I think a better way to look at his impact is with his contested marking.

He’s making it easy on me tonight, with none, and no marks at all as a matter of fact, but he had eight games this season where he dragged down 3+ contested grabs. The Eagles knew what McKernan’s strength was, and on a night for big forwards to make a statement, McKernan was completely and utterly unable to do so.

He’ll have to do a bit of soul searching after this game. He was beyond poor, and should be hauled over the coals for such an inept outing.

 

THE INEPT FORWARD LINE

You know when the commentators start talking about how good it would be if Essendon had Joe Daniher up forward that the people up there aren’t really doing anything of note.

Here are the people I haven’t already noted in the Essendon forward half.

Orazio Fantasia – You can tell me he has been hurt this season, and you can tell me that he does little things that benefit his team; I saw that great little tap on to Snelling in the first quarter to set up a goal, but far out this bloke looks like someone who doesn’t want to be out there this year.

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti – Toss a coin and see what version of AMT you’re going to get. Seriously, the distance between his best and worst is as wide a gap as any player in the league. Looking at him until half time, he had three touches and a big, fat goose egg in the first quarter. It’s not as though he was starved of opportunity – he was thrown into the guts for periods as well. He just couldn’t get a touch, and picked a really bad day to have a really bad day.

Mitch Brown – Sat the last quarter out, but really, the Bombers were not missing much at all without him. In 66 minutes of game time, he troubled the statisticians just four times as he managed to take doing nothing to almost artistic levels. Zero tackles for Brown.

Jayden Laverde – I’ll give Laverde credit; he has a crack, but so often he seems to give away a free kick or just manage to turn the ball over at a crucial stage. He looks like a weapon and has the potential to be a good third forward for a team. I just don’t think that team is Essendon. And even though he cracks in, he also had zero tackles.

If the Bombers are talking about trading Daniher, they better have some concrete plans to have a reliable footballer who can take a grab and kick some goals in the works, because if tonight was any indication, they’re bereft of one.

 

QUICK BITS

Really liked the game of Aaron Francis tonight. He looked like one of the Essendon defenders capable of reading the play and having an impact when the heat was on early. He’s got lovely hands and looks like the kind of intercept defender any team would love. He is still out of contract, but Bomber fans would be pleased to hear some bozo (look, I forget all the reporters’ names… let’s just say it was Tom Someone and I’ll be close) state that a new deal with the Bombers is happening. I expected him to want out.

Eagles fans were baying for blood when Mason Redman appeared to take Liam Ryan high in the first 30 seconds. Nice drop at the knees by Flyin’ Ryan… and great umpiring to call play on.

Cale Hooker had a really dirty day. Looked very slow off the mark, as though he was wearing particularly heavy ankle weights.

I have no idea how a player can be tackled, spun in a 720, drop the ball and not be called for holding the ball, but that’s what happened when Dylan Shiel caught Elliot Yeo in the first quarter. That was a shocker – you may say Yeo had no prior opportunity to get rid of the ball, but he had two complete spins to do something other than drop it whilst in the tackle.

Great to see some tackles sticking on Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti in this one. He has been untackle-able at times this year, but the string bodies of the Eagles’ mids were able to drag him down. Jack Redden was the first to do so in the opening quarter, and a few others followed suit over the course of the night. Even Andrew Gaff nailed him in a tackle at one point and took him down. Quite a few Bombers could take a lesson from the way the Eagles apllied tackles. The two teams were chalk and cheese in that regard.

Did you see Willie Rioli take possession in the first quarter, brace for the Jayden Laverde tackle and just shrug him off like he was an insignificant pissant? I reckon that set the tone in a big way. It was like Rioli staring down the Bombers and asking “is that the best you’ve got?” Sadly, at that point, it was.

That was exactly the sort of game Tom Barrass needed. After a couple of weeks where errors cost his team, he had a zero-mistake game this week.

The ability of the Eagles to go end to end in this one was wonderful. All it took was one miskick from the Bombers (and there were plenty) and the Eagles would just drop the hammer. The amount of times they went end-to-end with apparent ease really exposed the lack of defensive run from the Essendon midfield.

Those quick hands from Josh Kennedy set up Liam Ryan for two second quarter goals in about five minutes. Just lovely, clean hands from JK in this one.

Halfway through the second quarter, Zach Merrett had just four touches to his name. Not good enough for a player that racks them up in the home and away season. He rallied after half time, and I would not have blamed John Worsfold if he gave Merrett a rocket in the rooms,  but he was totally outclassed and outworked early on.

So the Bombers are done for 2019. They’ll no doubt be busy at the trade table, but like it or not, so much depends on getting Daniher right. In 2017 he looked like a monster growing into his body. Then his body fell apart. I’d not be trading him at all.

The Eagles go on to face the loser of the Cats and Pies next week in what will be an absolute belter. I am chomping at the bit to see what comes next for this team who looked like the favourite a few weeks back but then fell back to the pack.

Every week is do or die from now on, and the Eagles cleared the first hurdle tonight. The finish line is still three games away, but the track appears a little clearer in front of them. They hit the ground running in this one.

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