Rumours of Essendon’s rise have been greatly exaggerated
With the return of golden boys and former premiership captains James Hird and Mark Thompson, the Essendon faithful had the fireworks of the finals dancing in their heads. Their blind faith was replaced with disillusionment this week, as the Bombers from Matthew Knights’ last season at the helm resurfaced.
Friday night’s second half, in a nutshell, was exactly the football that got Knights the sack from Windy Hill at the end of 2010. Their uninspired play and failure to play contested football in the second half was reminiscent of last year, where a lack of fitness and adherence to Knights’ structures sunk the Bombers’ finals aspirations.
Again, their run through the midfield was non-existent Friday night, as was their hunger to get to the ballcarrier, as they were out-tackled by 27 against a team deemed to play ‘bruise-free’ football. I know I’ll be frustrating Bombers supporters who are trying to forget about Knights’ time at the club, but their current form is eerily similar to their midseason slump in 2010, where a lack of run and tackling led to some massively draining losses, even costing one man his job.
The last two games from the Bombers have highlighted what seems to be a lack of fitness from the players. In the second halves against both Richmond and Melbourne, the Bombers gave up a combined 20 goals whilst only scoring 11 themselves, to be outscored by a combined 131-74.
This statistic clearly shows a lack of fitness in the boys from Windy Hill, as they held (slim) leads in both games at half time but were not able to run games out properly. Again, this is reminiscent of the Knights era, where a poor fitness base and lack of foot speed through the midfield combined to create a 6-game losing streak and eliminate the Bombers from the finals.
The Bombers definitely missed Jobe Watson in the last two games, but the be that reliant on a single player is severely unhealthy in a team game. Unfortunately for the Essendon faithful, the other players on the list weren’t able to pick up the slack. Who knows? Maybe the Bomber will find form again soon, and James Hird will again be spoken about with the reverence that, surely, he is the Messiah. That his second-coming will lead the Bombers back to the top of the AFL mountain. Unfortunately for them, a tough run of Fremantle (at Patersons Stadium), Hawthorn, Richmond, Carlton and Collingwood over the next eight weeks will silence the fans that have been over-estimating their list with the return of two of their favourite sons.
Finally, Molly, your Hawks get some love!
In my preseason prediction, I tipped the Hawks to finish second after 22 rounds. So far, they’re making me look very clever. What a performance they put on this weekend. With the Fremantle Dockers cruising through the first three quarters, using a fast-paced run-and-carry brand of football, Hawthorn’s recent good form seemed to be coming to an end.
But, in a whirlwind last quarter (that they were in touch with the Dockers thanks to Cyril Rioli’s stellar forward pressure and goal awareness), Hawthorn’s premiership stars Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Grant Birchall and Jarryd Roughead played arguably their best quarter of football for 2011, discounting their third quarter against Sydney in Round 9 that I’m desperately trying to forget.
Hawthorn’s hard-nosed football and willingness to attack the contest led them to an 8-goal last term that took all the fight out of a seemingly inspired Freo outfit. The play of veterans Mitchell and Hodge was outstanding in the final quarter, and Cyril Rioli’s seemingly solo efforts up forward in the first three quarters was simply marvellous.
With pleasantly surprising career-best football being played by Josh Gibson, continued development of youngster Liam Shiels and consistency of mature-aged recruit Paul Puopolo, the Hawks may well be playing their best football since their magical 2008 season that culminated in a premiership.
With 8 wins from their first ten games, the Round 12 clash with sparring partners the Geelong Cats on Saturday night is must-see action and will truly show where the Hawks are at in their quest for another flag.
5 things I liked from Round 11
Melbourne: Football is a tough gig, and the Demons had the week from hell, being labelled as ‘bruise-free’ footballers. In the year they were meant to return to September action, coach Dean Bailey was riding the hottest seat in the AFL as his team slumped amidst a three game losing streak. Against a more-fancied Essendon line-up Friday night, the Demons had the perfect response. Buoyed by the return of Tom Scully and Jack Trengove (who in my opinion, are two of the AFL’s brightest future stars), the Dees piled on ten goals to four in the second half to record a memorable win. Great reaction from Bailey after the game, and the youngsters of Scully, Trengove, Jack Watts and Jordan Gysberts were super impressive.
Jordan Gysberts: I try and remain relatively unbiased in these recaps, but I guess it’s no great surprise to any readers that I don’t harbour any soft spot for the Carlton Football Club. That being said, it was delightful to watch Melbourne’s youngster Jordan Gysberts play a vital role in Melbourne’s upset of the Bombers. The link to Carlton? The Blues sent the 11th pick in the 2009 AFL Draft to Melbourne in exchange for Brock McLean. Yes, that Brock McLean that’s played eight games for the Blues and is toiling away in the VFL. I know one game doesn’t make a career, but the Demons could run away big winners in this trade.
Matthew Scarlett: Geelong’s Matthew Scarlett is an absolute superstar of the game, but is underrated for mine. Watching Scarlett on the weekend against the Western Bulldogs, his poise and vision for the game is almost second to none. Even though he’s definitely lost a half-step with age, he remains one of the most intelligent footballers in the AFL and a key reason behind Geelong’s dominance over the past four and ½ seasons. Just a quality, hard-working footballer who looks as though he might have a very successful coaching career once he retires, if that’s the path he chooses.
Cyril Rioli: I know I talked about him earlier, so I’ll keep this brief – Junior Boy is a star. Kept Hawthorn within reach of the Dockers all day Sunday and, like Scarlett, is just an extremely intelligent footballer.
Jude Bolton: Yeah, I’ll admit. This pick is also biased, a I’m a die-hard Swans supporter. But Jude’s form cannot be denied, even though he’s featured in my likes already this season. In Sydney’s best game of the season, Jude Bolton led the charge like the warrior he is, racking up 35 disposals, relishing the contested ball situations and laying eight tackles. Just an outstanding game from Jude who, at 31, seems to be getting better with age. If I had to pick Sydney’s best and fairest over the first half of the season, it’d be Jude in a landslide.
5 things I didn’t like from Round 11
Racism: Hate is a very strong word, but that’s exactly how I feel about racism. I hate it. It has absolutely no place in football or any other facet of life. Both Lance Franklin and Danyle Pearce have spoken about racist comments thrown their way this season, and the remarks directed at Majak Daw in the VFL and Andrew Krakouer in the AFL this weekend were disgusting. The offender should be ashamed of themselves and banned from attending both VFL and AFL matches for the remainder of the season. Kudos to Daw, a fine young gentleman who acted maturely and respectfully in his post-game interviews, as well as North Melbourne and Collingwood presidents James Brayshaw and Eddie McGuire, who stood up for their charges and took a stand that this behaviour will not be tolerated.
Fremantle’s form: I wrote about the Dockers last week, about how their development as a team seems to have stalled, even though the individual growth of Nat Fyfe, Stephen Hill and Greg Broughton (just to name a few) has still been impressive. In a game they simply had to win to not only show they can play without Aaron Sandilands, but also win at the MCG, the Dockers were shockers in the last quarter, surrendering a three goal lead, built with hard running and attacking football, to go own to the Hawks by 22 points. Sitting with a 5-5 record after eleven rounds, the Dockers are no chance to finish in the top four, and need to find form soon, or be in danger of missing out on finals altogether.
Adelaide: Form-wise, there may not be a team that is out worse than the Adelaide Crows. The kangaroos from North Melbourne are no world-beaters, but with their display yesterday, you could think they were on their way to a premiership. In reality, the woeful football and lack of pressure applied by the Crows was the real reason behind this demolition. Their forwards don’t kick enough goals, their ruckmen don’t work hard enough and their defenders and midfielders simply seem unwilling to pressure or tackle the ballcarrier. Any team with Patrick Dangerfield, Kurt Tippett, Scott Thompson, Chris Knights, Ben Rutten, Nathan van Berlo and Bernie Vince should be a lot better than this. They should at least be competitive. What a sorry state for football South Australia has been this season.
Brad Moran: Adelaide’s form can’t be blamed entirely on Brad Moran, but in all honesty, he is not an AFL-standard player. His inability to read the play and stick to team structures was extremely costly against North Melbourne on Sunday. Forced into the side due to injuries, Brad Moran may have just played himself off Adelaide’s list with an uninspired, lazy effort against his former club.
Western Bulldogs: The fall from grace continues for the Bulldogs. Obviously Skilled Stadium is a house of pain for every team, as the Cats are nigh on impossible to beat at home, but the Bulldogs’ effort at the weekend was deplorable. Languishing at 13th with only three wins, the Bulldogs are finished for season 2011 and the worst part is the majority of their players are showing no spirit. The likes of Josh Hill, Tom Williams and Justin Sherman simply do not work hard enough around the ground and are defensive liabilities at the moment. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs faithful, their premiership window has slammed shut with another wasted opportunity to win just their second flag in their not-so-illustrious 128-year history.