EAGLES V BOMBERS -20 August 2011– byPeter Baulderstone.


This was the movie we had been waiting to see.  The close contents against the Dockers and Bulldogs were like the Perry Mason courtroom potboilers of my youth, where you always knew that the final plot twist would ensure the good guys won.  Then there were the Tiger and Demon rom-coms with the Jacks -Wattsand Riewoldt – doing their versions of Jennifer Anniston airheads who were never likely to walk away with the leading man.  Amusing but hardly satisfying.

Today would be different.  Woosha as Henry Fonda’s plain speaking juror leading 22 Angry Men in their search for justice.  Today would remove all reasonable doubt that the Eagles were deserved finals combatants.  Hard, relentless hand-to-hand combat in close is the key to the Eagle’s footballing method.  Often not pretty, but like Maximus the Gladiator ruthless in seeking vengeance at being unjustly banished to the edges of the empire for the past 3 years.

The draw has been kind to the Eagles this year.  Pies, Cats, Hawks, Blues, Swans and Saints only once.  Wins over the Blues (easily) and Cats (deservedly) during a purple patch mid-season.  Close and honorable losses to the Hawks, Swans and Saints.  Only the Magpies had blown us away.

And still, and still.  After the disasters of the past 3 seasons, I have to keep convincing myself that we belong at the top at this end of the season.  Early in the week I was anxious.  The Bombers had found some form.  Perhaps we were pretenders and the long season would find us out.  Their skills and run could exploit our honest midfield on the expanses of Subiaco.

Then the conspiracy theories started to fill my brain.  Hurley and Pears omitted with the all pervading ‘general soreness’.  The Bombers struggle with travelling from their favorite basketball stadium across town to the MCG.  Interstate would surely be a Bridge Too Far.

The skittish Blues at the Basketball Stadium in the first week of the Finals would be a far more enticing prospect for them than another trip West.  But Hird and BomberT are wise enough to know that you don’t flirt with the form and confidence of a young team this close to finals.  This was a time to test them against another September contender on an unfamiliar field of battle.

The game an early start – 1.10 on a Saturday, when most of our games have been late 2.40 Sunday starts.  Delayed by household and family chores, the Avenging Eagle and I only to our seats as the ball was bounced.  It was a beautiful sight.  Their black and red against our blue and gold, on an emerald green swathe under a cloudless blue sky that said Spring had come early toPerth.  Everything about today’s game seemed clearer and cleaner.

I remember as a boy my Nantaking me to the Metro theatre in Hindley Streetto see Ben Hur in GLORIOUS TECHNICOLOUR, as the poster posters promised after those years of good natured but genteel Ealing comedies in Black and White.  This was footy in TECHNICOLOUR, with the first half an engaging display of what both teams does best.

The Eagles bashed and crashed and tackled and denied time and space.  We march the ball forward like a series of rolling mauls in rugby union.  Essendon chip and switch then take off like a basketball team on the fast break.  We seemed to have more possession and forward entries, but our attacks were scrappy and forced.  When we seemed to be getting on top, they would fly the ball down the wings beating us with pace and skill, then centering the ball to a leading Ryder or the elusive Crameri.

The half time score said it all – Essendon a skilful 7-1 (43) led a grinding Eagles 6-6 (42) by a point.  The joy was seeing 2 good teams match their opposing strategies and skills.  Recent wins over the Tigers and Demons were like watching an American B-Comedy “The Three Stooges meet the Keystone Cops.”  The good guys win in the end, but the lasting memory is a queasy belly full of popcorn and fairy floss.  Today’s first half was a plate of freshly shuckedCoffinBayoysters.  The second half was the 300 gram T-Bone that gushed a little blood when you cut through the sinews.

Eagles fans always have their heart in their mouths after half time, but the real Eagles had emerged not the leaden imposters who too often seem to steal the half-time jumpers.  We ran away to a 3 goal lead, and just when the game looked safe we lost the script and decided on the ‘switch to vaudeville’.  For 5 minutes every Eagles pass went to an Essendon jumper; every defensive clearance went out-of-bounds on the full.

“Don’t you love farce?

My fault I fear.
I thought that you’d want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.”

This wasn’t the movie we’d pay to see.  In 5 minutes of comic farce the lead evaporated and it was back to a one point game, half way into the third quarter.  Cue Beau Waters as Maximus the Gladiator taking out the last Essendon warrior standing, in their captain Jobe Watson.  This was the incident the game turned on, and doubtless the media will endlessly dissect it in the coming days.

A little bit of flashback context.  An Eagles weakness most of the season has been an honest midfield unable to take clearance advantage from Cox and Natanui’s hitout dominance.  The second quarter had been a reprise of this familiar tune, with Jobe Watson being the leader of the Bomber midfield chorus that was stealing our show.

Now back to the third quarter action.  The ball bobbles between bodies on the Essendon half forward line.  Watson lurches to collect it.  From 2 paces away Waters collects ball and Watson simultaneously, his shoulder clipping Watson’s chin as they collide.  Hard, tough contested football in close.  No malice or intent.  Ten years ago it would have been labeled a perfect hip and shoulder.  Now it is likely 2 weeks for accidental high contact.

I remember Leigh Matthews being ridiculed some years ago for saying that saying the bump would eventually be outlawed.  The head contact laws have done that when the receiving player is shorter or even slightly bending as Watson was.  These situations make head contact almost inevitable even if that is not the intent of the attacking player.  One of the problems with modern rule changes like this and the advantage rule is that they run counter to the instincts players have grown up with competing under the rules of yesterday.  Rule book changes cannot suddenly reform how a player instinctively reacts to the umpires whistle or the opponent’s body in a close contest.

Anyway it certainly turned the game from a hard won 5 goal victory into a 10 goal rout.  Without Watson to marshal, compete and inspire them, the lack of hardness in the Bomber midfield was ruthlessly exposed.  He is their general and the rest are largely boys, pretenders or dinosaurs.  Andrew Welsh had been subbed off early in the game after accidental contact with Ashton Hams’ hip.  Jetta, Davey, Lovett-Murray, Monfries (no sub-text there) are all outside players and downhill skiers.  Without hard men to get the ball out to them they are reduced to frustrated passengers.

With Maximus having taken off the head, it was time for Ben Hur to finish off the wounded beast.  Daniel Kerr played his best game since the Eagles were last finals contenders in 2007.  He was clearly our best in the first half, but there was still his worrying tendency to overpossess and get caught looking for the perfect disposal.  After half time there was no opponent left willing to limit his possibilities.  Ten minutes into the last quarter the Eagles led by 4 goals and dominated possession, but were still playing ‘ring a ring a rosie’ with the ball on a half forward flank.  You could sense Kerr inwardly saying ‘bugger this for a joke’.  Collecting the ball 80 metres out he ran in a straight line toward goal brushing aside 2 feeble tacklers.  He drove the ball over the head of the leading pack, bouncing on the front edge of the goal square and skidding through for an imposing goal.

The next goal combined Ben Hur with the Moorish Warrior in the most breathtaking scene of the movie.  Natanui rose at the tap and palmed to Kerr on his left, then charged to his right.  Kerr brushed aside another 2 tacklers and handballed perfectly to the Marauding Moor, who took off like a bounding gazelle bouncing to the 50 metre mark and goaling post high.  The Special Effects Oscar.

For me, a European movie would have ended there on the perfectly nuanced celebratory note.  But this was an American gladiator epic and there were more ritual kills before even the Avenging Eagle alongside me had her blood lust sated.  The Eagle centurions marched off together to the cheers of the Coliseum.  The dazed Bombers wandered from the field of battle asking for the number of the chariot that hit them.  MMXI – the Eagles next date with finals destiny.

I have listed some of the Bomber’s deficiencies, but to be fair they were gallant for a half.  Watson and Stanton led the midfield.  Paddy Ryder is in fine form, but Hird squandered his effectiveness by making him fill more gaps than a packet of Spackfilla.  In the last few weeks he has starred at Centre Half Back, so Hird took a page out of the old Sheedy playbook and played him in every other possible position – ruck, full forward, centre half forward.  Early in the season the Bombers had a vaunted big man trio in Ryder, Hille and Bellchambers.  The Eagles have found a flexible balance in how they use their big men – Cox, Natanui, Lynch and Kennedy all know their role.  At Essendon – Hille looks past it; Bellchambers has lost it; and Ryder finds the only role consistency is the stripe on the jumper he runs out in.  Youngsters Hepple andCarlislelook likely types.  Dyson Hepple won the first half battle with Luke Shuey for Rising Star honors, but Shuey won the day with a dominant second half of running and foot skills.  Jake Carlisle looks a ready made replacement for Dustin Fletcher once he has the body strength to match his considerable skills.  He held Josh Kennedy for a half, but Kennedy’s strength and competitiveness outmatched him after half time.

For the Eagles, Daniel Kerr was unmatched for a certain 3 Votes in the Malarkey Medal.  You could raffle the 2 and 1 between Shuey, Kennedy, Scott Selwood (who had a career best), Hurn, Schofield (also near career best), Priddis, Cox and Embley – who were all contenders for the Best Supporting Actor gong.  Brad Ebert was the only Rotten Tomato recipient.  Jack Darling (hip injury) or Pat McGinnity (last week’s winner of Best Screenplay in a porn movie) will be competing for his seat on the plane toMelbournefor a finals role.

The Avenging Eagle looked at me as we left the Coliseum and said “5 Stars”.  Ever cautious I gave it “4 and a half”.  Have to give myself some space for upgrades come Oscars time.



  1. johnharms says:

    I didn’t see this as I had the kids down at Brunswick St Oval where Fitzroy could have beaten their high-ranking opponent in C section of the ammos. A slow-build of a comeback which stirred the soul. More on this, I hope, if I have the time, later in the week.

    I reckon Paddy Ryder needs to change clubs. That’s just a hunch. Imagine him having the luxury of playing James Podsiadly’s role. (And I adore the J-Pod as a bloke and as a footballer – the comp needs more like him)

    The point you make about colours is one close to my aesthetic heart. Geel v Rich on a sunny day is a fave. Geel v Swans on a sunny day is a fave. Fitz-Coll is a beauty. Hawthorn don’t register on the aesthetic scale.

  2. “Ocsars” indeed.
    Sounds like a bitter and twisted Blues supporter has been editing this weekend. Or a tipsy Cats one.

  3. John Butler says:

    Bah! Humbug!

    There ain’t no Christmas!

  4. PeterB, great yarn.

    Funny your recollections at half time regarding this not being the movie you paid to see.

    At half-time in the Carlton Hawthorn game, I turned to my Hawthorn supporting mate and said, “I feel like going home… I’ve seen this movie before.”

  5. Notwithstanding the Eagles POV of this piece (film reference?) its hard not to agree with your analysis of the merits of both teams. i cant see another suitable candidate for coach of the year than Woosha. “… and the Oscar goes to” indeed. Chris Scott may yet have claims. a ten goal loss for my blokes that felt tigthter but is still a ten goal loss. and Harms, hands off Paddy. you can have Hille and any or all of Dyson, Monfries, Lovett-Murray and Davey if your VFL squad needs some filler plus the steak knives but Paddy must stay where he is. his position will be much clearer if we trade Hille and get Hurley, Hooker and Pears all playing in the same team on the same day.

    after Saturday it’ll be a starring role for the Eagles come September and a non-speaking cameo for the Bombers.

  6. johnharms says:

    Trev, I reckon they’re mucking young Paddy around. The Bombers are going to be beyond the re-building stage and he still won’t know what he’s being asked to do.

  7. 1st ruck and kick a couple. all much more straightforward with the ‘Ins’ named above. they’re also caught with the dilemna of having to call ‘time’ on Hille who looks cooked but was after all a former captain while Lloyd was out.

  8. How good was NicNat’s goal? I have watched it over and over and over ….

    Is it too simple to believe this is the tactic we need to use more? NicNat tap to Kerr, handball back, bounce, goal.

    If it isn’t, I think we have found a way to beat Collingwood.

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