AFL Round 21 – Essendon v West Coast: All down my leg and very little pleasure

There was a girl at high school that was definitely out of my league.  Then again all girls were beyond the reach of an intense, nervous young man who spent most of his time with his head in books and his ear glued to a tranny for either sport or politics.  Definitely not the macho, devil may care type who caught the pretty young thing’s eye – then or now.

Maybe Felicity Burns was growing tired of that, or she had a secret yearning for the inside story on Ian Chappell or Gough Whitlam.  I certainly would have shared it with her.  Whatever the motive I unexpectedly found myself locked in her welcoming embrace in the sand dunes behind Wallaroo Beach after the Matriculation (Year 12) social.

I never thought I could get to first base with a girl like Felicity, but here I was rounding second and heading for third, with the terrifyingly glorious prospect of home plate on the horizon.  And then……………all down my leg, and very little pleasure.

It’s a learning thing.  A rite of passage.  The strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire.  A man is not measured by how many times he flails, but how many times he gets it up.  You know the guff.

And that my friends is the story of my Eagles performance against the hated Bombers on Saturday.  Indeed it is the story of their entire 2014 season.  An encouraging crop but ultimately wasted seed.  When the future was there to be grasped we lacked self-belief, and fell back on past habits.

Our Saturday afternoon lounge room was swathed in blue and gold scarves.  The Avenging Eagle had spent the morning baking her “lucky” muffins (light and airy much like our midfield).  We were joined by her brother John, the father of the Dandaragan Saints star backman and fellow Almanacker Brandon.  Her friend Jenny had brought her mum Neet up from Bunbury to recuperate after a fall.

Neet is in her 80’s with a twinkle in her eye to replace the spring that is (temporarily) no longer in her step.  She loves her Eagles with a passion, but if I were NicNait I wouldn’t get too close to her walking stick in the next week.

After a hesitant first 5 minutes where Essendon kicked 2 goals, the Eagles dominated the rest of the first quarter with 22 inside 50 entries to 6.  We led by 3 points.  Really dumb football and wasted opportunities.  Bombing it long to the top of the square and making it easy for the Essendon defenders to punch and clear.

At the break Adam Simpson reminded them that leading to space; lowering the eyes and hitting targets on the 40 were what had produced the wins over Adelaide and Collingwood.  We dominated the second quarter and the contested ball to lead by 23 points at half time.  A late goal and more Eagles wastefulness had kept Essendon in it.

At half time I gave our best to Luke Shuey (who has come of age as a hard working inside midfielder) and Mark Hutchings (who had kept the in-form Heppell to only 10 possessions after shutting down Dangerfield and Pendlebury in prior weeks).  For Essendon, Jobe Watson put on a masterclass of winning inside ball and telling disposal to outside runners, after a long period out with injury.

Two lucky early goals to the Eagles to start the third quarter had us 34 points ahead, and me mentally planning to book flights to Adelaide for an Elimination Final, as soon as this game was over.  But the game had changed.  Essendon were now winning the clearances and contested ball.  5 goals in 10 minutes and our first half dominance was suddenly all for nothing.  We goaled late to lead by 11 points at orange time, but it was clear that Essendon now had the ascendancy.

I find that I have a real love:hate relationship with Essendon.  I despise their club; their off-field leadership; and Hird and Little in particular with a burning passion.  Brendon Goddard always looks like an angry recidivist who should be doing 3 years hard in Pentridge.

But I love the cool, seemingly detached big picture perspective of Bomber Thompson.  In the first half he exhibited the casual indifference of the Form 3 schoolmaster – “I don’t know how many times I have to keep telling you boys, but you never listen”.  Match day moves by coaches are rarely important these days in an era of game plans and structures. But putting Jason Winderlich to full forward after half time was a master stroke.  MacKenzie and McGovern had dominated everything in the air to half time, so the solution was to run them around and not to try and mark with them.

Thompson put everyone deep behind the ball, confident in Essendon’s quick legs to run and carry the ball out of defence, leaving only a couple of forwards one-on-one inside 50.  He turned the game into a foot race, and constantly turned around our two cumbersome Big Macs in defence, with the ball being kicked over the back to quicker Essendon forwards.

I like Heppell not just for his ball winning capacity (28 disposals after half time), but for the beautiful skill with which he uses it.  For a slightly awkward kick, he has the peerless skill to instantly sum up the best option short or long, and hit it 90% of the time.  His balance, strength and poise sees him up there with Fyfe and Ablett as elite midfielders.  Last week I thought the speed of Pendlebury, Sidebottom and Beams in the second quarter was going to run our young tagger Hutchings off his feet.  But they were not able to sustain it.  This week my fears came true.

Priddis and Shuey worked hard all game, and Gaff continued to run hard to space as a receiver and link player.  But my Eagles are 2 or 3 good, strong running midfielders off being a top side.  The return of Scott Selwood will help a little next season, but the money we have wasted on Naitanui would be handy to buy what we lack, rather than reinforce our surfeit of talls.

The last quarter was tight and we never gave up, but equally we lacked the confidence to run and carry, and take the game on to create chances.  We had run out of the legs to switch and run that we showed in the first half, so we chipped to safe options rather than take risks needed to win.  Having slowed the game down and allowed Essendon to zone back, we ended up doing the same “bomb it long to the big blokes” that hasn’t worked for years.  In short, under pressure we revert to Wooshball.

I am a big supporter of Adam Simpson, and I think that he has gone a long way to modernising a sclerotic Eagles culture and game plan, but he was clearly outcoached by Thompson.  Lycett was left one out at full forward with no crumbers around him.  On the few occasions we did move it quickly in the second half, Lycett was constantly caught one out against two defenders, and lacks the mobility to hold the ball in.  We badly missed LeCras, and Cripps was allowed to wander too far from goal.

In truth Lycett should have been rucking, and NicNait should have been on the sofa with us getting whacked with Neet’s walking stick.  In a small town like Perth, decisions are too often made in the back office based on marketing, media hype and sentiment.  They should be made in the front office by a match committee that looks at the skills needed to assemble a winning team.  NicNait thrills the 12yo’s and sells plenty of merchandise, but he can’t play football.  He is 24yo, has played over 100 games and has been in the AFL system for 6 years, but is still constantly outbodied and outpositioned by players a fraction of his size.  He had 10 possessions at 50% effectiveness (the worst of anyone on the ground) and 20 hitouts.  He lacks stamina and in the last quarter could barely make it to ballups where he was ineffective at best, and incompetent at most.

When our players looked down the line for a marking target, there were 5 fanatical Eagles supporters on our couch screaming “don’t kick it to NicNait”.  From the options chosen I think many our players know that, but it destroys our structure and cohesion when the situation calls for a big man to provide a contest and at least lock the ball in.  Like Israel Folau, Nic Naitanui is a phenomenal athlete with great bursts of straight line speed and battering ram strength, who finds himself playing the wrong sport for his body type.

Do the Wallabies or the Western Force need a new full back or winger?

In the end the best team won, but after an hour of restorative walking around the house muttering to myself and refusing to talk to anyone, I am not too disheartened for our future prospects.  We have unearthed a future star in Jeremy McGovern.  Shuey, Darling and Gaff have solidified as good young players after a year and a half in the wilderness.  Lycett and Sinclair are promising young ruckmen.  MacKenzie, Hurn, Priddis, LeCras and Kennedy have all had consistent years and provide a solid core of leadership.  And most importantly we have seen patches of a more skilful and attacking game plan under a new coach who understands the modern game.

My one last gripe is the umpiring in the last quarter, when the game was an arm wrestle.  Umpires listen too much to the home crowd in a tight finish, and Essendon got all the 50:50 decisions when it mattered.  Normally I don’t care much about umpiring, because I don’t think it matters much in the context of all the things that happen in a game.

But as with the Docherty phantom push in the back that gifted Geelong the late Christensen goal against Carlton, there was an identical shocker against the Eagles Josh Hill when he marked in our final attacking thrust with 90 seconds to play.  Umpiring is now in the hands of athletes who have no feel for the game and pay technical offences that they think they see, rather than real infringements that genuinely hamper the player going for the ball.   Umpires too often want to be the centre of attention, and play to the crowd, when they are they are there to ensure a fair contest and not be noticed.

All down my leg and very little pleasure.


My Votes:

3 Mark Thompson (Ess); 2 Dyson Heppell (Ess); 1 Luke Shuey (WCE)


ESSENDON          2.1 4.5 9.7 11.11 (77)

WEST COAST      2.4 8.4 11.6 11.8 (74)

GOALS: Essendon: J Winderlich 3 J Daniher 2 B Stanton D Myers D Zaharakis J Watson P Ambrose P Chapman. West Coast: J Cripps 3 J Kennedy 3 J Darling 2 D Cox L Shuey S Lycett

BEST: Essendon: Heppell, Watson, Hibberd, Winderlich, Myers, Hooker. West Coast: Shuey, Mackenzie, Hurn, Priddis, McGovern.

Umpires: Chris Donlon, Ben Ryan, Shane McInerney.

Official Crowd: 35,905 at Etihad Stadium.


  1. Dave Brown says

    I’ve often said, PB, that no-one pisses an opportunity against the wall like the Crows (as was demonstrated, yet again, last night). It appears that we now have an equivalent, somewhat more intense, analogy for the Eagles. It certainly conjures a mental image.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    There were 50,000 odd at Adelaide Oval that may have gone a bit early last night, and 22 players who couldn’t hold on and get the job done either.

    Maybe if you had recited the Magarey Medallists backwards from Blight (I’m guessing 1972) you may have hung on until the 1909 winner, instead of ending up at Fred Phillis, feeling like you’d just had a 46/47.

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Nic Nat may have been the difference for the Wallabies last night.

    Poor Felicity. Presume no more sand dune action after that?

  4. Neil Anderson says

    Perhaps thinking of say, Mother Teressa or Margaret Thatcher might have slowed down your ardor just enough that Felicity wouldn’t spread the word about the ten-second man.
    But back to footy, if your not too impressed with Nic Nat and some of the other talls, please send them over to the kennel A.S.A.P.
    After one of the worst games of the season today, our glimmer of hope about Jonathon Patton being a possible signing for next year crashed when he did his knee today.

  5. Jeepers creepers, PB.
    Lucky muffins sound like a top idea.

    Walking stick + lucky muffins + sand dunes = brilliant

  6. Very entertaining Peter! The Eagles were also very unlucky to lose. I guess life is littered with tales of failure to seal the deal.

  7. PB – a tad too much information.

    But I enjoyed the sand dune story.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Very amusing PB I fancy you might be on that plane to Adelaide any way and go to the AFL year book and go thru the umpiring so few have played adult football it is a game you must have played , the instruction , positioning lacks football common sense from a fellow maggot

  9. Andrew Else says

    Love/Hate? Really? C’mon PB. C’monnnnnnnn

    That was a more balanced report than I was expecting. so full credit to you. You’re almost as harsh on your own as you are on the Dons.

    But an Eagles fan complaining about home-town umpiring? Hmm. Oh that’s right, these are the same fans who marveled at how ‘cut’ Cousins was in his comeback game. “How could he be so fit and so slim after so long out of the game?” they wondered…BOOOOOO

  10. Ah, PB, if the Wallaroo beach sand dunes could talk…

    In a comeback that would surely impress Felicity Burns, your Eagles could still make the finals.

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