AFL Round 7: Dons’ win a victory for instinct over process

By Damian O’Donnell

Zone, schmone.
Flood, schmud.
Reputation, schmeputation.

The Bombers blew all these to the scheisenhaus on Friday night with joyful, fast, youthful, exuberant, unpredictable football. I watched the game like a kid watching Shrek for the fifteenth time. It was good old-fashioned fun.

From the very start the Bombers played like young blokes should. They were fearless, underwhelmed by their errors, courageous at the ball, and focused like I haven’t seen a football team for some time.

This was a victory of speed over structure, of instinct over process, of action over thought. This was a victory over the machine. It had a very fallible, human touch. Science went out the window and was replaced by sheer persistence and exhilaration. White boards were irrelevant as the Essendon players were taken up by the flow of the game, not the arrows drawn on an overhead slide at a footy seminar. They didn’t get strangled by guilt at a skill error, become downcast at a turnover, or embarrassed if their instinct was wrong. They simply tried again.

Lovett, Davies, Winderlich, Houli — they cut up the Hawks defence with brilliant speed and a confidence built on expectation not just hope.

Alwyn Davey combined dreadful mistakes with sublime skill and endeavour. He darted about the forward line like a fly in a milk bottle. He was flawed and fabulous all rolled up together, and not once did I see his head drop after turning the ball over. Instead he made the next contest as though it was his first, full of energy and vigour.

The Bombers were irresistible and dangerously unpredictable. I watched as Lovett-Murray got the ball deep in the back pocket, then thirty seconds later he was marking on the half-forward flank and kicking a goal. I saw Paddy Ryder stand on Sam Mitchell’s head (to take a mark) for the same reason that people climb Everest: because it was there.

But when Lovett got the ball you could sense the crowd’s involvement rise to another level. Essendon fans were probably screaming “RUN!” to themselves when the Sherrin was in his possession. And run he did. Lovett makes running look as easy as eating a bowl of ice-cream. He didn’t have many of those long bursts down the field, but in close his speed away from the stoppages was cutting.

Zaharakis, Neagle, Pears, Hooker, Lonergan – who are these kids? Where did they come from? Top them off with Stanton, Hocking, Ryder, McPhee, Dempsey and Monfries and you have an irresistible force.

And Lloyd started believing in himself again. He watched these young blokes tarring and feathering the Hawk big shots and joined in the festival. His tackles were brutal, his marking attempts meaningful, and his running was in a straight line for his opponent.

The Bombers’ game plan was organised chaos based upon three golden rules: run, run, and run. On at least four occasions they ran the ball deep into their forward line and then lost the plot. They would handball to a bloke under pressure, do a dinky sideways kick that missed a target, or hesitate in disbelief that they had split the hardened Hawk defence open so effortlessly.

But somehow these stuff-ups didn’t matter. Indeed, they seemed to encourage more experimentation. One such experiment included an extremely dangerous kick from full-back straight up the guts to a contest. The Bombers won the contest with a will and belief that indestructible young blokes seem to have, and surged through the corridor leaving the Hawks in the background arguing about their dismantled structure.

The Bombers may not finish top four. They might not even finish top eight, but in my view we should not be saying, “The Blues are coming”, but, “The Bombers are coming”.

So what about the Hawks? On Friday night they were fortunate to have Rioli, Sewell and Franklin busting a gut, but they’re currently getting a nice dose of a medicine called humility. They started the season with a sense of themselves that was not justified. They thought that losing a few early games was neither here nor there, that they would click into gear and finish top four, and that another tilt at the flag was destiny. But they are finding out that fifteen other teams are going to have something to say about that. They are learning that respect for the game and your opponents should never leave any side, not even the premiers.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. haiku bob says


    a word of advice.

    re –

    Zone, schmone.
    Flood, schmud.
    Reputation, schmeputation

    it’s considered high haiku crime, to make it rhyme.


  2. hb – thanks for the advice.

    I would never try to do
    a good haiku
    because a man must know
    how far his talents go.

  3. Nick Kossatch says

    Great article. I’m a Power supporter and the team is blessed with speed much like the Bombers. Pity my team don’t apply the Knights Rule.

    That is “play on and back yourself”. Hope Port will do this!

    Good luck for the year.

  4. Pamela Sherpa says

    Dips, you’ve highlighted the essence of the game.Enjoying the challenge of the contest and having the confidence to have a go no matter who the oppositon are. Good on Matty Knights for having the confidence to do it his way and to empower his team to play with passion and enjoy their footy.

  5. As a Hawthorn supporter I can only agree with your synopsis of the brown and gold, eloquently put. Admitedly we all admire it and the Lions did it a short while back but a growing concern I have for football in general is that after every premiership, every year, I hear the media, in fact all of us saying, “is this the start of the next great footballing dynasty?” Hats off to Essendon, it wasn’t too long ago that the roles were reversed. The Hawks need to learn from this. I hope they do.

  6. johnharms says


    Add to your energetic piece the observation of our Snowy River correspondent Pam Sherpa, that Paddy Ryder has someting of a Polly Farmer look to him, and the Bombers’ stocks are on the rise. Amazing how one game (Anzac Day) can inject such confidence and belief into a player that his talents are released for the pleasure of all. (Or most – I was actually out to dinner celebrating an anniversary with The Handicapper). I agree regards the new ruckman – he seems to hang in the air, and he meets the footy at the top of his leap.


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