Almanac Season Review: Essendon and the rude awakening (plus Round 23 report)

Essendon v Carlton
2.10pm, Saturday, 27 August 2016
MCG
Trevor Blainey

A Rude Awakening

So it’s day two of the holiday, you’ve slotted away one of the 3 S’s after hearing the birds sing, head up to the kitchen, launch the iDad and it yells this at you.

Essendon supplements saga: Players banned for 12 months after WADA appeal upheld by Court of Arbitration for Sport

That loudly.  And with the same effect as if it had been yelled by the commentariat through a megaphone in that kitchen.  All of them.  At once.

So you read the bits on the gadget, listen to the talk, ring your mates and sulk.  Think of the players and try to imagine what happens now.  How do they react, how does the Club react?  Can we even field a team?

The better angel that lurks within tries for the silver lining – Woosha has got a free hit now, play the kids, this will be the final punishment, all clear next year.  And so on.  Unvarnished bulldust.  The only reasonable prognosis is near terminal.  Last nights shiraz turns sour in the guts, the dog slinks away, the sunburn starts to itch and the prospect of the walk to the café and the excellent cackleberries to follow loses its lustre.

Swear word.  Swear word.  Swear word.  As loud as the headline.  The sun better come out or we’re packing up and going home.  It rains.  I’m not making this up.

==

Cut to a wide shot of me and my second son walking to Princes Park on a brilliant autumn day to watch us play the Blues in the final practice match.  Hope springs.  We belt a B list group in the sunshine.  Bolton has a plan that doesn’t need or include winning during the Ides but for us it’s a tonic.  It might have to do for quite a while as the reality of the season sets in but for now we’ll let delusion win and enjoy beating the rival.  The remnants play well, the kids look good, Parish in particular, and amongst the top ups we can even cheer for Ryan Crowley without the slightest hint of irony.  That takes some doing underpinned as it is by the January despair and the collective clutching at straws by Bomber mates.  It doesn’t even matter that it was Carlton who are also in re-boot mode.  A win’s a win.

The season then?  As the March Madness gave way to the season proper, the cold bite of the size of the job ahead looked considerable.  The experts had it all sorted.  Wouldn’t win a game, regular floggings, a dispirited playing list would fracture at season’s end with most of those banned looking elsewhere for greener pastures.  A club doomed for a decade.  The AFL had a basket case in prospect.

==

So here’s what happened.  First by the numbers.

3 wins, 19 losses, 18th place, the Spoon.  Average losing margin = 45 points.  Not 100+.

2 Rising Star nominations, Zach Merrett averages 30+ disposals (as does David Zaharakis), 6th highest in the AFL, Daniher kicks 40+ goals, Darcy Parish averages 20+ in his first year.

Then some assertions, some of which are even supported by facts.

In the losses there are indeed a few floggings as the talent gap won out but we also had very honourable results of less than 30 points against 3 top Eighters in Geelong, GWS and North (while they were flying in the first 10 weeks).

In every game we were competitive for part of the game and in most for most of the game.

In Parish, Fantasia, McDonald-Tipungwuti and Hartley we found 4 new players who will be first choice next year.  Fleeting glimpses at Aaron Francis and Mason Redman bode well and 2nd year players in Laverde and Langford likewise.  And in 3rd year tyro Zach Merrett we have a future All Australian and Captain.  Watch him go.  The proverbial ‘jet’ by any measure.

And then there’s big Joey.  Only a highlight reel right now but what a reel that is.  More upside than any of his contemporary talls (Patton, Lynch, Cameron).  Unsupported assertions remember!

And after those assertions, the desertions.  Except we haven’t really had any.  Well a back flanker, sorry Hibbo, but not Hurley, not Heppell, not Hooker, ¾ of the needed ‘Aitches and six other first choices besides and we sweat on Jobe and wish Tayte well with the fieries.  Four All Austs in that lot, not bad as top ups to the current list.

The Doomers and Gloomers on that front can eat a bag in the modish parlance.  No niceties here from me, it was amazing the certainty with which some pundits foretell the worst then suffer memory loss when the season opening inventions fail to materialize like the bunny from a phony magicians hat.

Of course their return was never certain.  We’d had to survive that uncertainty through the thin gruel of glimpses of Dyson on 360 before he left to run with his bearded mates and the angry mammals at Pamplona and the whispers of a new career for Jobe in New York as he set about making proper coffee for the ungrateful Yanks.  Still.  They’re back.  Most of them.

The coda to the Rude Awakening then?

Why, Round 23 Essendon V Carlton on a fine (nearly) Spring day at the Temple of course.

ESSvCAR

==

Six weeks ago I’d felt we were a chance in 3 of the 6 remaining.  We fluffed it with the Lions, delivered over the hapless Suns, who were even worse after we’d vanquished them (you’ll note the hyperbole brought on by a late win) and now for the Blues.

The hated enemy for reasons too many to count (oh, all right I was at the 1968 GF and went home a very disheartened near teen after Wes Lofts and Vin Waite had beaten the living crap out of our near blind full forward; also a teen as it happens.  Sins never forgiven.)

The game was an echo of the March encounter except for this.  Carlton had now had a promising season under their new coach in Brendan Bolton and while their second half of the season had been disappointing (for them, not me) they’d just come off-putting the Demons to the sword the week before and were entitled to favouritism.

No one told the Bombers.  From soon after the start we played with dare, skill, toughness and endeavour that belied our place in the cellar.  The motley crew gelled in the best possible way right at the last.  Sweeping through the middle with real speed and class we made a mockery of the form guide, the predictions of many and our ladder position.  We weren’t playing Geelong or Sydney or Hawthorn but still, the Blues, they’d like nothing better than to put the foot on the throat of the Dons.

They couldn’t and didn’t.  In the cold light they know that the 4 goal win flattered them.

==

The coda to the coda is that the reception by the fans after the game was extraordinary.  It wasn’t just the win.

It was acclaim for the fact, in evidence now, that this group of players and their coaches, had made this season the best 3W-19L, 18th place possible.  An antidote to what seemed likely on the day of the Rude Awakening.

A final assertion.  No other AFL team will add as many quality players to it’s list next year as Essendon.  Does that bridge the gap?  Let’s see.  It’ll be fun to find out.

Go Dons.

==

ESSENDON    3.4   8.9    14.11    15.13 (103)
CARLTON      2.6    5.8    6.12      10.19 (79)

GOALS
Essendon: 
Daniher 5, McDonald-Tipungwuti 4, Langford 3, Laverde, McKernan, Dempsey
Carlton: Wright 3, Armfield 2, Kreuzer, Kerridge, Casboult, Docherty, Buckley

BEST
Essendon: 
Daniher, Merrett, Dea, Langford, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Goddard
Carlton: Simpson, Cripps, Gibbs, Docherty

INJURIES
Essendon: 
Brown (head), Zaharakis (groin)
Carlton: Nil 

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Foot, Hosking, Mitchell

Official crowd: 46,566 at MCG

Our votes: 3 Merrett, 2 Daniher, 1 McDonald-Tipungwuti

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Comments

  1. E.regnans says:

    Well Trevor, aside from the injected players themselves, it has been the Essendon fans most unfairly affected by this whole saga.

    Kids running onto the oval in their red and black.
    People of all ages having hope for their team removed.
    Hope.

    And it seems to be creeping back.
    And that’s a fine way to head into any summer.
    Cheers.

  2. Nice read Trev, you’re not bad for a Bombre.

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