Round 11 – Essendon v Richmond: When Tribes Collide

Essendon v Richmond

7:25PM, Saturday June 2

MCG

 

 

The Dreamtime at the ‘G is a highlight of the season, giving us the chance to celebrate the great history of our national sport. It is played on a Saturday night, always heralding the arrival of another Melbourne Winter. As we stride assuredly towards the ground, proudly sporting our Premiers’ gear, the stunning MCG is gently lit in red and yellow, contrasting against the muted black and grey of its concrete structure. Tiger and Bomber fans mill around, sharing their thoughts on how the game will unfold with their friends, rugged up against the frigid cold of the evening. The sky is cloudless, it is icy in the open air.

 

The pre-game entertainment kicks off with a choir of young indigenous men and women and culminates in the two clubs exchanging greetings through traditional dances. Two tribes face off, preparing for the battle to come. There is a social context in this ceremony, both cultural and respectful. Shane Edwards and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti meet in the middle to contest the toss of the coin, continuing the metaphor of the evening.

 

Essendon fans have been talking smack all week, buoyant after a couple of wins against quality opposition. They fancy their chances against the Tigers tonight, believing that their opponents are set up for an unlikely upset, that their team has turned a corner. We Richmond fans take our seats, brimming with quiet confidence, born from the knowledge that our boys are playing for their fifteenth consecutive win at this ground. The MCG is our house.

 

Nonetheless, a serious challenge has been issued, one that will need a ferocious response. Richmond pride themselves on their pressure game and Essendon has taken this to a new level in their last few games. Will they be able to bring the heat again? Will the Tigers be stung into action and hunt their opponents? As we await the first bounce expectantly, the tension rises, the apprehension grows and an uneasy feeling of foreboding overwhelms us in the stands. The temperature has fallen further and the night air is bitterly cold.

 

The first quarter is brutal. The stakes are high as a loss will see the Bombers fall off the pace. The Tigers hold a coveted position on the ladder, which Melbourne and Sydney, among others, are eyeing off. They can’t afford to stumble tonight either.

 

The Bombers try to apply pressure but are unable to maintain it. Richmond tackle fiercely and attack man and ball with malice. Dusty Martin applies a solid body tackle to Mark Baguley, Dyson Heppell is dispossessed violently. A ruthless and jarring two-man tackle is applied on David Zaharakis, ending his evening prematurely. Not for nothing is Toby Nankervis known as the “widowmaker.”

 

Five goals to one in the first quarter provides the answer to the questions posed. A wounded Essendon retreats to their huddle. A gorgeous full moon, looks down upon the ground, uncaring, showing no concern at the Bombers’ plight. A chill wind blows through the MCG.

 

Against the flow of the game, McDonald-Tipungwuti has managed to kick the last goal of the first quarter, at least giving his team some momentum. They build on this as the second stanza begins, scoring three of the next four goals. As 100-gamer Jake Stringer lines up for goal, his team is just 13 points behind. On his boot, lies the prospect of sending a scare through their rival camp.

 

He misses. Badly. The opportunity is lost.

 

As often happens in these pivotal moments, the Tigers sweep the ball quickly to the other end. Courtesy of a Shane Edwards mark and kick, they take their chance with both hands. Edwards, the leading goal-assist player in the competition, kicks another himself and sets up two more for team-mates. His visionary toe-poke into the path of a rampaging Josh Caddy provides the most spectacular highlight of the night and brings his opponents to their knees. By the half-time break, the Tigers have restored their handy lead.

 

Essendon’s Achilles Heel this year has been the period directly after the long break. In most of their games, they have been unable to score in the third and have conceded too much ground to steadier opponents. The pattern is repeated in this game, as Edwards, on his way to best-afield honours, flashes in and out of the play, creating openings that are inevitably exploited. His dancing feet and scissors-sharp hands are dangerous and daring. His change of direction is breath-taking. His wits are quick and incisive. He is at his best when he has no space in which to work. As the packs form and the available arena compresses down to a telephone booth, he slices and carves his way out of congestion time and time again. His is a peerless talent.

 

Caddy is a bull who scores goals at will. Midfield dynamo Reece Conca wins difficult ball consistently and tackles with intent. Nankervis battles gamely and breaks even with Tom Bellchambers, Essendon’s best player on the night. Young Tiger Callum Moore presents as a viable target but misses several shots at goal. Alex Rance smothers, spoils, harasses and outmarks. Jayden Short glides over the ground like a willowy gazelle, running the ball gracefully into his team’s forward line.

 

Adam Saad battles gamely for the Bombers, going on cheeky runs, ball tucked under his arm. When young Richmond speedster, Connor Menadue, waltzes freely into an open goal, the contest is over. At the final break, Richmond’s lead is unassailable.

 

During a quiet and uneventful final stanza, the ground attendance figure of 81,046 appears on the screen. Ironically, the Essendon areas of the stands are emptying faster than the bank of Mum and Dad at a hipster convention. As this is an Essendon home game many fans abandon the stadium in pursuit of “the early train.”

 

As anyone who has ever been stranded on Jolimont or Richmond Stations knows only too well, there is never an early train in this is the city, our trains always run late.

 

From a Tigers’ point of view, another challenger has been seen off, this one has been tipped unceremoniously onto its backside. Thoughts now turn to the more difficult task of winning against stern opposition interstate, away from our home ground. Port Adelaide awaits in the City of Churches.

 

ESSENDON 1.3 4.5 5.6 6.7 (43)

RICHMOND 5.4 9.6 15.10 17.12 (114)

 

GOALS

Essendon: McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Smith, Z.Merrett, Fantasia, Laverde

Richmond: Caddy 4, Butler 2, Edwards 2, Nankervis 2, Moore 2, Martin, Ellis, Riewoldt, Graham, Menadue

 

BEST

Essendon: Stringer, Smith, McKernan, Hooker, Merrett

Richmond: Edwards, Martin, Caddy, Nankervis, Short, Conca, Vlastuin,

Official crowd: 81,046

 

 

About Joe De Petro

My favourite period in history began with the Summer of Love and came to a sad end with the birth of Disco. It was from 1967 to 1975. What was not to like in those days? The Grateful Dead, Creedence, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond and the mighty Tigers won Premierships every other year. It was a magical time!

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