Round 12 – Essendon v Richmond: Inside information


There are no trade secrets in the AFL. Team tactics are clearly apparent to the army of scouts, coaches and media hounds watching on.


“The one wood of our game is pressure and everything flows off that,” says Darcy Parish of Essendon.


Process, system. A culture of selflessness and explicit values the players commit themselves to uphold.


Sound familiar? It’s the blueprint that Richmond has used with stunning success in recent campaigns. Everybody studies the reigning premiers to see what they can learn. For decades, Richmond coaches spent their summers analysing the styles of the league heavyweights. It was all to no avail, of course, until Hardwick and his lieutenants formulated a game plan that was stunningly different to everybody else and recruited the personnel to bring it to fruition.


Coaches, like players, move on to new opportunities. Sometimes it’s what they want and sometimes it’s what they have to do to remain in the industry. While they might have to hand back their laptops, every coach or assistant arriving at his new employer has the knowledge in their head of how their former team went about things. No confidentiality agreements apply.


Ex-Crow Ben Rutten joined Punt Road as an assistant coach in 2014, specialising in defence. He left at the end of 2018 for Windy Hill to become John Worsfold’s designated successor. Blake Caracella was added to Richmond’s coaching staff in 2016 after a successful stint as an assistant at Geelong, before returning to Essendon, where he played in their last premiership side in 2000. Both men provided invaluable support for Hardwick and they left with his best wishes.


The Bombers have lost their last ten games at the hands of the Tigers and haven’t saluted against them since 2014.


Inside information. Hardwick served under Alistair Clarkson at Hawthorn from 2005 to 2009. Dimma missed out in his first two years against his old boss before savaging the Hawks in 2012 and 2013, a time when Richmond was far inferior to the Hawthorn combination that would capture three flags in a row by 2015.


Perhaps Richmond is vulnerable tonight. The Bombers are coming off three wins in a row, crowned with a rousing comeback win over West Coast at Perth Stadium in the previous round. Toby Nankervis is missing due to injury and the inexperienced duo of Chol and Coleman-Jones are assigned the ruck duties with some assistance from the pinch-hitting Marlion Pickett.


To my mind Perth Stadium looks like any generic arena constructed in the twenty-first century, but I must admit it puts on an interesting light show, at least from drone height. Richmond jumps the Bombers and lead by margins of 19, 21 and 22 points at the intervals. They look to have the edge in class and extend the gap to as much as 30 points late in the third. Andrew McGrath, one of Essendon’s leading playmakers, is subbed off early in the first quarter with a knee injury, making their task even more difficult.


Then, inexplicably, in the final term Essendon boots four goals in ten minutes through Hooker (twice), Waterman and Langford. When Langford runs into the open goal and puts the Bombers up by three points, the first time they lead the match, my son whacks the leather couch in exasperation. What intelligence is in the possession of Rutten and Caracella? Were the cardboard boxes carrying their personal trinkets checked for contraband when they left Punt Road for the last time? Richmond needs the four points and the Bombers are riding the wave they surfed last week against the Eagles. If we lose, we relinquish our spot in the eight to these upstart gliders.


Composure, I intone to my boy. Our men are being challenged, but if we stay calm on this side of the country then this will help our heroes in the west.


The Tigers take control again. Castagna regains the lead for Richmond a few minutes after Langford’s major. Astonishingly, it is the first in an unbroken run of seven goals, led by the redoubtable pair of Dustin Martin and Shai Bolton. Dusty, ever the gut-running, aggressive match-winner, floats it home from the 50-metre arc. Bolton, as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel, busts more moves than the Bolshoi Ballet in the clinches and adds a couple more. The Bombers are brave, but they’re clearly spent and the Tigers capitalise on their errors.


In the end Richmond wins by 39 points. Historians noting the quarter-by-quarter scores in years to come will have no notion of the fierce challenge that the rising Bombers unleashed upon their more fancied opponents. Is this game, as one commentator suggests afterwards, the closest 39-point margin in history?


I theorise that Dusty may have earned himself another Yiooken Award for best afield, but concede that Essendon’s Darcy Parish is a worthy recipient with his 44 possessions.


But then I’m feeling magnanimous. I always do after we win.




ESSENDON      1.2   5.4   8.10  12.12 (84)

RICHMOND     4.3   8.7   12.8  19.9 (123)



Essendon: Ham 3, Hooker 3, Waterman 2, Cox, Langford, Phillips, Stringer

Richmond: Bolton 3, Castagna 3, Martin 3, Coleman-Jones 2, Graham 2, Riewoldt 2, Balta, Caddy, McIntosh, Rioli



Essendon: Parish, Merrett, Langford, Hooker, Cox, Ham, Hind

Richmond: Martin, Bolton, Grimes, Graham, Castagna, Prestia, Chol



Essendon: McGrath (knee), Zaharakis (hamstring)

Richmond: Prestia (hamstring)



Essendon: Patrick Ambrose (replaced Andrew McGrath)

Richmond: Daniel Rioli (replaced Dion Prestia)


Crowd: 55,656 at Optus Stadium



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  1. Nice wrap up John. Fortunately, for those of us tiger fans stuck at home in front of the TV the ‘leather couch exasperation’ moment was but fleeting. What a swift turnaround. Great to see such confidence amongst the group.

  2. Stainless says

    John – I’m prepared to differ with the prevailing opinion about the closeness of this game. Richmond took control early and didn’t relinquish it apart from that brief last quarter lapse. We then regained it emphatically. As strong, experienced sides do. The final margin didn’t flatter us. Parish deserved the Yiookan Award – one of the few four quarter players on the night – but the more inconsistent contributions of Martin and Bolton were far more influential at crucial stages. We’ve stood up two weeks running in the face of strong last quarter challenges, but the opposition hasn’t been top drawer. The sheep-like media will start bleating “here come the Tigers” but the reality is that with five losses already, our Premiership hopes hang by a thread. It’ll take another 2019-style revival from here and I’m not convinced that we’re playing efficiently enough yet to take down the top contenders. Still, the last 20 minutes on Saturday was a welcome sign.

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