Round 2 – Essendon v Melbourne: You Only Get One Melbourne

 

“You only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime…” K.F.B Packer on selling Channel 9 to Alan Bond for $1.05 billion, only to buy it back from Bond, less than 12 months later, for $250 million.

 

Saturday June 27, 2015:

Back from a Bali holiday for just on a week now, I need a fix of live Saturday afternoon football. I probably should be at the MCG, where Hawthorn, TRP as The Wrap would call them, were hosting Essendon. The result was a forgone conclusion and as lazy as it sounds, I couldn’t have been bothered, quite frankly, to head to G.

Instead, I’m at North Port Oval, the home of The Borough, where Essendon’s VFL side will take on Port Melbourne. There’s a handy influx of AFL-listed players who I’ve come to see today; Heath Hocking, Tayte Pears, Ben Howlett, David Zaharakis, Paddy Ambrose and Nick Kommer. Hocking, Zaharakis and Kommer are on the return from injuries. Ambrose, Howlett and Pears are clearly out of (then coach) James Hird’s plans.

I’m listening to the Hawthorn and Essendon match on the radio as the action at Port unfolds. Zaharakis and Howlett pick up possessions at will, dominating the opening quarter. Hocking, the epitome of the 3200m stayer than a Golden Slipper sprinter when he’s in peak nick, is finding the going a bit harder. First up off a spell, the lack of miles in the legs is telling, but his footy smarts gets him to more contests than the average bear.

The Bombers are acquitting themselves well against TRP, but there’s no chance of a repeat of the round 2 upset. I text Adam White; ABC Grandstand commentator and man behind the mic at the G for the National Broadcaster. ‘Howlett, Zacka Pears in charge at Ess VFL’ I type. ‘Surely straight back into selection mix? Hocking finding plenty of it but clearly needs a few more runs. Essendon lead Port at the long break.’ As the AFL game heads into the quarter time break, Whitey paraphrases the message for the ABC audience. I wasn’t expecting him to mention the events at Port. I messaged him as a fellow Essendon fan, who I’ve had a number of lengthy discussions with about the pharmacologically experimental environment that Windy Hill was in recent years and how it affected my ability to separate the on from off-field events and the integrity of the club that I love. As a former Fitzroy supporter, Adam is uniquely qualified to listen to me try to come to grips with feeling like I’ve lost my footy team.

It is also the day I first notice a young indigenous player in possession of a set of quadriceps that even David Calthorpe might have envied. You can’t miss Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti; the unmistakable Tiwi Island appearance and some of the finest dreadlocks – Chance Bateman, Ben Nason and Nick Kommer included – I’ve ever seen in Australian rules. He struggles for rhythm, for timing, for flow. He looks, like so many other players sometimes do at the lower levels, like he’s struggling, like he’s being made to forget everything that got him to an AFL club in the first place and familiarise himself with a totally foreign method of playing the game. He is serviceable at best.

Tayte Pears spends most of the game in the ear of a gangly teammate. He’s brushed aside a bit easier than you’d like to see at that level, so you assume Pears is doing some positive reinforcement. He looks ill at ease, that he feels like he doesn’t belong and looks a long way off the big time. By game’s end though, Kyle Langford has 2.2 to his name, which could quite easily have been a four-goal haul with a bit more composure.

Howlett and Zaharakis are instrumental in the Bombers narrow win. Although not statistically mind-blowing, Zacka shows the kind of leadership and poise he showed alongside Matthew Kruezer at the Northern Under 18s.

Nick Kommer – a favourite of mine for his mongrel, his dreads and horrid run with injuries has acquitted himself well, but like Hocking, needs more miles in the legs.

The fall from favour of Tayte Pears – once considered the heir apparent to Dustin Fletcher, and yards ahead of Cale Hooker – remains a mystery to me. Although he made his bones between 2010 to 2013 as a defender, a run of injures has curtailed his AFL career. He’s spent much of 2014 and all of 2015 in the twos. He plays as Essendon’s focal point up forward, and monsters his Port Melbourne opponent to kick three goals, despite often being double and triple-teamed in marking contests.

 

Saturday April 2, 2016:

“It is a dark time for the Rebellion…”

In January, 12 of Essendon’s best 22 are sidelined for the season after the World Anti-Doping Authority steps in and hands down its own sanctions, when an AFL-appointed tribunal demonstrates it doesn’t understand the fundamental WADA principle of strands in a cable versus links in a chain, when it comes to drugs in elite sport.

With the release of the WADA decision, players who aren’t ready for senior footy will soon find out of they have what it takes to make it at AFL level, no matter how far behind the developmental curve they are.

Which explains why Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is playing his second senior game and Langford his 10th.

Although a rookie elevation, ‘Walla’ has worked exceptionally hard and impressed the new coaching regime headed by John Worsfold, Guy McKenna and Mark Harvey to the extent that he’s given an opportunity at AFL level.

The same applies to Kyle Langford, although with Langford, the club’s first pick in the 2013 National Draft, it’s fair to say his pathway to the big time contained a considerable amount more certainty than McDonald-Tipungwuti’s.

Walla’s first half is sublime. His link work and running the lines in support of the more experienced players like James Kelly, Brendon Goddard and David Zaharakis demonstrates a man, who, as Harry Callaghan once noted, [knows] his limitations. He runs hard, he uses the ball effectively and he plays his role; nothing more. Nothing less. He looks comfortable. He looks sound. Footy is littered with examples of players who are ordinary in the lower grades, yet shine when they make it to the show. His second half performance encapsulates how most pundits expect Essendon’s season to go: for all the hard work, it is a big ask for rookie bodies to withstand the crash, bash and carnage over the course of a season. There’s just not enough miles in the legs and despite the willing spirit, the flesh doesn’t have the capacity to deliver for a sustained period.

Langford, meanwhile, also appears to undergone a thorough metamorphosis compared to June last year. He presents to the contest with confidence. He seems to have a better understanding of where to lead to, and although he’s probably shadowed on the day, he still makes a significant contribution across the day, including the footy smarts to help set up wunderkind-in-waiting Darcy Parish for the sealer as Melbourne gather momentum in the closing part of the match.

Playing his first AFL game since 2013, Nick Kommer has a wonderful return. He niggles his opponents all day, helping take some of the attention off his younger teammates, inviting Melbourne players to focus on him instead. This is part of my man-crush on Kommer; he’s a bantamweight with no fear of provoking those in the weight divisions above him. He seems up for it. His nine disposals is a middling return, but it’s the symbolism of his return that is significant.

David Zaharakis is the stand-out on the day. Legend has it that his first conversation with Worsfold entailed a challenge to improve his fitness or get left behind. His 34 disposals suggests that there’s fire in the belly and petrol in the tank. His miracle goal in the wet against the Pies on ANZAC Day in 2009 will finally have some substantial company on his highlight reel.

I try not to get carried away with the win, but watching the game – like most people watching – Essendon’s ball movement is a major talking point. The skill level on display is something that’s been missing since the twilight of the Sheedy era, and continued to fester under both Knights, Hird and Thompson. It was a total 180-degree turnaround from the effort against the Suns a week earlier; the Bombers’ skill level looked every bit as sharp and polished as a top-four team. There’s no way that level can be maintained, no way it will be maintained against sides like North, Sydney, Hawthorn West Coast or Geelong and the pressure on the ball carrier they bring, but for now it’s hopefully a window into the standards that the coaching group are demanding.  There is purpose in this side’s approach. There is spirit. There’s heart.

There’s still a ridiculously long year ahead, but that’s okay. For with this single win, the Bombers have eclipsed the expectations of many. There’ll be some sinister floggings before the end of August, I’m under no illusions about that, and the skill level, effort and competitiveness is a week-to-week proposition as it is with all young and developing sides, but for now, I’ll revel in this win because, to paraphrase Kerry Packer, we only get one Melbourne this season.

 

ESSENDON    2.2   7.7   8.10   11.14. (80)
MELBOURNE      1.4   6.4   7.7   10.7. (67)

 

GOALS: 
Essendon: Z Merrett 2, Brown 2, Daniher 2, Stokes, Kommer, Hartley, Langford, Parish.
Melbourne: Kennedy 3, Garlett 2, Brayshaw, Harmes, Oliver, Watts, Hogan.

 

Umpires: Fisher, Stephens, Pannell.

 

Votes: Z Merrett (ESS) 3, Zaharakis (ESS) 2, N Jones (Melb) 1.

 

Crowd: 50,424 at The Temple Down the Road.

 

About Stone Cold Steve Baker Thompson Harvey Duckworth

Weapons-grade Grump. Quixotic. Jack of all Trades and Master of None. Ex-power forward for Melbourne Superules FC. Quoter of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm at inappropriate moments. Gun-for-hire, sleep enthusiast, contrarian. Meshuggener. Nebbish. Kibitzer. The dude abides.

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    Savour the wins and tough out the losses. Well done Bombers.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    M Neeld was the mastermind Bakes.

    Enjoyed the VFL piece, how long have you been sitting on that?

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Good read Stone Cold. Haven’t had the chance to watch McDonald-Tipungwuti yet, look forward to watching him tonight on TV.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Well done,Stone Cold I readily admit I was predicting a c marsh b lillee no score for the season.Tonight is 1 of the few times for the season I will barrack for the bombers as if the power loose this is a distinct chance of happening http://youtu.be/MU3Q3F9RuZA

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