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Match of the Day: Dons’ late delivery finally deals with spirited “Joeys”

Cale Hooker taunts Daniel Nielson after getting on top of the North Melbourne youngster with a four-goal final quarter. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Dons’ late delivery finally deals with spirited “Joeys”

The football world at large looked at the line-ups come the bounce of the ball at Etihad Stadium on Saturday and saw a monumental mismatch. But the fans of both Essendon and North Melbourne knew better.

The Roos and Bombers have had ups and downs in a rivalry now stretching for 20-odd years, but usually the theme has been North putting one over their opponents, regardless of circumstances.

So despite Essendon pushing for a spot in the eight, despite the Roos having lost their last six games and sitting 17th on the ladder, and most significantly, despite North missing a clutch of experienced players and fielding seven with a grand total of just 19 games to their names, there was every chance this wasn’t going to be such a predictable afternoon.

And so it proved. The “Joeys” attacked their task with relish. For three quarters, they not only proved nuisance value, but appeared a very real chance of causing what would have been seen as a major boilover. And while Essendon finally got on top when it mattered most for, in the end, a comfortable 27-point win, North Melbourne should come away pretty encouraged about what might be in store over the next few years.

The Bombers? Well, this win put them, at least temporarily, in the top eight after their first trifecta of consecutive wins for right on three years. Will they stay there? They’d need to play a lot better for a lot longer than in this game. And some of the hunger those young Kangaroos had until the physical toll told wouldn’t go astray, either.

It was a spirit evident right from the start. Josh Williams had barely had time to get his head around an AFL debut coming in at the last-minute for Robbie Tarrant, before he was marking and with his first kick, booting the first goal of the game.

It came from a shocking Essendon turnover. And that would become a recurring theme with the Bombers, their kicking efficiency by half-time stuck in the low 50s. Kids stuff, really.

It was the junior Roos who had far more excuses on that front, but the likes of Williams, Declan Mountford, Sam Durdin, Daniel Nielson and Cameron Zurhaar had a real taste for it from the moment Williams goalled, and the longer they not only stayed in, but led this contest, the more that enthusiasm and genuine hope grew.

The Roos had three goals to one by midway through the first term before Essendon seemed suddenly to wake up, whereupon the Dons slammed on five of the next six.

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti lit the spark with a goal then a great spoiling effort on two bigger Roos to set up a snap for Cale Hooker. By the time James Stewart and Orazio Fantasia had the first couple of the second term, it was all looking a little inevitable.

But that sort of expectation has been a major Essendon achilles heel this season. And so it proved again. Within two minutes, Ben Brown, he and Jarrad Waite testing a shaky-looking Bomber defence, had North in front again with two goals.

For the rest of the quarter, it went goal for goal, the Roos’ couple of them coming, now predictably, from Bomber turnovers by foot. Sam Gibson, as solid as any player on the park, dobbed one from near the boundary, and North went to the long break with its nose in front.

For a side of this inexperience, that in itself was some achievement. But even after Essendon began to flex its more well-developed muscle, the Roos weren’t done with.

Clearly having had their ears bent back by coach John Worsfold after an ordinary half indeed, the Bombers got serious. The tackles started sticking. The bigger midfield bodies of Dyson Heppell and Jobe Watson monstered the clearances.

Approaching time-on of the third term, the gap grew to 17 points. And once again, to its cost, Essendon relaxed. Three goals to Trent Dumont, Waite and Brown in just three-and-a-half minutes, incredibly, had North in front once again.
By the time, Cale Hooker, having to that stage a dirty day indeed, managed to miss two “gimmes” within seconds, most Bomber fans would have felt this, just like the Brisbane game a few weeks back, was going to be one of those days.

Credit at least then, to him, and to his team, for refusing to accept that premise. It was Hooker, funnily enough, who proved the decisive influence in the end as North tired, the spaces began to open up in the Bomber forward line, and the All-Australian defender began to work over young opponent Daniel Nielson.

Two goals to Hooker in four minutes, three in under 10, and four for the term by the 17-minute mark, ensured Essendon wouldn’t in fact let this one slip.

He was by no means the dominant key forward, though. That was Brown, who finished with six goals, he and Waite 10 goals and 17 marks between them. At the other end, Scott Thompson and Luke McDonald largely held up. Dumont was good again for the Roos, and Durdin is a real find.

Essendon had its usual excellent service from Zach Merrett, a beacon of consistency among the various disappearing acts of others, Darcy Parish proved important, Heppell and Watson solid. But even that mightn’t have been enough against more seasoned teams than were the Roos on Saturday.

The plusses for the Dons are climbing over seemingly small but for them significant hurdles like beating an opponent which has given them all sorts of grief, and overcoming the two-win barrier.

They’re a start, but not really the sort of milestones a side aspiring to September should be celebrating. Essendon will need to aim a lot higher, and certainly play a lot better, if they’re to do so.

ESSENDON 4.2 8.3 13.8 20.12 (132)
NORTH MELBOURNE 4.4 8.5 12.7 16.9 (105)

Essendon: Hooker 5, Fantasia 4, McDonald-Tipungwuti 3, Stewart 2, Daniher 2, Heppell 2, Parish, Zaharakis
North Melbourne: Brown 6, Waite 4, Williams, Garner, Mullet, Gibson, Dumont, Swallow

Essendon: Merrett, Heppell, Watson, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Hooker, Fantasia, Parish
North Melbourne: Brown, Garner, Dumont, Thompson, McDonald, Higgins, Waite

Essendon: Martin Gleeson (left elbow)
North Melbourne: Robbie Tarrant (back) replaced in selected side by Josh Williams

Umpires: Fisher, Fleer, Pannell

Crowd: 40,359 at Etihad Stadium

  1. From where I was sitting, it didn’t seem so much that the Bombers relaxed, more that the Roos stuck to their task and got the reward they deserved for more run and better disposal. Experience, and the conditioning that comes with it, proved decisive in the last 40 minutes. I thought it was a great tactical and organisational victory for the Roos coaching panel to contain the Bombers’ rebound from half-back and to set up an all-but impenetrable wall holding the ball deep inside their forward line for what seemed like most of the first three quarters.

    Great to have your reports on Footyology, RoCo. Good luck with the venture.

  2. Good review (as usual )
    Wont go far on that performance…
    Final next week. ..
    My friend …very good vwin a game we well could have lost…
    I think we will beat dogs next week.
    Dogs will take us on….
    We should kick more goals

  3. How about the coaching duel. Felt Worsfold was again outsmarted tactically. Roos killed Essendon’s run off half back brilliantly. Conversely, North were able to easily move the ball out of their defence. I worry about Woosha sometimes. He really doesn’t mix things up much.

  4. Rohan, firstly congrats on a fantastic site. Your balance in reporting is always welcome. As a life long Bombers supporter living in Perth, its fantastic to see us all on at the park. I do wonder when it will really all really click for them. Sure the second half of the season has been better, so I agree with others that next week is our Final – with the dogs starting to look better. Should be a ripper game. Will you be putting in your tips on this site? Cheers

  5. It’s kinda nice having a writer who is familiar with how Essendon periodically throws up complete garbage when playing opponents they *should* beat. It’s been a common theme for as long as I’ve been watching them play.

    The number of 30 point leads they’ve coughed up just this year has been pretty frustrating.

    Yes, North played about as well as they could and their tactics stymied Essendon’s “Plan A”, but the skill errors didn’t help. When Mick Hurley is muffing kicks, we know something’s off.

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