I was leaning towards the giants pre-game, based on only reports that Essendon’s form line was flat-lining quicker than respect for Nick Krgios. However this was without having seen either team actually play (still that is more than enough knowledge of a situation for Tony Abbott to try to tell qualified scientists about renewable energy and climate change, so maybe I was giving myself a hard time).
GWS won the first clearance and kicked straight inside 50, where Patton marked one-handed under pressure from Gwilt. I always like seeing a young player coming back from a bad injury and playing well so this was a promising start. My first instinct was that this seemed a fairly good mismatch in size for GWS to exploit. Patton missed his set shot, but GWS were kicking for goal again soon after when Rory Lobb was too tall for anyone else in the pack and held a strong mark. With the sort of run up you might attribute to Josh Kennedy, Lobb kicked wide to again let the bombers off, but they fell down again coming out of defence when Hayes took a good mark and was awarded a soft 50 to bring him just within range. He combined Lobb’s stutter run with a Shoaib Akhtar-length run up, but somehow still had the energy to kick accurately at the end of it.
GWS had owned the first five minutes and should have been further in front but Essendon began working back into the game, with Cale Hooker a big part of their progress. He earned a free kick for contact in the back from Phil Davis as he went for a mark and converted the set shot.
GWS continued to look the better team in many ways. Scully looked dynamic through the middle of the ground and hit Cameron inside 50 with a long pass, but the forward missed his shot.
One of the commentators brought up one of my favourite clichés: “kicking with that familiar left boot...” Unless he is a goldfish (in which case he has two good excuses), he ought to be pretty familiar with his left foot, but for the most part the commentary was substantially better than previous weeks (which might have had something to do with the absence of Brian Taylor).
Essendon scored another goal out of an indiscriminate kick forward. GWS looked to have it covered, but Davis lost his footing and then fumbled worse than Tony Abbott fumbling the issue of Marriage Equality, giving up his second goal (this time to Gleeson) in five minutes and allowing the bombers to take the lead. Essendon began to take some control of the game from here. The giants’ kicking into the forward line was pretty ordinary, allowing the bombers’ defence to cover the larger forwards fairly easily. Going the other way, the bombers played patiently and seemed to be able to find players in space easily, with giants players often hanging a couple of metres defensive side of their opponents and letting them get easy marks in the middle of the ground.
This strategy (if that’s what it was) didn’t seem to be working, as it allowed the Essendon defenders the opportunity to set up attacking play. Essendon players by contrast were right with their opponents all over the ground and causing turnovers and stoppages regularly, where Giles was a powerful force against his old team. GWS players in particular seemed guilty of missing a number of tackles, slipping more than the perceived integrity of the Trade Unions Royal Commission, now that it has been revealed that the man running it is a Liberal Party cheerleader. A soft 50m penalty to Zaharakis against Griffen brought him close enough to have a shot, but the bomber player missed the opportunity to increase the lead by more. The goal was not long in coming though.
The giants lost the ball coming out of defence again, when Baguely got in front of his man and intercepted the kick. He redirected play into his forward line where Cooney took a strong mark deeper in the pocket than Tony Abbott is in the pocket of the coal industry (allegedly). Instead of kicking from the angle he chipped back to Howlett who goaled from the set shot.
By now, Essendon looked well on top, with the giants’ forwards getting less of the ball than the Australian Christian Lobby has credibility. In one of their rare forays forward, Whitfield managed to trap Jackson Merret in a tackle, and the bomber player was penalised for not dryhumping the ground hard enough with a holding the ball decision. It was pretty harsh with two players sitting on him, but Whitfield probably deserved a free for having his arms chopped a moment earlier going for the mark. From near the boundary line on the 50, Whitfield went back and kicked as if he was straight in front, never really looking like missing and bringing GWS back to within a goal just before quarter time.
Essendon’s superiority appeared to continue in the second quarter. Ambitious play on the half back line by Griffen and Whitfield got them into trouble, with the ball intercepted by Hocking who kicked in to Danniher to take a strong mark and goal from straight in front.
GWS continued to look slow around the ground, although their tall players such as Phillips and Lobb gave them strong marking targets to move the ball through. Kicking into forward 50 continued to let them down though, putting the ball up to high and letting defenders come for it. Essendon missed a number of shots and also struggled to find targets inside 50, with the giants continuing to flood back hard. Shaw, Wilson and Ward were excellent defensively for a team that was under pressure for much of the quarter, winning tough balls, making tackles and finding ways to get the ball to teammates.
Toby Greene won the ball for the giants in midfield and ran towards goal. It looked a likely opportunity for a goal, but they overplayed it a pit and the ball ended up spilling free in front of goal. The giants were lucky when Steinberg slid in too hard and took out Smith’s knees. Smith duly goaled from the free kick giving the giants their only goal for the quarter.
GWS were certainly lucky to not fall behind further this quarter. Goddard, Stanton and Hibberd were all prominent with their ball use, while Giles continued to battle strongly in the ruck. While he didn’t take many marks, he was good at ground level, tackling and following up to win his own clearances a number of times. Hooker got away from Davis to mark easily again, but missed an easy shot. The giants quickly coughed up the ball and Goddard hit a low trajectory pass to Edwards who also missed a regulation shot at goal.
Despite their dominance of the quarter, the Bombers only increased their lead by a few points. Unlike Christos Krgios, defence of his brother, the giants defence were extremely effective at limiting the damage, although I was starting to understand why Leon Cameron looked about ten years older than the last time I had seen him.
The second half started with GWS showing a bit more intent to make it harder for their opponents to get easy possessions. Rhys Palmer had a forgettable couple of minutes, running through 50 on his own and spraying the kick horribly. He followed up the error with a second mistake, leaving his player to try to make a tackle of a player who his teammate had covered, only for Palmer’s player to come away with the ball and give Essendon an easy route out of defence.
He made another error soon after, having made a terrific spoil inside attacking 50 and chased down the spilt ball, he turned and tried to kick it from a tough angle and saw it go out on the full, when he had a man on for a handpass from a much easier angle.
Lobb took a great grab on the wing, but undid his good work with a very dangerous squaring kick. Shaw worked hard to prevent a dangerous turnover, winning the ball and firing a bullet pass inside 50, where Kelly took it diving to his side like a slips catch (at least an English slips fielder who holds the catch anyway- Ok enough whinging about the Ashes). Kelly converted the set shot and the giants were within a point.
Soon after, they took the lead when Whitfield intercepted a handpass in defence and scrambled a bouncing ball towards goal, which fell to Greene who goaled from ten metres out.
Essendon replied quickly with a smart kick by Edwards that found Stanton in space. He kicked long towards goal and Howlett scooped up the crumbs in the pocket snapping it back across his body where Hooker marked with no pressure from Davis (who I tried to excuse by saying he could have been running to cover the goal line, but couldn’t be sure off that). From point blank range, Hooker made no mistake. The giants began to ramp up the pressure around the ball and use it better themselves. Coniglio in particular was impressive with both his ball winning and usage.
Jeremy Cameron did really well soon after to keep the ball in dispute against three opponents. When his teammates recovered the ball he was quickly up to re-join the attack and ended up getting a smart tap to Smith that enabled the little giant (does that just make him a normal person?) to kick a goal on the run.
GWS used their sub after Scully went into a marking contest and fell harder than Michael Douglas. He landed on his shoulder and was quickly subbed out of the game. I thought the replacement of a midfielder with yet another tall player could have deprived the giants of some running power but McCarthy was instantly effective, holding his ground in a 1 on 1 and got a kick away to Patton who passed it on to Palmer. A chipped ball into forward 50 allowed Hoskin-Elliott to run onto the ball and continue towards an open goal. He ran a fair way too, but wasn’t penalised and added another goal to the GWS score.
I had been impressed with a number of aspects to the giants’ defence (with the exception of Davis who was poor). Aidan Corr was terrific against Danniher. He made a terrific spoil when Danniher looked to have him beaten on the lead. A chain of handballs ended with Cameron taking a big pack mark in the goal square. When he converted the resultant kick the giants were out to a three-goal lead.
The game was over in the opening minutes of a final quarter that was as one-sided as an Alan Jones opinion piece. A strong mark by Phillips at half back from a kick out set off a fast play through Ward, McCarthy and Palmer that ended with Kelly kicking a goal. The next centre bounce saw a classy clearance from Ward, Coniglio and Whitfield sent the ball back to the goal square. McCarthy held his feet in a tackle and after a bit of a scramble it ended with Palmer snapping a goal over his shoulder.
Both sides missed a few shots at this point. McCarthy was looking the most dangerous player in the forward half, marking twice more in quick succession from Coniglio and Griffen, converting on both occasions.
Cooney marked a rare kick inside 50 from Zaharakis, but missed the shot horribly. The bombers were imploding worse than Donald Trump’s presidential campaign at this point and some of their kicking was woeful, spraying a number of shots and passes out on the full or straight to giants players. Meanwhile their opponents were lining up to shoot at goal quicker than former teammates have been lining up to stick the knife into Michael Clarke.
Shaw ran the ball out of defence yet again and kicked long where it was well marked by Palmer, who I had previously been fairly unimpressed by. He found Coniglio inside 50 to kick another that was well-shepherded through by Lobb on the goal line.
The bombers finally got one in the last quarter, when a kick in from Shaw to Hoskin-Elliott was spoiled, allowing Howlett to snap a goal from close range. Wasn’t sure what was more casual out of Shaw’s kicking effort and his teammate’s attack on the ball, but the game was clearly won at this stage anyway.
I had lost a bit of interest half way through the quarter, but the next centre bounce woke me up when Cooney came in off the point of the square and hit Coniglio with a head high bump. Several giants players were quick to remonstrate while Coniglio was eventually taken from the ground and did not return. It was a pretty dirty bump that the AFL has worked hard to eliminate in recent years and I would have thought it was high contact, deliberate and moderate to high impact, so I was anticipating a reasonable holiday for the bombers player. In fact it was referred straight to the tribunal, who bizarrely gave him a one week ban. But hey, what do I know?
Goals kept coming in the last minutes. Daniher outmarked Davis and goaled comfortably before Cameron ran onto a kick from Patton, marked and did the same. Giles kicked a deserved goal on the siren after being awarded a free from the ruck.
BOG was a tough call for the day. Giles fought really well at ruck contests, although his opponents took more marks around the ground. Goddard had a fair bit of it for Essendon, including a couple of high quality passes to leading targets. However a lot of his other possessions came in the period where Essendon were chipping the ball around to little affect. Hooker was another player who didn’t let his team down. For the giants, Shaw was important in defence, while midfield players like Treloar and Greene got plenty of the ball, but I was most impressed with Coniglio who was a little bit cleaner than his teammates at times and had a big impact around contested ball situations.
The Snickers Award also had a number of contenders. I have already mentioned Palmer and Davis who both had fairly forgettable days, although Palmer at least gave the team some effective forward pressure, making a number of spoils. Still it was an easy decision for who needed a Snickers the most. The cheap hit on Coniglio was as distasteful and unnecessary as the eight Border Force agents who were detailed to spy on Senator Hanson-Young when she visited Nauru. Even before that, Cooney was terrible, kicking it out of bounds on the full repeatedly.