Brisbane appeared powerless to stop the run and the new 6-6-6 rule did not help Chris Fagan’s cause. It has been the repeated warning of the coaches and analysts that the new set-ups will lead to big defeats for teams who are off the boil on a given day, because it denies them the usual mechanism to put the game in a holding pattern. Here was their belief writ large.
Essendon knew it and went for the kill. Harder at the footy against a young team apparently believing their own publicity, the Bombers had a 49-point margin by half-time behind the willingness of Merrett to win the hard contest, the gut-busting run away from the stoppages exhibited by Shiel and with the bonus of McDonald-Tipungwuti’s canny goal sense.
From there, it was all about earning some respect for the Lions. Brisbane were much better after half-time, winning the third quarter and competing on equal terms for much of the last to keep the final margin to 47 points. That the requisite effort arrived too late won’t please Fagan, but at least they were not prepared to cop a flogging.
McDonald-Tipungwuti’s cult hero status only grows. When the small forward earned a free kick and then threaded his fifth goal from a tight angle in the third quarter, he turned and acknowledged the adoring crowd just a few steps away from him.
He was the most influential player on the ground and he sealed the three-vote performance when he worked Nick Robertson off the ball at half-forward in the final quarter, gathered the Sherrin, took a bounce, and kicked his sixth – already a career-best. His seventh came just before the final siren, catching Brisbane out the back and running into an open goal after another bounce.
He is emblematic of high-scoring Essendon but his impact with tackling pressure and chasing, a la Cyril Rioli in the great Hawthorn teams, also has to be considered.
With Orazio Fantasia playing in the same area, Essendon have serious x-factor up forward, with Joe Daniher to return to that mix soon. Mitch Brown returned to the team on Saturday in the role that at some point will be filled by Daniher, and made the selection issue awkward by booting three goals and hauling in double-figure marks.
If there is a question mark on Essendon’s defensive ability it is worth noting that they kept free-running Brisbane below 100 points for the first time this season. Cale Hooker’s influence in this was significant. Hooker’s return from a soft tissue injury suffered in the pre-season stiffened Essendon’s defence markedly.
The veteran in his first game of the season took 13 marks, sweeping across the defensive half and patrolling with authority, and he and Michael Hurley obliterated Brisbane’s tall forward set-up of Daniel McStay and Eric Hipwood.
Essendon coach John Worsfold initially chose not to apply a serious tag on Lachie Neale despite the Lion having big numbers in the first three weeks, although Devon Smith switched to his side in the second quarter after Neale touched the ball 13 times in the first.
Smith sacrificed a lot of his own offensive game in an attempt to curb Neale but it is far from easy; the Lion had another 40-disposal game with 21 contested possessions. His work rate is astonishing even if the niggardly would question his impact with the football sometimes.
Martin Blake is a Sports production journalist and writer for The Age.