The West Coast Eagles knocked the Essendon Bombers out of the finals series in an emphatic fashion. Having defeated the Fremantle Dockers at the same ground, and seen the Hawthorn Hawks defeat the Eagles at Optus, the Bombers gave themselves a real chance against the reigning Premiers. The Essendon game plan was simple. Run the ball through the middle of the ground to expose West Coast's lack of pace in that area; and then keep the ball low into attack to avoid high marking defenders, Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass.
Essendon's first goal, after two minutes of play, went to plan. Michael Hurley intercepted at half forward, a gather from Dyson Heppell and a measured handpass to Andrew McGrath who kicked truly from 48 meters.
The Eagles responded two minutes later after Nic Naitanui forced the ball from the center and Josh Kennedy used his height to mark (catch the ball) and kick truly from a set shot. Five minutes later, Aaron Francis booted long into attack for Essendon to see Orazio Fantasia use his smarts, to tap to the pace of Will Snelling. Snelling booted the Bombers second goal. The Bombers were using pace and chains of possessions to open up the Eagles. It looked good for the Bombers until half way through the first quarter, when Jack Darling took a big mark in the Eagles forward line and kicked truly. The Eagles height up forward threatened to dominate the smaller Essendon defenders. However, it was the Eagles' small men that soon got the goals, with Jamie Cripps kicking a goal with his third shot and Willie Rioli kicking his own after setting one up for Jake Waterman. Jayden Laverde added a third goal for Essendon at the 23-minute mark before Josh Kennedy booted his second after an Essendon error in defense just before the end of the first quarter.
Liam Ryan set the Eagles alight with two quick goals early in the second quarter. It was no longer the case that the Essendon defenders had to guard the tall Eagle forwards, the smaller Eagle forwards in Rioli, Ryan, and Jamie Cripps had become equally lethal. The Eagles defenders took their time once they got possession across halfback. They would pass the ball around until they found a loose player in the center who would bomb long to their big forwards. If Kennedy or Darling didn't mark the ball, the small forwards would gather the crumbs and kick accurately. The Bombers were in real trouble by half time, despite Orazio Fantasia booting a goal after being rewarded for a strong tackle and Adam Saad using his pace to encourage his team and then boot a goal just before the halftime break.
The third quarter continued with Naitanui dominance in the ruck and a Rioli kick to Kennedy who marked and goaled from fifty meters. A boundary scuffle arose when Naitanui took exception to Zach Merrett tugging Naitanui's dreadlocks and Naitanui retaliated by pushing Merrett into the boundary fence with his hands near Merrett's neck. (The post-match review assessed both players a A$1000 fine (about US$690. None of the others who joined the pushing and shoving were fined.)
The tug from Merrett (and the ensuing scuffle) seemed to have the desired effect, as Essendon briefly sprang into life with a quick goal to Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and then Adam Saad, who used blistering pace through the center of the ground to kick truly from 55 meters. West Coast immediately closed up the midfield with strong tackling and pressure on the ball carrier to stop Essendon's run. Essendon's forwards were placed under similar pressure and booted a series of behinds (worth one point each) while the Eagles steadied through Cripps and Jake Waterman to add two more goals.
The fourth quarter was all Eagles as they dominated in the middle and locked the ball in their forward line. Three goals in three minutes to Dom Sheed, Ryan, and Cripps, completely shut the gate on Essendon's season. McDonald-Tipungwuti booted his second goal at the 21-minute mark but by then the sting had gone from the game.
The Bombers were outclassed on the night and sit a fair distance behind the top teams in the competition. They have improved, but desperately need Joe Daniher in their team. The Eagles have dominant tall forwards and zippy small forwards. Their midfielders find the ball and use it well despite a lack of pace. The Eagles' defense works smoothly if opposition teams use long kicks to attack, as Jeremy McGovern is the best intercept marker in the business.
Next week the Eagles play the Geelong Cats at the MCG. If the Cats were to play the game at their home ground they would be considered favorites, as they ripped the Eagles apart on that ground in April. The MCG though is a different environment and the Eagles know the ground well. The Eagles have a team capable of winning another premiership and with Natainui back from injury they look more formidable than they have in months. The only question is, can they survive the demands of flying across Australia for three consecutive weeks?
Scores West Coast Eagles: 6.4 10.8 13.11 17.14(116) Essendon Bombers: 3.1 6.2 8.5 9.7 (61) Best West Coast Eagles: Cripps, Shuey, Kennedy, Gaff, Naitanui Essendon Bombers: Saad, McGrath, Shiel, Snelling, Heppell
Article last changed on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 - 11:47 AM EDT