4 Points: Don and dusted? The Bombers don’t look a finals team
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin took 108 minutes to circle the earth on his first space flight in 1961.
Essendon took the same time between kicking goals at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night. So yes, you could have circled the earth in the time it took Essendon to kick their second goal against the Bulldogs. At least Gagarin would have enjoyed the view, which is more than can be said for those watching the Bombers.
Of course, we are still waiting for Norths second goal – but that is a different story.
This was no normal round of footy. It snowed Friday night, North kicked one goal for the match Saturday night. And Essendon, oh Essendon.
Put their loss this way: a statistician reported on Saturday night that in the history of the top-eight system, no side outside the eight had ever beaten a side inside the eight by 100 points or more.
First, we start with the partial explanation, not the excuse. Essendon had more of their best team missing than playing. Those absences can explain a loss, but not one of this magnitude. Injuries are only a partial explanation, for Essendon lacked something more elementary than players.
This was a passionless defeat. It was a meek surrender that spoke to a lack of desire to run and to work.
And while yes, they missed many players, the midfield still had Dyson Heppell, Zach Merrett, Dylan Shiel and Dylan Clarke (tagging) in the team. They are first-choice centre-bounce players. Jake Stringer was also there for burst rotations and while Tom Bellchambers was a critical loss because it exposed Zac Clarke, who is well past his use-by date, they were playing against a third-year, stripe of paint ruckman in Tim English (enormously promising but still a foal). English was excellent again.
Essendon lost the contested possession count by 38 and the uncontested possession count by triple figures. So they were beaten in congestion and beaten for running once the ball broke from congestion. Oh, and the tackle count. That combination speaks to their appetite for work.
The Bulldogs are a side that likes to counterattack from half-back. They are back playing in the manner of their 2016 flag year, with clean sharp handballs from superior numbers of players, drawn to where the ball is trying to be won. Then once they win the ball, they ricochet it about with snappy handballs until they reach one of the many players already heading at pace towards goal. Suddenly, they are a wave washing through the ground. Essendon knew this and were powerless to stop it.
Here are two stats that describe this picture better than any others. Essendon laid one tackle in their forward 50. For the night. The Bulldogs kicked 10 goals from balls that started in Essendons forward line.
Essendon could offer nothing to counter. In large part this was because they had three quarters of their spine missing – Michael Hurley, Joe Daniher and Bellchambers – so they had little marking power.
These are not matters that are going to be quickly fixed. Essendon now not only looks unlikely to make the finals, but undeserving of doing so with the team they have available to them. Pressure returns to John Worsfold, but it might as readily turn to the medical and fitness program that has left them so thin for numbers.
Essendon have lost more than 10 percentage points in the last two games. They are easy to play against now, and unfortunately came up against sides in the last two weeks that punish teams that do not have an appetite for work.
Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs are fast, attacking, offensive units that both deserve to be playing finals, and the Bulldogs in particular are ripe to win a final if and when they get there.
Port and the Dogs are in both in far better form than either of the sides that look likely to finish in fifth and sixth place – Collingwood and GWS.
Those two making the eight would not be a case of making up the finals. Both look likely to be able to win finals if and when they do get there. The same cannot be said of Essendon.
New Dogs, old tricks
The measure of the Bulldogs' win is also impacted by the fact they were without Tom Liberatore, Caleb Daniel and Mitch Wallis.
The reason they we able to so thoroughly cover their absence was that Josh Dunkley has moved from good to very good. As others have noted, after he racked up16 touches and kicked a goal in the first quarter alone, he's in the best form of his career.
The critical thing about Dunkley as a midfielder is that he is a big body and defence-first in his thinking, and has an enormous aerobic capacity to run all day. He knows where to put himself, and helps create space and time for others. His kicking is still poor but his running and ball-winning ability offsets it.
Other midfields have drawn credit for containing bigger names, but the combination of Marcus Bontempelli, Jackson Macrae, Lachie Hunter and now Dunkley (and Liberatore and Wallis) stands up with any midfield in the competition.
Beyond that, theyve also recruited a serious, underrated talent in Hayden Crozier. His run off half-back in the first quarter set up what was to come, as much as Dunkley's efforts around the ball.
Now for plan C. Which has also been plans A and B in previous years.