Flying high: Essendon’s Kyle Reimers celebrates a goal with Bomber supporters last night.WHAT’S hurting the Western Bulldogs as they recalibrate under Brendan McCartney is as obvious as the weekly spilling of blood on Liam Picken’s face. The Dogs don’t have much to kick to, and they don’t kick very well to what they’ve got.
Last night there was virtual parity in the contested area of the game that McCartney has made a priority and — remarkably for a game that was over very early — a difference of only six in forward entries. Football club brains trusts insist there are degrees of inside-50s, yet when there is nothing on the end of them it scarcely seems to matter.
After a dormant opening 12 minutes, Essendon went from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye, then was content to idle to the finish line, but that surge was enough to tell the story of the difference between these teams. Michael Hurley, Stewart Crameri and Patrick Ryder had all kicked multiple goals by the first break, and their captain Jobe Watson had a gluttonous 14 possessions, imposing himself as he had done at the death a week earlier on the other side of the country.
The Dogs are of course led each week by their own contested ball beast in Matthew Boyd, and he racked up 10 touches of his own to quarter-time and 34 for the night. But while Liam Jones and Jordan Roughead — a surprising choice as sub last night — learn the key forward’s craft, the Bulldogs will keep pining for just one target man, let alone three.
Barely one in two first-quarter Bulldog kicks hit their target, undoing the good work done to win possession in the first place, and the Bombers salted this familiar wound by hitting their targets, big and small. Tiny tank Corey Dell’olio on the lead was considered no less worthy an option than a rampaging Hurley.
The Bombers were happy to provide on-the-spot kicking tuition, their fourth goal a master class featuring a precise exchange of laser-beam passes from the busy Michael Hibberd to David Hille to Jake Melksham to goal.
Hurley’s maturing into one of the game’s forward stars continued apace. He worked out early that staying put is no way to beat Brian Lake, led him a merry dance thereafter, and added five goals to his six from last weekend. The black glove protecting his left wrist enhanced the picture of the footballing rock star he has become.
He spoke on radio afterwards of the device having been a little uncomfortable to begin with, restricting his range of movement, not that you could tell. “As the game opens up, the blokes’ delivery gets better and better,” he said on Triple M of the many who made his job a joy. “I’m the lucky one who gets on the end of them.”
Last night he had plenty of mates happy to provide silver service, Hibberd, Ben Howlett and Heath Hocking all impressive in a Bomber midfield core that is expanding to the proportions familiar to very good teams.
Watson was already three vote-winning games clear in The Age Footballer Of The Year Award and the Brownlow Medal favourite entering this game, and once the red and black course had been charted, much interest lay in how much this night would bolster his credentials. Having gone head-to-head with Boyd to begin with, it was no surprise to see Picken stuck limpet-like to his side from then on.
The extra attention worked for a time, but Watson also continues to grow as a footballer, and is now one who can rarely be suppressed. Having once lacked the belief to kick at goal, he is now deadly around the sticks; his three goals after shaking off Picken were high points of a meandering second half.
The Bombers’ major concern as the game wore on was that nobody went the way of Bob Murphy, who pinged a hamstring just before half-time. Season 2012 is becoming enough of an exercise in torment for his Bulldogs without the return of his own nightmare.
For the Dogs, Tom Liberatore followed Boyd’s lead and Will Minson played with the commitment of a man who missed the game dearly last weekend. Shaun Higgins was game in his 100th, and Adam Cooney showed good signs pitted against Dustin Fletcher up forward. But even in this match-up there was a sense of mickey-taking — Cooney is 26 and seemingly on the wane, Fletcher is 37 and ageless.
He will have a say in how the season plays out, as will his Bombers. For the Bulldogs, many resolve-testing weeks of education await.
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