When you opt to roll the dice, sometimes you get a string of sevens. It happens.
When you opt to roll the dice, sometimes you get snake eyes. That also happens.
But if you opt to roll the dice when you should be playing poker instead, are you putting yourself in the best possible position to walk away happy at the end of the day?
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Everyone who entered Etihad Stadium on Sunday knew how Essendon was going to attempt to play. Quick, direct ball movement at every opportunity, and get as many numbers forward of the ball as it could.
For the first 20 minutes North played it as well as possible. The Bombers rarely had use in the corridor, it created next to nothing in terms of dangerous forward entries, and their only two goals were the result of scrambled play from forward half stoppage situations. It meant an early 20-point North lead.
When some sides are under the pump, they go back into their shell. The Bombers clearly hadn’t heard of that before. Their response was to throw any remaining semblance of caution to the wind, attack even more and see what the result was.
It was Russian Roulette football for a solid 40-45 minutes, with player upon player just sprinting forward of the football the minute one teammate was even close to possession.
And here is where the problems started for North. Even allowing for the last-minute withdrawal of Ben Jacobs, there had still been a running side selected, presumably with the intention of curtailing Essendon’s running power.
It also doesn’t matter what type of side you select if there is no intention of keeping some sort of defensive structure when not in possession.
Too often there was multiple Roos drawn to the ball and contest, which meant once Essendon was part the first layer of pressure it was off to the races. It happened time and time again, as demonstrated in the following:
1: Note how all the North players are surrounding the ball, but it’s Kyle Langford in possession. All it takes is one clean handball to the Essendon players waiting on the outside and it’s off to the races. It’s an undeniably risky strategy by the Bombers, but it’s so different to the norm it had the desired effect of scrambling North minds.
2: From a 50-50 ball on the outer wing, watch Devon Smith, who starts at the bottom of your screen. He waltzes past almost a third of the Roos on the field, who all get drawn towards the ball carrier. The end result is an easy handball over the top from Conor McKenna to Smith, who makes no mistake from 50.
3: This is the end result of a 50-50 contest which Essendon tumbled out to Mitch Brown. Even though it ended in his hands somewhat fortuitously, look at where the Bombers onballers have ended up compared to their North opponents. Look at the space between the two sets of jumpers. It was only an error in decision making by Mark Baguley which prevented an Essendon shot on goal in this instance.
4: A rushed, long kick forward by Patrick Ambrose breaks the first line of North pressure to where Essendon has numbers upon numbers streaming forward. Scott Thompson’s split-second decision to stay back from the pack and bank on his teammates slowing play down just enough is what saves them from another Essendon goal on the stroke of half time.
These are just a handful of the instances which you can pick up via the broadcast view, so you can only imagine the horror seen by those who have access to behind the goals vision.
It was as if North saw how Essendon wanted to play and thought it would be fun to try the same, ignoring a team make-up which was ill-equipped to do anything of the sort. Essendon also deserves credit for forcing that mindset in North by the way it set out to play.
Meanwhile, Essendon’s strategy also had a second benefit, which revealed itself after North turnovers. Committing so many numbers forward of the ball should, in theory, have meant an easy counter for North when it did gain possession in its back half.
However, if North didn’t hit targets perfectly on its own march up the field and turned it over, it then meant Essendon had even more of a numerical advantage close to goal. Let’s call it the counter-counter, and it led to a number of scores throughout the entire afternoon – not only the second quarter of madness.
Unsurprisingly the second half was a much slower affair, perhaps because human bodies aren’t conditioned to sprint for 120 minutes straight. Essendon looked genuinely exhausted for the last 12-15 minutes of the third quarter, but the margin for error created by the second quarter blitz meant North had to play perfect football to give itself a realistic chance of hitting the front.
A few set-shot misses – some which should have been taken, some which were tough – put paid to any of that and once Andrew McGrath snapped truly early in the last, North wouldn’t get closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
It’s tough to win any game when you concede 13 goals out of 18, from late in the first quarter to early in the third. Now questions turn to what’s next for North.
Mason Wood’s hamstring injury has already ruled him out for multiple weeks according to Brad Scott in the post-match media conference. You’d imagine it means an opportunity for Nick Larkey to come into the side; Gold Coast is a preferable opponent for his season debut compared to the following three matches against Sydney, Collingwood and West Coast respectively.
With an injury list seemingly lengthening by the week, no return is more important than Ben Jacobs’. Pre-season I wrote about how he’s almost the most important player on the list, both for what he brings and how he allows others to play, and his absence has been keenly felt in the last fortnight.
Gold Coast on Sunday afternoon at Etihad Stadium is now a must win to keep any finals chances alive.