It’s not often an entire Notebook is handed over to one solitary passage of play.
Then again, it’s not often a coast-to-coast chain from a kick-in decides a game.
Let’s not waste any time getting into it. Without further ado, it’s Collingwood’s final kick-in against Essendon, and what allowed the Pies to go end to end.
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Full disclosure: I started looking at this with the expectation I’d have thousands of words of material on error after error in Essendon’s team structure.
It took me by surprise to find the story was a little different, focused on individuals instead.
Before delving into the small details, some background on what I’m looking for with plays like this.
A couple of years ago, I explained why one of my greatest lessons working at North Melbourne was realising how miniscule, usually unspotted, moments have the biggest impact.
These moments usually create a domino effect – and it was no different here.
The general narrative has focused on Essendon failing to set up as a team during Harry Jones’ set shot, and flowed on from there. To be fair, I thought exactly the same in the moment.
Watch it again on replay and that reasoning doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny.
As Jones has his set shot, Essendon’s talls coalesce to the middle. You can see Sam Draper and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher behind Jones, set up for what looks like their assumption of a Collingwood bomb into the corridor.
They’re also supported by Essendon’s ground level players if the expected long ball goes to ground. There’s a general attempt to saturate the area:
To be clear, it’s not a good setup – far from it. If Collingwood wanted to go through the middle quickly, they probably would have found holes.
There is way too much space between Bombers and they’re too high up the ground for a standard long kick up the middle, one which typically lands around the centre circle.
But it’s the outline of a setup all the same.
Here’s where it gets fun.
For those who have missed any posts or podcast appearances over the last week, here’s where to catch up:
Sunday 24th: North’s Round 19 Review
Friday 22nd: What To Watch For: Round 19
Tuesday 19th: The Hashtag Kangaroos Podcast
Monday 18th: Round 18’s Notebook: Possession games, stoppage defence, and quick hits
Sunday 17th: North’s Round 18 Review (of a win!)
“Obviously they would have known we were going to try and go straight up the middle.
“Pendles (Scott Pendlebury) grabbed the ball and he’s like, ‘Darc (Darcy Moore), if no-one’s there just leak out to the side, kick it to the fat side wing.
“Lucky enough, Trent Bianco popped up out of nowhere, got it, and the rest is history.”
Those were the words of Jeremy Howe post-match to Channel 7, discussing Collingwood’s plan from the kick-in.
Most of Essendon were set up for a long kick to the middle. What happens when that’s not the play call?
Which brings us to domino number one, on the first line of defence.
Even as Pendlebury goes to gather a Sherrin and kick in, there are Pies dragging their direct opponents up the middle. It’s either a red herring, stroke of genius, or complete luck for that to happen when the idea is to move in the opposite direction.
Because while that’s happening, it leaves one matchup with neon lights flashing over it: Peter Wright v Moore.
All it takes is a split second for everything to break. Depending on which side of the equation you take, it’s either Moore’s quickness or Wright’s slowness that breaks Essendon.
I present as evidence:
Moore is able to get goal side of Wright, and Pendlebury picks him out with a routine chip.
Everything is a consequence of that moment.
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If Wright’s positioning prevents a Moore play-on, we don’t see domino number two fall.
Brayden Ham sees the unfolding problem and decides the best way to solve it is by coming off his opponent, Trent Bianco, and up at Moore.
The politest way to describe Ham’s decision is sub-optimal. The accurate words to describe it aren’t fit to print. Ham is so far away from Moore there’s never any chance of impacting play.
At this stage, with Bianco all alone on centre wing, the narrative is ‘where’s Essendon’s setup?’
There is a setup – it’s just that most of it is in a place Collingwood never planned to go:
After all this, the Bombers have one last hope.
Right from the point Jones kicked at goal, Kyle Langford has been a goalkeeper in Collingwood’s forward 50, creating a two-on-one:
As Bianco rolls down the wing, it looks as if Langford’s in prime position to save the day…
Until one last curve ball allows Elliott just enough space to mark over the back of Jake Kelly.
Earlier on I highlighted Zerk-Thatcher’s positioning during Jones’ set shot and once play resumes, the Don is responsible for Brody Mihocek.
The third and final domino comes courtesy of those two players.
Mihocek has run a hard, straight lane down the line of the centre square, occupying Zerk-Thatcher. Suddenly the latter sees a leading Elliott and thinks he has to get in that lane instead, peeling off Mihocek in the process.
The Pie keeps running inside 50, and it’s that movement which freezes Langford for a fraction of a second.
Langford’s torn. Does he cover Elliott or Mihocek? Which one is more important?
By the time Bianco shapes towards Elliott, Langford has the decision made for him.
But it’s that moment which gives Elliott a metre of space – if that – to mark.
Watch the vision, look at Langford hesitate, and realise how close he was to spoiling Elliott anyway.
That gap came because of Zerk-Thatcher’s decision and Mihocek’s running.
And none of it would have happened at all if not for a series of events starting with Darcy Moore.
It’s the small things which have the biggest impact.