When Essendon skipped away to an impressive 47-point thrashing of Brisbane, most of the attention naturally went to Bombers star Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.
While the small forward’s sensational seven-goal performance deserved the praise it received, an unsung hero quietly went about his work on Saturday to put together one of the games of his career.
Mitch Brown was that man, continuing his reliable form and booting three goals. But it wasn’t just his direct impact on the scoreboard that stood out against the Lions.
Brown’s ability to push up the ground and provide an option for his teammates coming out of defence is often undersold, and it was a key part of Essendon’s victory.
An elite runner, Brown is the crucial link between both ends of the ground, using his endurance to his advantage through repeat leads. His constant efforts leading up to the ball also created the acres of space that his fellow forwards utilised so brilliantly.
He replaced key forward Shaun McKernan on the weekend and gathered 25 disposals (the equal-second best return of his career), 11 marks (equal-third best), nine contested possessions (equal-fourth best) and four inside 50s in a strong display of his value for the side.
Brown spent a game-high 98 per cent time on the ground and led the way for ground covered, with AFL.com.au’s Telstra Tracker recording the forward to have run a game-high 14.5 kilometres during the game.
It was the fourth time he has booted three goals in his last 11 games, taking his tally to 19 goals in that period – an underestimated contribution to the team given the absence of leading forward Joe Daniher.
It is hard to believe that Brown’s goalkicking teammates on Saturday could have had such an impact without his efforts up the ground, and his 88 per cent disposal efficiency highlights his effectiveness.
McDonald-Tipungwuti was certainly aware of that, praising Brown and his teammates after the game.
“I kicked seven and it was my best career return, so I’m pretty happy with it, but you can’t kick seven without your teammates giving you the ball.
“‘Browny’ came in and played his role; he played high, gave us a few contests and kicked a few goals.”
Brown celebrates one of Orazio Fantasia's goals against the Lions at the MCG on Saturday.
Brown was omitted from last week’s senior side due to team balance, but he responded well with five goals in the VFL and was the obvious choice to replace injured forward Shaun McKernan this week.
Senior coach John Worsfold said it was great for the experienced Bomber to be rewarded on Saturday.
“Mitch is a very hard-working player who covers a lot of territory and is really getting that understanding with his fellow forwards.
“His work ethic has never been questioned.
“He went out of the side last week, not because we were disappointed – we were really pleased with how he was playing – it’s just we felt we needed to add in Zac Clarke last week taking on (Demon Max) Gawn and that meant someone missed out.
“Shaun McKernan played his role really well last week but got injured and we had the luxury that Mitch Brown played really well in the VFL and was in good touch and ready to go.”
Brown will look to continue his form when the Bombers take on North Melbourne in the Kick for the Kids game on Good Friday.