Essendon proved too strong for West Coast in wet and wild conditions at Mineral Resources Park in the Marsh Community Series on Thursday.
Forwards coach Dan Jordan addressed the media following the impressive eight-point victory and we’ve looked at five key points to take away from the press conference.
1. Signs point to a clean bill of health
Several Bombers – led by gun midfielder Devon Smith who has lost none of his quality or controlled aggression – made their competitive return from injuries on Thursday and Jordan was buoyed by the way the squad initially pulled up from the game.
“We’re happy to come away with a cleaner bill of health and getting some miles in the legs for the first hit-out for a few of the guys, particularly those guys that it’s been well documented are coming back through from injury – getting great minutes into them and them finding some footy as well,” Jordan said.
New recruit Jacob Townsend impressed with his physicality throughout the contest, but the 2017 premiership player had fans’ hearts in their mouths when he went down with an apparent knee injury with just four minutes to play.
Thankfully, the hard nut was able to comfortably jog off the ground.
“He twisted the knee a little bit. There was some initial pain, but the early prognosis is that it’s okay, so fingers crossed that’s the case.”
Meanwhile, stand-in skipper Michael Hurley left the field early in the contest, but Jordan confirmed it was planned management upon the star defender’s return from off-season shoulder surgery.
“He was fine, it was just a managed minutes sort of thing, we had a few boys on that as well.
“It’s great for Hurls to get through his first hit-out and he’s claiming one-for-one as captain, so good on him.”
2. Mature recruits are off to a hot start
Townsend (12 disposals, nine contested possessions, four clearances and four score involvements) showed just why the Bombers were more than happy to give him another opportunity at AFL level on Thursday, crashing into every contest with vigour and providing the side with another valuable option during stints in attack.
Jordan was impressed by the former Giant and Tiger’s competitiveness, while he also heaped praise on new ruckman Andrew Phillips (12 disposals, 21 hitouts, four tackles, four inside 50s, three clearances and a goal), who showed great signs with his agility and cleanliness at ground level.
“I thought Andy’s game in the ruck was really good, he was up against a pretty decent ruckman (star Eagle Nic Naitanui) there for a while.
“I thought he competed hard and his follow-up stuff was really good around the ball - tackles and smothers and those sorts of things.
“Jacob, we know what we’re going to get from him; it’s hard, it’s physical, it’s playing his role – the teammates love that.
“He put his body on the line on a number of occasions and got reward for it.”
3. We all got a sneak peek at the 2020 Bombers
Fans have become accustomed to watching the Dons burst away with speed to move the ball quickly almost at all costs in recent years.
While that still remains an important weapon for the athletic side, it was the team’s ability to pass the Sherrin around in a cool and calm manner when needed against the Eagles that provided an encouraging glimpse into a slightly different Essendon.
Jordan said that mature approach and variety going forward will allow the team to be more consistent in 2020, while he was also pleased with the team’s contested grunt.
“We really wanted to just come over and have a really good hit-out against a good side and find out a little bit about the things that we’ve been working on over the pre-season,” Jordan said.
“We were pretty good around the contest; we won the tackle count by 19 and we asked our boys to compete – it’s been a focus for us over the pre-season.
“Also, the connection piece with each other; being predictable to each other and how they wanted to play. I thought we saw some great examples of that tonight.
“It’s always good as a coaching group when you see things that you’ve been working on in the pre-season come to fruition on game day. We’ve always, in the last couple of years, had some exciting methods of moving the footy.
“What we try to do is have a bit more of a variety in how we want to move the footy. It’s not a matter of run and gun all the time; we want to have different methods of attack and have some variation so that we can be a good side and be consistent against sides who play different defences and have different strengths and weaknesses.”
4. ‘Mozzie’ thrived on the bigger stage
Dazzling small forward Irving Mosquito showed many good signs in his first season at The Hangar in 2019 under the nose of Jordan (then head VFL coach) in the reserves before hamstring injuries curtailed his campaign for an AFL debut.
Thursday’s game provided the 19-year-old with his first opportunity to line up for the senior team and the young gun grasped his chance brilliantly.
Coming on in the second half, Mosquito was lively and dangerous around the ball, chasing with determination in defence and gliding across the ground in attack before being justly rewarded with a classy snap goal in the final term.
“He’s exciting, isn’t he?
“I was fortunate enough to coach him a bit in the VFL last year and he showed some great signs.
“Hopefully with another pre-season under his belt he can keep adding to his fitness and he’s already told me that he loved that experience tonight, so hopefully that gives him a taste and really drives him to try and play some AFL footy.”
5. The future looks bright for a pair of draftees
You would grant lifelong footballers some leeway in their first senior game, where the lights are bright and the eyes are fixed on your every move.
So what does that mean for an Irishman playing just his second competitive match, and first official game, of Australian football?
Well that was the case for rookie Bomber Cian McBride, who surprised many with his composure in last week’s unofficial practice match against Melbourne and backed it up sensationally against West Coast.
The exciting 18-year-old prospect – who stands nearly two metres tall and tested through the roof at last year’s NAB AFL Draft Combine – was sure in defence and competed doggedly, drawing Jordan’s praise.
“It was a pretty tough ask of a kid coming in and I think he matched up on (Eagles forward Josh) Kennedy a couple of times.
“I thought he played his role well; he defended hard, he put his body on the line, he backed into some packs and positioned himself well, so he seems to have picked up the game pretty well moving forward.”
Jordan also lauded new key forward Harry Jones, who worked tirelessly to earn his first official goal in the red and black.
“Young Jones covers the ground really, really well. He’s obviously light, but it’s unique to have someone of that height who can cover the ground (like he does).
“He’ll keep working on his strength and his body shape, and for him to get a taste and kick a goal there at the end is brilliant for him and will drive him forward hopefully to a long career.”