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GIANT HEADACHE by Whispering Jack



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The crack in the captain’s ankle might be very small but the repercussions of the injury are enormous. The aftershock of the news that Max Gawn will sit on the sidelines for the next two or three weeks has provided Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin with a giant headache, not unlike the one he faced after the Kings Birthday when another Demon superstar Christian Petracca suffered his season-ending injury.

That headache is magnified by the fact that Goodwin is facing a month of tough encounters against other finals contenders at a time when his team’s fate hangs in the balance. 

First cab off the rank is Essendon which few would have predicted would be sitting inside the top four at this stage in proceedings after such an abysmal end to its 2023 campaign. 

This year, the Bombers’ favourable draw and some narrow wins against lowly sides have them in the top four with a percentage below 100. However, with a number of players in career best form, they present problems for Goodwin and his team. 

Notable among them is Bomber skipper, Zach Merrett who has been the catalyst for the Bomber revival, but he hasn’t been alone among a playing list that spells danger for the Demons. Their defence has tightened up and is stronger with the return of Ridley who joins Ben McKay in career-best form. 

They have a bevy of players like Jye Caldwell, Nic Martin, Sam Durham, Jake Stringer and Dylan Shiel who are standing up to be counted. Last week Merrett and Caldwell each notched up 30 disposals to throttle Collingwood's premiership midfield. Their influence must be curtailed. Then there are their talls like ruckman Sam Draper who has managed to avoid a direct confrontation with Gawny for the second time in as many years. Two Metre Peter will also stretch the Demons’ defence.

Which brings us back to Melbourne’s giant ruck headache, exacerbated when the club agreed to part company with Brodie Grundy at the end of last year. The club chose Brisbane’s 200cm Tom Fullarton to replace the former Magpie, but he is designated on the club’s website as a “key forward” and hasn’t played an AFL game since the 2022 semi final against Melbourne when he managed just four hit outs. 

As the club’s General Manager of AFL Football Performance Alan Richardson said during the week:

"While Max is the calibre of player that can't be replaced easily, it provides an exciting opportunity for others to come in and play their role in our side."

It remains to be seen what rabbit the Demon selectors pull out of their hat but that has been the story of their season so far.

Just as the loss through the premature retirement of Angus Brayshaw, the well documented off-season problems of Clayton Oliver and the seemingly never-ending investigation into Joel Smith have all caused grief, the club has soldiered on without complaint. 

The coach moves players around like chess pieces, changes tactics and strategies, and all the while he manages to keep the club’s finals prospects alive as it moves deeper into the season. 

Each turn of an unfriendly card presents a challenge that must be confronted.  The mother of invention has caused a major upheaval at Melbourne during 2024. The previously rock solid midfield foundation stone of Petracca, Oliver, Viney and Brayshaw has been split. That midfield no longer dominates the clearances at the feet of Gawn as it did in the past when it overwhelmed the opposition with offensive momentum smashing the inside fifty count.

We now have something different; the excitement of new, young faces and names making their mark over all parts of the ground, a mix that might not make them immediate flag contenders but they’re always a chance to win on any given day. Trent Rivers in the middle is one example of change, Jacob van Rooyen up forward and pinch hitting in the ruck another and Judd McVee down back a third … and then there’s Caleb Windsor and there’s more.

As some might despair the absence for a few weeks of a six time All Australian heading for a seventh, one or more of the personnel within the team are expected to step up and help repay Gawn for his outstanding contribution as captain over 100 games. The three aspects of his absence that demand attention are leadership, ruck craft and marking, especially down back where Gawn would drop in to intercept when the key defenders needed a chop out. 

Suffice to say on the leadership score, there’s captain Jack Viney standing at the ready with Steven May, Jake Lever and a rejuvenated Tom McDonald down back and how timely is Jake Melksham’s return to the forward line after his ACL injury to add experience in the air, on the ground and around the goals?

The merchants of gloom and doom have short memories. Last year, when the teams met in Adelaide, the Bombers were rank outsiders but they approached the game with ferocity and intent against a complacent opponent and they surprised with a win. The Demons have upped their intensity over recent weeks and that mix of youthful enthusiasm together with their list of experienced big game players can be infectious and promote winning momentum.

I think it will be just enough to surprise the Bombers by a small margin, say four points. This would honour the current wearer of the club’s #11 guernsey in a game to support the Reach Foundation co-founded by its previous owner, the late, great Jim Stynes.

THE GAME

Melbourne v Essendon at the MCG Saturday 13 July 2024 at 7.30pm

HEAD TO HEAD

Overall Melbourne 86 wins Essendon 131 wins 2 draws
At the MCG Melbourne 48 wins Essendon 67 wins 1 draw
The last five meetings Melbourne 3 wins Essendon 2 wins
The Coaches Goodwin 0 wins Scott 1 win

THE LAST TIME THEY MET

Essendon 15.14.104 defeated Melbourne 11.11.77 at the Adelaide Oval Round 6, 2023

In a shock result, Essendon dominated the Melbourne on a wet Adelaide day in the inaugural Gather Round. The Bombers’ big men took advantage of Max Gawn’s absence in a game where things were not helped by the absence defence of Jake Lever and the late withdrawal of Ben Brown in attack. They maintained the pressure all day and it was quite an achievement to exceed 100 points in the wet and woolly conditions.

THE TEAMS 

MELBOURNE

B T. McDonald, S. May, J. McVee 
HB T. Rivers, J. Lever, J. Bowey 
C E. Langdon, C. Oliver, A. Neal-Bullen 
HF K. Pickett, J. van Rooyen, T. Sparrow 
F K. Chandler, B. Fritsch, J. Melksham 
FOLL H. Petty, J. Viney, C. Salem
I/C A. Moniz-Wakefield, K. Tholstrup, D. Turner, C. Windsor SUB T. Woewodin
EMG T. Fullarton, B. Laurie, A. Tomlinson

IN H. Petty

OUT M. Gawn (ankle)

ESSENDON

B J. Ridley, B. McKay, D. Heppell 
HB N. Martin, M. Redman, A. McGrath 
C X. Duursma, S. Durham, A. Perkins 
HF M. Guelfi, H. Jones, N. Caddy 
F J. Stringer, P. Wright, K. Langford 
FOLL S. Draper, J. Caldwell, Z. Merrett 
I/C N. Cox, J. Gresham, J. Kelly, D. Shiel SUB N. Hind
EMG T. Goldstein, J. Laverde, W. Setterfield

IN D. Heppell 

OUT J. Laverde (omitted)

Injury List: Round 18 

Ben Brown — knee / test
Harrison Petty — hamstring / test
Max Gawn — ankle / 2 - 3 weeks
Charlie Spargo — Achilles / TBC
Christian Petracca — ribs, spleen, appendix / indefinite

PreviewRd182024.png

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Good on you Whispering Jack in the positive spirit of Binman lets bloody go for it I say 

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Just a reminder about the Reach Foundation:

"Everyone go to reach.org.au, donate $11 just to keep Jim's legacy alive, and keep us working with between 40,000 and 50,000 young people every year, developing them into a stronger mental position to tackle life."

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