Thompson 1, Scott 0
Essendon needs to be a Hird-free zone for a little while. The Bombers can do without their suspended coach James quite nicely, not to mention the intervention of his wife Tania last week.
They are a team that screams out to move on, shut out the recent past. And ‘Bomber’ Thompson is a better coach than Hird anyway, with two flags to show for it.
The Dons marked the remarkable Dustin Fletcher’s games record by ruining North Melbourne’s start to the 2014 season. Notably, the Sherrin followed Jobe Watson, whom the Kangaroos chose not to tag. Instead Brad Scott had a rotation headed by Jack Ziebell and Ryan Bastinac on Watson, who is a master accumulator. Granted, he is hard to tag. But the alternative’s not easily palatable either.
Thompson has the Bombers playing a Hawthorn-style possession game, which they managed beautifully (unlike Melbourne under Paul Roos, which botched it on Saturday). Essendon can contend, so long as ASADA does not intervene with infraction notices over Stephen Dank’s conditioning program of 2012.
If that happens, James Hird might be spending a whole lot more time in France.
The Subiaco Fortress is back. We know that Fremantle is nigh unbeatable at Subiaco under Ross Lyon, and now West Coast looks ominous there, just as they did in the 1990s.
There have been whispers coming out of Perth about an improved Eagles under Adam Simpson; their obliteration of the Western Bulldogs in the last game of round one was the evidence.
Simpson deployed a forest of oaks up forward, sending his two ruckmen Nic Naitanui and Dean Cox to the goal square at times alongside Jack Darling, Josh Kennedy and the two-metre Callum Sinclair. While it has the potential to backfire, it is bound to unsettle some teams at the selection table, for it is unique in the game.
It was 33 degrees at Subiaco when the players ran on the ground, but that was nothing by comparison with the heat that West Coast brought in terms of pressure on their opponents. It was a new look and the Eagles, too, seem likely to push deep into the top eight now that the likes of Mark LeCras (five goals) are back and fit.
As for the Bulldogs, they fluffed their lines, but the return of Ryan Griffen will help, as well as some calm reflection that acknowledges there are 21 games to go.
Roo Boy’s rise
It’s an even competition, we’re told. The most even for years.
Well that’s bunk. It may well be even at the top end, with a lot of top-eight chances, but there is a B Grade group and this was in evidence at the Docklands on Saturday night when Melbourne and St Kilda thrashed each other with lettuce leaves.
Nick Riewoldt was the difference in the game, an octave above everyone in the ramshackle choir.
At 31, he does not appear to have declined much at all and the youth of the Saints have invigorated the skipper; his comment that it was one of his most enjoyable wins ever is instructive.
But it was a dreadful game, so much so that the crowd cheered mockingly late in the game as St Kilda’s Beau Maister led up and a teammate actually hit him with a pass.
For Melbourne, the Paul Roos era began with a slipshod defeat marred by turnovers that were punished, and poor conversion. The game plan has not yet grafted on.
Roos will be superb for the Demons, but here is the supreme irony. In leaving a hobbled Tom McDonald on Riewoldt for too long after he corked his thigh when he had James Frawley available as an option, Roos might well have cost Melbourne the game. By the time the move was made, Riewoldt had sung his song to a standing ovation.
Both teams will get better, since Melbourne scarcely had a tall forward and St Kilda was missing key midfielders. But they will take some fearful hidings in 2014 as they try to reconstitute bad playing lists.
As you were
The constants are Hawthorn and Geelong, which cobbled together impressive wins over Brisbane Lions and Adelaide. The Lions pushed the Hawks longer than most expected in Launceston, but Adelaide remains vastly under-strength because of injuries.
The Hawks just keep on keeping on, with coach Al Clarkson saying he wants to build a stockpile of quality players as the club did in the 1980s, before the draft.
Season starts now
The split round to open the season has been universally canned by the public and media. But Richmond and Carlton at the MCG on Thursday night has a more familiar ring to it, and there are other games with promise (Hawthorn v Essendon, Sydney v Collingwood, the Adelaide derby). Perhaps a week on, we can all feel like the season has truly clicked in.
Martin Blake can be heard on ABC Grandstand football and SEN.