One of the biggest matches on the AFL calendar is just around the corner. Richmond and Essendon will square off in the 15th edition of the Dreamtime at the ‘G this Saturday night.
Despite injuries to key players including Alex Rance, Jack Riewoldt, Toby Nankervis and captain Trent Cotchin, the Tigers continue to go on their merry way, sitting fifth on the ladder with six wins and three losses.
After being upset by the Western Bulldogs in Round 7, Damien Hardwick’s side has hit back in the past fortnight, defeating Fremantle on the road and then Hawthorn by six goals at the MCG last weekend.
Prior to that, they’d beaten Carlton, Port Adelaide, the Sydney Swans and Melbourne while they dropped the points in consecutive matches against Collingwood and the GWS Giants in Rounds 2 and 3, respectively.
Dustin Martin returned to top form against the Hawks on Sunday, racking up 37 disposals – his most in a match since Round 17 in 2017. Unfortunately, he is ineligible for this year’s Brownlow Medal after being suspended for striking the GWS Giants’ Adam Kennedy in Round 3.
Teenage sensation Sydney Stack has also proven to be a revelation for the club after making his debut against the Giants in April, though he had a quiet outing against the Hawks.
In the meantime, the Bombers ended a run of three straight losses, the last of them a controversial post-siren defeat against the Sydney Swans at the SCG, by defeating Fremantle by seven points at Marvel Stadium last Saturday night.
Boom recruit Dylan Shiel finally showed his worth to the club, kicking two goals – his first in the black and red – in the win.
This followed the fierce criticism he copped following an underwhelming club debut against his old club, the GWS Giants, in Round 1, where Essendon lost by 72 points and were subsequently riled in the media after such a massive pre-season.
Their chances of qualifying for September this season has taken a massive hit, with reigning best-and-fairest Devon Smith to sit out the remainder of the season after opting to undergo knee surgery.
Recent history is against John Worsfold’s side, which has not won in this fixture (four straight losses), nor beaten the Tigers anywhere (eight straight losses), since Round 11, 2014, when it won by fifty points.
And their patchy form so far this season (they sit tenth on the ladder with four wins and five losses) does little to suggest that they will end their hoodoo against their sash rivals in what will be their only meeting for the 2019 season.
The corresponding match last year saw the Tigers romp to an embarrassingly easy 71-point win, which is the largest winning margin by either side since the Dreamtime at the ‘G was first launched as a daytime match in 2005.
The Bombers’ score of 6.7 (43) was also the lowest by any side in the fixture.
However, they were much more competitive when the teams met in the penultimate round of last season, losing by just eight points; a result which killed off their chances of qualifying for consecutive finals series for the first time since 2003-04.
Preceding the match will be the annual Long Walk, an initiative of Essendon legend Michael Long, in which fans march from Federation Square to the MCG as the clock ticks towards the first bounce.
While you wouldn’t say that the Bombers’ backs are against the wall, it remains to be seen whether they can take it up to a Richmond side which, despite a mounting injury toll, continues to impress in 2019.