Essendon has a midfield conundrum, having consistently done poorly in contested possessions and clearances for several years.
Despite that, they’re not playing their best midfield in position, insisting that Darcy Parish plays a hybrid role.
The match over the weekend was emblematic of that – playing as a forward midfielder, Parish had four possessions to three-quarter time. In the last quarter, he was immense, gathering 13 disposals, two clearances, a tackle, and the sealing goal.
This shows his abilities at the coalface, and is therefore an indictment on Essendon’s insistence on playing him in that hybrid position.
With the shortened quarters, explosive players of Parish’s ilk win more of the ball to feed it out to speedy wingmen and half backs. The Bombers should insist on Parish becoming a stronger inside player.
In 2018, when the Dons primarily played Parish in that hybrid role, he recorded his lowest total for games and looked to have stunted in his growth as a player. He simply isn’t a half-forward player, and playing on the half-forward flank is one of the toughest positions in football.
Parish showed no progress, when a third-year player should be drastically improving. Thankfully he was returned to his preferred position for the 2019 season, where his improved tank and running capacity were several orders of magnitude better than that of Jake Stringer and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.
But on Sunday, Essendon reverted to playing Parish on the half-forward flank and he struggled with the smaller confines of the SCG. Thankfully, the dominance Essendon remained dominant in the contest but as the day wore on, and the players grew increasingly tired, so did the Swans’ ability to win the ball at the and clear it forward.
That was until Parish started clearing the ball with preternatural abilities and gut running.
While he may not be the biggest midfielder, he can work the ball out of the midfield, leading clearances among first-year players in 2016. What’s more, he has an elite ability to get the ball on the ground and move it forward, averaging 8.8 ground-ball gets across his career.
If Essendon is to mimic Richmond’s aggressive gameplan, they require faith in their group to play the positions they were drafted for.
Parish is a clearance specialist. That has been lost in the recent pick-ups of Dylan Shiel and Andy McGrath, both of whom are supremely talented in their own right, which has come at the cost of midfield time for one of Essendon’s rising stars.
Rectifying this mistake will lead the club to the finals this year.