PAUL ROOS – HERALD SUN

Dreamtime at the MCG has become one of the highlights of the AFL calendar and pays respect to those that have contributed so greatly to our game.

To reflect on the contributions of the indigenous culture on our national game is inspiring.   I was fortunate to run into Nicky Winmar and Gilbert McAdam earlier this week and the memories of that day have surely come rushing back for us all.

Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin are not only two of the best footballers I’ve ever seen but two of the finest people I have ever met.

We enjoyed many a discussion on football and on life and they gave me a great insight into their culture.

Tonight could arguably be the biggest of the dreamtime games given the stakes and the aspirations for the Bombers and Tigers.

Both teams are clearly aiming for a top eight finish and at the end of the year this game could possibly be seen as the decider.

In many areas of the game both sides are very similar.  Statistically, they sit closely in many categories.

Offensively, they move the ball particularly well as they are number 1 and 4 in effective kicks.  Their mode of ball movement is genuinely short by foot as they are 1 and 3 in this category.

Both teams will be looking to take the time and space away from their opponents as any defensive lapses will be punished.  They both have the ability to slice their opposition with short, sharp, and accurate passes.

Their defensive mechanisms vary slightly.  Richmond has taken 126 intercept marks this season, the second most of any side.

They generally try to read the ball from opposition kicks in order to get the ball back into their hands.

Essendon however will try to win the ball back immediately and this is where I believe at their best the Bombers have a distinct advantage.

The Bombers have a greater commitment to immediately switch to defence mode as illustrated by the glaring discrepancy in tackles.  The Bombers are fourth in tackles averaging almost 66 per game, the Tigers are 17th averaging 49 tackles per game.

The Bombers rank #1 for time in forward half differential this season at plus 7 minutes 31 seconds per game.

Statistics certainly won’t determine the outcome of the game as mindset cannot be judged by numbers.

Although statistically the Bombers appear to have a far greater ability to shutdown the Tigers ball movement.  They will jump all over the Tigers when they win the ball and they will try to force an immediate turnover, something they have been extremely good at this year.

Essendon has scored 78 points per game from opposition turnovers this season, the most of any side.

The Tigers must address their tackle numbers in order to beat the better sides as you can’t rely on good teams turning the ball over by foot.

There is no question there has been significant improvement in the Tigers this year.  But they cannot give the Essendon players time and space at the MCG tonight.

I believe if both teams play at their best, the Bombers will win.  But as we saw last week against the Lions the Bombers are well below their peak.

Only those in the inner sanctum of the Essendon football club will understand the toll that the past few months has taken on the club.  It does appear that the recent player interviews with Asada have sapped them of energy and spark.  They are nowhere near the team that smashed Collingwood earlier in the season.

I suspect the distraction of the investigation will be put aside tonight and the players can hopefully focus on the game.  This is a critical game to see just how far the Tigers have come.

Equally, the football world will be watching to see if the Bombers, like the teams of yesteryear, can respond in their biggest game of the season.

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