Essendon are now coming to understand clearly what it is Ben Rutten wants of them. Which way it is that Blake Caracella wants them moving the ball.
And all the while John Worsfold smiles and offers calm reassurance to players and young coaches alike that they are doing the right thing.
Caracella likes the ball to move forward. That sounds obvious unless you watch a game of football and discover how few teams do it. But theirs is not a territory-for-territory’s-sake game for they try to keep possession rather than kicking to contests or to space as Richmond might.
Essendon have challenged an orthodoxy of thinking in football to load up forward of the ball with the most creative players. Instead, they load up behind the ball.
Last week they shifted Orazio Fantasia to a half-back flank and he remained there against North.
The reason being firstly that Fantasia was not doing much as a forward so they wanted to get him into the play. But there was also a sense of wanting to better utilise his creativity in an area of the ground where the play is constructed rather than finished.
When the game is coached to make it impossible for the opposition to move the ball from one end of the ground to the other it makes sense to put your most creative minds – and feet – in places to pick a way through.
Essendon now have Adam Saad, Conor McKenna and Fantasia as running players and the impact of Jordan Ridley cannot be underestimated. He has been exceptional this year and is one of the most improved players in the competition, not just his club. He leads the Dons for intercept marks.
The move to replace Tom Bellchambers with Andrew Phillips has so far worked. Phillips has done well against two of the best ruckmen in the competition in Brodie Grundy and Todd Goldstein.
David Zaharakis had struggled in recent weeks but on Saturday night was able to find space. This was as much a comment on North’s laxity as Essendon’s craftiness but the impact was nevertheless the same for Zaharakis when he finds space is a damaging player. Andy McGrath has matured to be able to permanently shift on ball and Darcy Parish has maintained his form.
Essendon found ways to score even when Joe Daniher was not there, when Jake Stringer was out and Fantasia had moved back. Jacob Townsend continued to do what he does and Kyle Langford played a bit of a Stringer role moving from midfield to forward.
The Bombers are yet to be brilliant, but they are building towards it.
Within a single game of football Matt Rowell became the best new player to come into the competition. By game four he was variously ready to win not just the Rising Star but a Brownlow as well while possibly join the Hall of Fame before turning 20.
But with his first touch of the football his teammate Izak Rankine became the most watchable player in the AFL.
Comparisons are odious, but odious we are for compare we will. Seeing him on Saturday night was like catching a first glimpse of Peter Daicos or Cyril Rioli in a game of football.
His three goals were all brilliant in different ways. They revealed his utter self-assurance and understanding of possibilities.
He does not just do things other players do not, he sees things other players do not. He has a step and lightness of his feet that wrong-foots an opponent and brings him into unexpected space.
It means he reshapes the flow of games. Rankine alters the course of expectations of what will happen next.
Let’s do the bump
When Shaun Burgoyne slung Patrick Dangerfield into the ground the AFL felt the penalty insufficient and rewrote the rules.
It was the action not the outcome that was important, they said.
It didn’t matter if a player was injured or not, the potential to cause injury was the most important guiding principle so a new baseline was set of a one-week ban for the action, scaled upwards if there was an injury.
After a sudden spate of head-high bumps on the weekend the AFL should be troubled.
The potential for serious injury provision must apply as equally to a bump as a tackle for it must be the action not the outcome that decides the minimum penalty.
The AFL said they will look at Luke McDonald putting his hands over his mouth to Conor McKenna. They should look at it. Then they should smile and say ‘‘idiot’’. Or ‘‘that’s funny’’.
And then they should move on to the next issue – like working out the rest of the fixture or what the salary cap will be next year and how many players will be on a list.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.