Clarke shines for Bombers in second game

2019 AFL New Zealand Heritage team member Dylan Clarke had a game to remember against Carlton over the weekend.


Clarke’s phone lit up with a text message on Friday night from Essendon assistant coach James Kelly.

“Do you want to start on Cripps this week?”

Clarke, who was back in the Bombers line-up for the first time in more than a year and for only his second AFL game, was up for the challenge.

“I said ‘Absolutely, I’d love it’,” Clarke told after Essendon’s 41-point win over Carlton on Sunday.

The 20 year old was a big part of the result. Playing on Carlton co-captain and midfield gun Patrick Cripps, Clarke held the Brownlow Medal fancy to just 11 disposals.

Cripps had no influence on the game in what was his lowest possession tally since late in 2017, while Clarke gathered 23 disposals and laid 10 tackles in a tight-checking role that saw him also have an influence with the ball.

Clarke says he wasn’t daunted by the task, having received help from an injured teammate to prepare for Cripps.

“Jake Stringer helped me a fair bit on Saturday with how to use my body. He’s usually on the opposition’s best midfielders at the centre bounces, so he spoke to me about where to hit and when to hold space,” he said.

“I got a lot of help from the boys in terms of giving him a whack every time he runs past. Kyle Langford was really good at that. I watched some vision throughout the week of some other players who had done well.

“You have to go out with a level of confidence that you’re at a level where you can match it with anyone. That’s what our team brings and on an individual level that’s what I wanted to bring as well.”

Clarke has had to earn his opportunity at senior level.

Last week’s hamstring injuries to Dylan Shiel and Stringer opened spots for him, and with strong form at VFL level under his belt, Clarke was given his chance by coach John Worsfold.

Clarke, whose older brother Ryan was traded from North Melbourne to Sydney last year, admits there had been some frustration at not getting selected until the round 11 clash but that feedback had been consistent.

“‘Woosha’ is pretty good in terms of just being honest. Obviously, we’ve got a good core of midfielders in the senior team but he said ‘If something happens at least you’re not coming in in a rush, you’ve got the form and we’re happy to pick you’,” Clarke said.

“‘Shiely’ and ‘String’ did their hamstrings and I was coming off a few good weeks so got picked.

“I only got the one game last year so I definitely want to build on that and play in this team as long as I can.”

Worsfold said Clarke had been developed in the ‘run-with’ role at VFL level, and has also been tagged himself there.

“Dyl’s role was specifically at stoppages to be tight on Cripps, make it hard for him and affect his disposal if you can,” he said.

“We know Cripps is maybe the best in the competition at [getting] the first possession and clearances, and maybe the [wet] conditions helped a little bit.

“But Dyl did everything we asked him to do and didn’t get too bogged down on chasing him, he still played his role for us.”