Footy Fix: Bont’s masterclass proves he’s still footy’s #1 – here’s why it was even more remarkable than you thought


No player in the AFL is more of a victim of their own reputation than Marcus Bontempelli.

By just about every measure, the Western Bulldogs skipper’s season 2024 has been among the best in the business – rated elite for score involvements, goal assists and goals and well above average for inside 50s, all while sitting top-10 for tackles and pressure acts as well.

And yet because it hasn’t been quite as eye-catchingly spectacular as what he managed in 2023, plenty of mid-season All-Australian teams beginning to pop up have the champion number 4 absent from them. Ditto lists of the season’s best players.

Hopefully the Bont’s mind-bendingly good display to will the Bulldogs over the line against the reigning premiers on Friday night puts some overdue respect on his season. Because having watched about 99 per cent of his 228 games live and in their entirety, I can safely say that few if any were better or more impactful than this one.

The stats only tell part of the story – but they’re off the charts. A career-best 38 disposals – including 14 in the last quarter with the game up for grabs. Eight score involvements. Ten clearances, five of them in the last term. Two goals – and again, one of them in the final term having busted a gut to sprint forward to be in the right spot to completely outpoint young Magpie Will Parker and extend the Dogs’ lead to seven points.

When the going was at its toughest in that last quarter, one man strapped his team to his shoulders and won them the game. And as unbelievable as Nick Daicos was for three quarters, there’s no doubt who will be walking away with the three Brownlow Medal votes.

Bont in the 4th:
14 touches (1st)
6 contested (2nd)
5 clearances (1st)
2 centre clearances (1st)
4 tackles (2nd)
1 goal (equal 1st) #AFLPiesDogs

— Marcus Bontempelli Appreciation (@JustBontThings) May 31, 2024

But that’s only part of the story: it doesn’t tell that Bontempelli, having played as a permanent midfielder all evening, played 100 per cent of the last quarter with his team a player down on the bench and struggling with rotations, his obvious exhaustion at every break in play doing nothing to diminish his involvement in the Dogs’ stirring five goals to nil rush.

And it wasn’t as if he was spending the bulk of the term forward: this was pure stamina. And considering how Luke Beveridge has copped regular criticism for finding his best player off the ground at crucial moments in tight games over the years, it felt self-driven, as if Bontempelli simply refused to leave the field until a vital four premiership points were secured.

One intercept possession for the evening according to Champion Data also can’t be right, either – I’ve never seen a player pick off so many handballs from the opposition in one night.

Most crucial of all is the one below: Bontempelli not only perfectly read the Harvey Harrison handpass, but timed his move towards the ball perfectly to grab it at just the right moment to ride the oncoming tackle from Jack Crisp, handball over the top to the free Bailey Dale, and set up a Dogs forward foray that ended in a Sam Darcy mark.

Time it wrong, and Nick Daicos gets the footy: get it really wrong, and he could even be goalside. Most footballers’ version of getting it right in this case would have been to force a draw and take the Crisp tackle, not immediately go into creative moment and launch a scoring opportunity.

He’s far from just a ball-hunter, either, which is where he distinguishes himself further from players like Daicos and Christian Petracca, who, while sensational footballers, have their teams structure up to allow them to focus near-solely on being effective attacking weapons.

It was Bontempelli who, after watching Daicos treat a tag from young Harvey Gallagher with disdain in the first term to win six clearances by quarter time, moved to consistently block the star Magpie at stoppages for the rest of the match, placing his imposing frame in between Daicos and the contest to at least ensure he couldn’t hit the perfect spot with his usual blistering speed and burst away.

Daicos still continued to rack up the clearances – 16 for the game is quite ridiculous – and the Pies and in particular Jack Crisp did their best to stop Bontempelli’s tactic, but where in the first term he was speeding away and lacing out forwards, contributing heavily to the Pies’ whopping nine marks inside 50 to quarter time, the Dogs, thanks to the Bont, were able to minimise their damage from there on out.

This is a player who quite literally does it all: a goalkicking midfielder who is among the best in the business at every defensive metric you could care to name. Nobody’s idea of a speed demon, he somehow always pops up on the field wherever he’s needed, whether it’s desperately spoiling a certain opposition mark in defensive 50, to finding himself in the goalsquare for a key major at a big flashpoint.

The Bont with a huge captain’s goal!

???? Watch #AFLPiesDogs on ch. 504 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) May 31, 2024

For all the talk of the Magpies’ hefty injury list, the Dogs had big names out as well: with Ed Richards, Tom Liberatore and Bailey Smith on the sidelines, this was a midfield stretched thin in terms of star power, an unusual position for the Bulldogs in recent years.

But such is the value of Bontempelli. The man who kicks goals like Petracca, sets them up like Errol Gulden, wins the hard ball like Patrick Cripps, tackles like Matt Rowell, owns the big moments like Dustin Martin, and leads like… well, like Marcus Bontempelli.

Nick Daicos threatened to take the crown off him, but by the final siren there was no doubt who remains the premier player in the AFL.

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If it’s not the best game of season 2024, it’s damn close – and for a player whose bar has been as high as anyone’s in modern footy, there have been few finer hours.

That says a hell of a lot.

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