Tom Liberatore celebrates kicking a goal during the match between the Western Bulldogs and Gold Coast at Mars Stadium in round two, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

IF ESSENDON is to get over the line against the Western Bulldogs on Friday night, it'll have to defy both recent history and limit the influence of one particular player.

Not skipper Marcus Bontempelli, but spiritual leader Tom Liberatore, who has once again tapped into the rich vein of form which rocketed him to the All-Australian squad last year, unlucky to miss out on the final side.

Liberatore feasted against a young Geelong midfield, claiming nine coaches votes after recording a whopping 19 clearances, a club record.

It's the equal second highest tally on record by Champion Data – tied with Brent Moloney (2011) and Patrick Cripps (2019) – and falling just shy of Matt Rowell's 20 against Richmond in Opening Round this year.

The 31-year-old had 35 disposals, 10 score involvements and nine tackles, and despite those impressive numbers, it was the split between contested and uncontested possessions that caught the eye, fighting his way through stoppage after stoppage to record 28, the fourth highest on record.

"We're hoping (he'll continue to play at this level) for a while," coach Luke Beveridge said.

Tom Liberatore lays a tackle for the Western Bulldogs against Geelong in R4, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"It was announced (last week) Tom's clocked on for another year, post this year, and what'd he have, 19 clearances or something?

"He enters the octagon, and he just fights tooth and nail for the club, for his teammates. Another great example of it (against the Cats). Hopefully, it's a long time to come, but we'll wait and see."

The heart-and-soul midfielder is averaging 26.3 disposals and 10 clearances this year, comparable to his career-best numbers of 27.3 and eight last season.

"It's as good a game as you'll see all year. For a genuine midfielder, this is extraordinary numbers. He did absolutely everything and when they were challenged, he was the one who kept them in it," Port Adelaide great Kane Cornes said on's The Round So Far.

"Just such a well-rounded game, defensively and offensively. Kicked a goal from a stoppage, a crucial one (closed the margin to three points at the start of the third).

"He's enormous, and he's been doing this for so long. He really has, I'm glad, got the recognition he deserves over the last three or four years."


The Western Bulldogs well and truly have the wood over Essendon, having lost only one game to the Bombers since Luke Beveridge took over as coach in 2015.

They've been emphatic wins, too, with an average victory margin of 49.6.

The sole loss was a 13-point defeat in round 21, 2021, a game which saw the currently-suspended Peter Wright boot a bag of seven goals. The Dogs turned the tables in the elimination final three weeks later.

Liberatore also has a decent personal record against Essendon, averaging 24.5 disposals and 6.8 clearances from his 12 matches against the Bombers. 

He has polled six Brownlow votes when playing Essendon, his equal highest tally against an individual side, and generally only puts up better combined average disposal and goal numbers against Geelong and Melbourne.