Jordan Ridley celebrates during the round 11 match between Richmond and Essendon at the MCG, May 25, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

SATURDAY night marked the first time Essendon recruit Ben McKay and defensive partner Jordan Ridley played together, and it demonstrated how potent the pair could be.

Ridley – who won the Yiooken Trophy in Essendon's 12-point win over Richmond – has missed nearly the full first half of the season with quad issues, but returned with a 31-disposal, 14-intercept game, the addition of McKay in a lockdown role allowing him greater freedom.

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"He's been ready for a couple of weeks, but the way he played tonight, you can see why we wanted to make sure that he's absolutely right. We probably reverse-engineered it a little bit and even when he was right – if we brought him back and he got hurt, I'd never forgive myself," Essendon coach Brad Scott said.

"You take the medical advice, but they cleared him to play, and I made him wait another two weeks (in the VFL). There are very few players who can have a long lay off and just look like they haven't missed a beat, and he's one of those.


"It was a key part of bringing Ben in, that it would solidify our defence and give us different options. Outside of tonight, they've only played half a practice game together. Zach Reid's another one who is edging closer (hamstring injury). He's available, really, but we've just got to be really careful in terms of his return to play.

"I thought (Jayden) Laverde was fantastic tonight for us as well. Our backline has been functioning pretty well, McKay has been part of that, and Ridley just adds to that."

Essendon fielded debutant Nate Caddy – the final of last year's top-10 draft picks to play his first game after a pre-season back issue – and the forward showed a few nice signs.


But the Bombers will be in for a forward-line selection crunch once Harry Jones returns from suspension next week.

"It's a general statement, but I just thought he looked like an AFL player," Scott said.

"You have guys come in and maybe get overawed. Dreamtime at the 'G, it's a big debut – he said to the players afterwards, the bar's been set pretty high, it's a big gap from VFL footy to Dreamtime at the 'G. But I just love his competitiveness, I love his athleticism, he just looks like an AFL player and we're rapt to finally see him at the level.


"I don't know what the answer is (regarding selection), but I hope we have that problem. The same with Zach Reid back, Sam Draper in the ruck, they're really good problems to have, and problems we didn't have last year."

Scott said Nik Cox had hamstring awareness – joking he himself never had "awareness" in his playing days, he'd just fully tear the muscle – and would require scans to determine the full extent of the issue.


Richmond coach Adem Yze coached from the bench, saying it was an attempt to keep his players' spirits up, focused on the task at hand and not dropping their heads when things went awry.

"I feel like our supporters would have been proud of the effort, that's what we expect every week. But part of that is there's an honesty around the way we review the game, and there's still elements of our game (where) we're not good enough," Yze said.


"The main thing was around our spirit and energy and doing our jumper proud, and we expect to do that every week. That's the standard we want, it was a great game of footy, credit to Essendon, their execution was very, very good in the (dewy) conditions.

"We still gave them too many goals from our back-end, things we can control. We'll look at that honestly again, train it, hopefully get better and don't do it against Geelong."

Yze brought Samson Ryan into the forward line, swinging Noah Balta back to defence for the first time this season.

Nate Caddy and Noah Balta during the round 11 match between Richmond and Essendon at the MCG, May 25, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

"I wish we had two of him. I just feel like he's a terrific threat forward of the ball, he's a powerful athlete, they're hard to find, good forwards. Obviously when [Tom Lynch] was out earlier in the season, we thought that combination could be really potent, with Josh Gibcus (also) going down," Yze said.

"We just didn't look stable down back. He's a big presence, he's a good leader around our footy club, and we just wanted to try something different.

"He was solid down back, and there was a discussion about whether we threw him forward during the last half as well, so credit to him, he's such an important player for us, and he worked his way into the game nicely again."