First published in The Age on April 26, 2009
Bombers come from the clouds
THERE have been a few times in recent years that Anzac Day has been, as football legend John Kennedy once said of a state-of-origin rugby league game played at the same ground, a case of “nice sizzle, shame about the sausage”.
David Zaharakis with teammates celebrate after his match winning goal.Credit:Pat Scala
They won’t be saying that of the 2009 version years from now. Yesterday’s Essendon-Collingwood blockbuster was a true epic, an absolute clinker of a game full of individual heroics, that swung this way and that until a Bomber youngster in just his fourth game of AFL football delivered the killer blow with just five seconds left on the clock.
It was a game in which there could have been several turning points, but ultimately were none, balancing on a knife’s edge for its entirety, even right at the death when it appeared Collingwood had ground its way to victory.
In fact, the match-shaping moments started coming as early as the two-and-a-half minute mark, when Essendon ruckman David Hille landed awkwardly on his left leg, limping straight from the ground, perhaps not to return at all this season. Then, while he was limping off, Collingwood swept the ball to the other end, where Anthony Rocca marked in the goal square.
For the Bombers, that was about as unfavourable as symbolism gets. The reality wouldn’t improve on that much immediately, either, after first-gamer Brent Macaffer had made it two goals to nothing.
Essendon began to open up and run, but for a while, couldn’t hit the side of a barn. Angus Monfries hit the post from 25 metres out, then missed with a snap. David Myer’s mongrel punt was touched on the line, then he missed again, too. Matthew Lloyd sent a banana kick well wide and it was 0.5 in a little over five minutes, Scott Lucas compounding the woes by failing to hold a single mark in the seven times during the first term his teammates tried to find him on a lead.
Zaharakis kicks ‘that’ goal on Anzac Day 2009. Credit:Pat Scala
The positive was that the Bombers were at least getting their hands on the ball. And eventually, Jason Winderlich managed to split the middle of the goals, Paul Medhurst and Travis Cloke having made easier work of the Magpies’ forward forays.
At 4.2 to 1.5, the story might have been writ, but Essendon kept surging through the middle, its plethora of runners epitomised by the second terms of Brent Stanton and the much-maligned Ricky Dyson, a late replacement for Mark McVeigh. The goals started coming. To Andrew Lovett. To Sam Lonergan. And to Adam McPhee, the latter of which put Essendon in front for the first time.
McPhee was performing a manful defensive job on Cloke, Dustin Fletcher stayed solid on Rocca. But for the Bombers, an even bigger hero was emerging.
Paddy Ryder has shown glimpses of ability in his pinch-hitting in the ruck last season and so far this year, but yesterday’s Anzac Medal-winning performance may well be a career-defining match.
Not only did the athletic big man remain on the ground for every one of this game’s 121 minutes, he was a pivotal influence on the result, 16 possessions, 27 hit-outs, a goal, five clearances, and no fewer than 13 tackles his return. It was sensational stuff.
Both teams run through the same banner before the start of the Anzac day match.Credit:Sebastian Costanzo
But Collingwood had plenty of heroes, too. Dane Swan just chugged along, as he does, looking nothing particularly special, but continuing to rack up the touches, set up his teammates, and at the end of it all, finish with 37 disposals. Scott Pendlebury was all class in the hectic early going, and while his influence diminished over time, he nonetheless finished with 30 touches and a hand in several goals.
Leon Davis in contrast got better the longer the game went, and it was his second goal 16 minutes into the final term that looked at that stage the obvious dagger through Essendon hearts, Collingwood now 11 points up.
But the Pies missed the chance to bury the hatchet. Where Essendon had been dangerously wasteful, now it was its opponent’s turn, Leigh Brown missing two gettable shots at goal, then Rocca was ruled to have pushed in the back when marking, the open goal into which he ran sent Magpie supporters into screams of delight but instead cost a 50-metre penalty.
Even so, it was 14 points, requiring three goals in a handful of minutes. So when Leroy Jetta bounced one through for the Bombers, the reception was more polite than vociferous. The Dons attacked again. Now Davis, under pressure, sprayed the ball out on the full. Dyson nailed the free kick.
Paddy Ryder doing battle with Josh Fraser in the ruck.Credit:Pat Scala
Now Jetta had the chance to win it. But the Bomber little man couldn’t grab the ball cleanly as he ran into goal. Time looked like running out. Enter David Zaharakis, the one Essendon player who looked like he could hit targets and grab the pill in one take in the nervous opening minutes.
He could at the death, too. In the wet, the ball getting heavier and limbs exhausted, the kid somehow coolly slotted the ball with ease, the explosion of Essendon delight as powerful as Collingwood‘s sense of shock.
Cue siren. Cue pandemonium. And cue this game on any self-respecting footy flashbacks show. If the inaugural Anzac Day clash of 1995 will remain the standard bearer for this great day, 2009‘s effort surely is an obvious support act.
1.5 6.6 9.13 13.15 (93)
4.2 6.6 8.10 12.16 (88)
Essendon: Lovett 2, Dyson 2, Davey, McPhee, Monfries, Stanton, Zaharakis, Winderlich, Jetta, Ryder, Lonergan.
Collingwood: Anthony 4, Davis 2, Rocca, Macaffer, L Brown, Medhurst, Pendlebury, Cloke.
Essendon: Ryder, Stanton, Dyson, McPhee, Fletcher, Lovett.
Collingwood: Swan, Pendlebury, Davis, O’Brien, Prestigiacomo, O’Bree.
Essendon: Hille (knee), Lonergan
(corked thigh), Lloyd (corked thigh).
Ryan, Stevic, Rosebury.
84,829 at MCG.
The only man in the ruck for Essendon from the time David Hille went down in the second minute of the game, and was inspirational against Josh Fraser. Showed his versatility with a great running goal in the last quarter, and would have slept well last night.
Trounced Travis Cloke and gave the Bombers important drive out of defence. Kicked a crucial goal from a 50-metre penalty, while Cloke – who lifted his work rate after half-time – was limited to three shots at goal.
Gave Collingwood some grunt and run through the middle with a tireless four-quarter performance that yielded 37 touches and 11 marks.
With about five minutes remaining Collingwood led by 14 points, the rain came down and Essendon looked gone. Then Leroy Jetta and Ricky Dyson turned the game back the Bombers’ way. Jetta curled through a goal from the pocket then laid the tackle that forced Leon Davis to put the ball out on the full. Dyson converted the free kick, bringing the Bombers within two points.
The Bombers have now defeated two arch-enemies in three weeks, both in thrillers, but still crave consistency and have to journey to the Gabba next weekend. Collingwood has a six-day break before facing North Melbourne, and at 2-3 needs to regroup quickly to live up to pre-season promises. — CHLOE SALTAU
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