Five Extraordinary Minutes

by Adrian Vitez

While driving to the MCG this ANZAC Day, I was struck by a comment made by the ABC’s Gerard Whately on the radio. In the midst of debate about whether Essendon and Collingwood deserve ANZAC day to themselves, he made the salient observation that to have the honour of playing on such an important occasion, the two clubs have a responsibility to provide a great contest. And that few, if any since the famous 1995 draw, have risen to any significant heights.

Well about three hours later, 85,000 people (minus an unlucky few who left early) were to be in the grip of one of the most astonishing climaxes to a game that many who attended are likely to see.

I took my 14 year old nephew to the game. He’s only experienced a handful of games, but being the son of an Essendon supporter, there has never been a question of where his loyalties would lie. On the way in, young William asked me who I’d tipped and I confidently answered Bombers. He received the affirmation he was looking for, but wisely remained a little sceptical.

From our vantage point in the Essendon member’s area on the bottom level of the Olympic Stand, the match began disastrously as David Hille, went down clutching his knee. A knowing groan was heard around the ground as it appeared likely to be a long term injury to last year’s B&F. As Essendon fumbled and looked slow, Collingwood surged forward with confidence, finding Rocca and first gamer MacAffer for the first two goals of the game.

But the Dons gradually began to regain some initiative and created plenty of chances of their own, only to miss a series of gettable shots. The Pies made them pay and finished the term 4.2 to 1.5.

Essendon continued to take the game on through the second and third quarters using their now familiar run and handball style. Collingwood relied on the hard working Dane Swan in the middle, John Anthony up forward, and the solid Prestagiacomo, Brown, and O’Brien down back. With Lloyd nervously missing chances to post his 900th goal, and Scott Lucas enduring the worst form slump of his career, Essendon were failing to put periods of ascendancy on the scoreboard. Stanton worked tirelessly, Paddy Ryder stood up in the ruck and worked hard at ground level, and McPhee was not only having the better of Cloke, but provided excellent drive off half-back.

A vulnerable looking nine point lead was all they had to show at three-quarter time. Now it was my turn to look for affirmation as I asked young William if he thought we would win. His response was half-hearted and reflected a general concern that we might run out of legs and pay for our misses.

And so it appeared as Collingwood surged again in the last. Leon Davis was buzzing dangerously, with the classy Pendlebury and Clarke also getting involved. A Ryder goal signalled the only act of defiance from an Essendon side beginning to look tired and out of ideas. Leon Davis’s running goal lifted the Pies fan’s out of their seats and the Collingwood chant began echoing around us.

It was now Collingwood’s turn to miss the target, but a couple of behinds stretched their lead to beyond two goals at the 25 minute mark. “Well that’s it” I concluded despondently to young William. As the rain began to fall, I entertained the idea of leaving a little early. A few around us did. A Rocca goal was denied by the umpire, but it hardly seemed to matter at the time.

The Sting in the Tail

It all began with an audacious run from Andrew Lovett, bouncing a slippery ball at full pace with the speedy Jaxson Barham in close pursuit. His kick found Leroy Jetta in space and a goal from almost nowhere reduced the deficit to 8 points. I was in no mood for consolation goals however, and the polite applause which greeted the goal indicated that few others were as well.

But . . .

A decisive centre clearance from Jobe Watson, and desperate forward line pressure sees Leon Davis throw a boot at the ball whilst being tackled. The ball sails out on the full about 40 meters from Essendon’s goal. The left footed Ricky Dyson calmly slots it through the middle and Essendon are only two points down. We’re alive! Suddenly, resignation is replaced by a desperate will to push the team on for one more goal. Is there time?

This time Collingwood gets the centre clearance. As the ball tumbles over the line next to the Collingwood point post with seconds ticking away, a final goal seems remote. But Essendon clear and advance the ball quickly and purposefully. Again, it’s Jetta running on to a bouncing ball. With the crowd at fever pitch, all he needs to do is gather it. But like a slippery fish, the wet ball agonisingly eludes his attempts to grasp it. It’s forced over the line for a behind and the moment is lost. The game too it seems. Can’t be much time left.

Lockyer kicks out long to a contest. The ball clears the pack and is gathered by Winderlich. Some composed passing by hand and foot finds the ball delivered into the arms of fourth gamer David Zaharakis in space fifty out. He turns, but slips slightly on the wet turf. I fear the opportunity might be lost again as Collingwood defenders bear down on him. But he balances as he takes a couple of steps towards goal. He sinks his boot into the ball as MacAffer lunges to tackle. Contact is good. From where we sit, the ball seems momentarily headed towards the left hand goal post. For one more split second, pessimism takes hold as I expect the shot to drift. But it sails on. It sails through. It sails through!

The roar crashes like a wave. It’s pandemonium with people jumping, punching the air, hugging. Surely there can’t be any time left.

As the ball goes back to the middle to re-start play, we all remain standing, urging our team, urging the siren. The ball is bounced. A scramble takes place in the middle. But within a few seconds, we see Essendon players with arms raised in victory.

No siren is heard above the noise of the crowd, but another roar bursts out, and another round of frenzied celebration. I hug young William and lift him off his feet. Strangers hug and high-five. The rain somehow makes the moment sweeter. I can’t think of anything better to say than to roar with all the passion I can muster:

“You f***ing beauty!”

Repeatedly.

(Sorry young William’s mum and dad.)

Ryder wins the medal for his outstanding effort in taking over the ruck from Hille. Swan, Stanton and McPhee would have also been worthy recipients.

I doubt young William knows how lucky he is to have been there. But I imagine like all Bomber fans that were, he will never forget it.

Comments

  1. Lando Calrissian says:

    Cheers Adrian. Brought it all back.

    I too, was in the Olympic Stand. Zaka’s goal, then the final siren; a double-banger euphoria that won’t be forgotten. Men embraced men for we had just witnessed a truly great moment in Bomber history.

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