AFL Elimination Final – North Melbourne v Essendon: The Eight Stages of a Finals Win


My mate John is renting a grand old Victorian terrace house in East Melbourne. On the upstairs balcony prior to the match, we share a glass of pinot noir and watch the cars pull in across the road. I am awestruck by the view: Yarra Park in the foreground, the city to the rear, and of course the MCG to the left. If Melbourne were a Monopoly board, I reckon this would be Park Lane – or at the very least Bond Street. John and I are both confident that our Roos will beat Essendon; our mate Tommy, a Demon starved of recent finals action, is along for the ride; he is not so sure.


The buzz inside the Members is intoxicating. (A couple of quick pre-match pints in the Bullring are also of assistance). We squeeze in amongst the all-male throng in front of the Members Stand. To stretch the Monopoly analogy just a little further: these three small pockets of double-steps are the Mayfair of standing areas, so close to the action you can just almost reach out and touch it. The opening minutes see Essendon dominate, but North eventually settle and slowly find their way back into the game. The Bullring is still buzzing at quarter-time, but I didn’t come to the footy tonight to jostle my way to the bar.


Having worked their way back into the match late in the first quarter, in the second term the Kangaroos are promptly worked straight back out of it by the dominant Bombers. We cannot get our hands on the ball. “This is where we miss Boomer,” offers an elderly Roo gent standing next to me (Tommy is keeping the till ticking over downstairs). Joe Daniher is imposing, his height causing the under-sized Firrito and Grima all sorts of problems. Watson is his usual industrious self. North score only 1 miserable point against Essendon’s 4-3. And in fairness, had the Bombers kicked the two or three more that their dominance demanded, there would have been no way back for North.


Four and a half goals down at half-time. I am considering my options, one of which is to make an early exit. And, anyway, despite a recon through the seething mass of drinkers, there is no way I can find Tommy. When the new Members Stand was constructed, the Bullring Bar must have been an afterthought. It is soulless and forbidding; dare I say it, the Old Kent Road of members’ bars. John is still confident and claims that when it comes to 2nd quarters, North ranks sixteenth in the league. And North have been banging on during the week about Essendon’s fade-outs. We head back out onto the terrace…


Dyson Heppell is a champion. The more I see of him, the more I admire him. He never stops running, dispensing the ball across half-back then magically appearing at half-forward to receive it only moments later. But I feel that Essendon have been increasingly reliant on him, particularly since Jobe Watson was injured. Like most other teams this season, the Kangas are unable to shut Heppell down, and he is by far the Bombers best player on the night. Unfortunately for our opponents, there is only one Heppell on the field tonight.


Levi Greenwood and Ben Cunnington have been excellent all year for the Kangas. And, along with the silky Daniel Wells, they lead from the front tonight. Lindsay Thomas has broken his finals duck, Scott Thompson and Shaun Atley are providing run from half-back, and Michael Firrito wrestles the conch out of Daniher’s hands. Sadly for Joe, the chest-mark he drops on the lead 40 metres from goal seems to be the game’s turning point. In that moment, did I detect a little bit of the wind being knocked out of Essendon’s sails when the ball hits the deck? North put through seven goals. Seven! Our new cult hero, Sideshow Ben from Tassie, kicks three. He is nerveless (unlike me). We are back in it now, and have all the momentum.


The final quarter is a cracker (at least for us North supporters). The Roos at first seem unable to breach the nine-point gap, but they keep working. And working. Chapman threatens to win the game, but I reckon the length in his kicks are not what they once were. North have fought their way back from a 33-point deficit and – unlike on previous occasions – still look to have some energy to spare. Energy which allows them to build a small buffer once Essendon’s lead is usurped. Even Drew Petrie, who I fear has fallen off the cliff this season, gets in on the act. Is it his last hurrah? When we hit the front, I am suddenly high-fiving every North person in the vicinity. There is nothing like finals euphoria to bring together strangers from your tribe.


Back at John’s place, his wife Marita pours us a victory vodka. It tastes sweet. I stand at the front gate, high-fiving yet more strangers dressed in blue and white as they pass by. I am hoarse. As I watch the traffic meandering out of the park (and simultaneously thank John for the parking permit), Tommy emerges from the darkness of Yarra Park a little worse for wear. Then I reflect on the game: the comeback was thrilling. But without doubt, Geelong will not be so generous in letting the Roos out of jail for free.


North Melb         2.3         2.4         9.5         14.9 (93)

Essendon             2.4         6.7         10.8       12.9 (81)


North Melbourne: Brown 4, Thomas 3, Petrie 2, Cunnington, Dal Santo, Gibson, Greenwood, Ziebell.

Essendon: Daniher 4, Chapman 2, Colyer 2, Bellchambers, Ryder, Goddard, Howlett.


North Melbourne: Greenwood, Cunnington, Thompson, Wells, Dal Santo, Brown, Wright.

Essendon: Heppell, Watson, Hibberd, Colyer, Daniher, Chapman.


Votes: 3 Greenwood (NM), 2 Heppell (Ess), 1 Wells (NM).


Crowd: 78,559.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Josh Barnstable says

    Heart rate is still coming back down.

  2. Half your luck Smokie, a win in September is still a dream for the Tigers. Like the 8 stage analogy. Ours was more excitement to depair in about 15 minutes.

    Agree completely about the Bull Ring. Gone from a fantastic bar in the old stand to be like having a beer in an underground car park.

    Like the Sideshow Ben line, good luck vs the Cats


  3. Great read Smokie. I think I remember seeing a tweet from you at half time thinking of leaving? I was at a family dinner towards the end and was checking scores on my phone. It must have been a good game – goal for goal for sometime.

  4. Bob Speechley says

    Love the Monopoly references – Essendon got the “Go to Jail -go directly to Jail. Do not pass GO” card – I guess that’s where they’re heading!!

    As for North they are capable of creating a CATastrophe! I am very impressed with their younger brigade.

  5. One of your halftime options leaving? Ye of little faith.

    So relieved to have won that one.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    When I accrue my first million, or win lotto (whichever comes first), an East Melbourne terrace house or apartment is very high on the agenda. Was watching as much of the Wallabies Test as this game on Saturday night, both throughly entertaining and both had the good guys winning. Also loved your monopoly references, landing on ‘Free Parking’ also a huge bonus for a final!

  7. Andrew Starkie says

    Smoke, great piece. Yep, we got out of jail and as the week drags on reality dawns and I agrees, the Cats won’t let us off the hook like Essn did. But, it was such a agreat win. A famous night for our boys. And our bottom six stood up: Wright, Atley, Brown. The first two especially, lamented for so long, led the way with run and attack. Knew we had them at 3/4 time. Going Fri night? See you in the bar.

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