AFL Elimination Final: North Melbourne v Essendon – two mates in a garage

Two men.  An Essendon supporter and a North Melbourne supporter.  Sitting next to each other in the garage.  Beers, chocolate and a bag of chips.  A television.  A sudden death final.

AJ wearing an Essendon top, me in a North t-shirt.  We’ve been known to chip away at each other when North play Essendon.  Sarcasm face to face.  Text messages and emails.

I might joke about hating Essendon a lot.  AJ might remind me how he has no time at all for North.

It doesn’t mean we hate each other.  The garage is home to a lot of tools.  During the elimination final, no one went for a hammer.

We didn’t even think about playing pool, such were the nerves.

AJ wasn’t confident.  ‘You guys should win.  We’re too inconsistent.’

‘We should win but North is inconsistent too,’ I said.

Neither of us wanted to take ownership of winning.  There was too much tension and uncertainty.  There was too much inconsistency throughout the year to be confident.

Essendon went into the game believing North was vulnerable under pressure when they’ve got no space and they’re vulnerable to the spread because they concede a lot of uncontested marks.

North Melbourne had their own theories about Essendon playing tired footy and wouldn’t have the legs to keep the pressure on all night.

North and Essendon couldn’t be trusted to win.

‘Let’s face it,’ AJ said.  ‘Neither side will win the premiership.’

Under the current final eight system, no club has won an elimination final and a premiership in the same year.  Elimination finals don’t often get much respect.  No one expects too much of elimination finalists deep into September.

That doesn’t mean we hate elimination finals.  The fight for pride and survival was reason enough to watch.

AJ was critical of Joe Daniher.  It was Adam G, the week before, who said Daniher reminded him of Ja Ja Binks.  AJ didn’t want Binks leading the forward line.

Daniher kicked the first goal of the game from a neat snap.  He could’ve kicked three for the quarter.  Essendon got the first two before North closed out the term and the margin was just one point.

The game resembled a training run during the second quarter.  North kicked one point as Essendon ran riot and took a 27-point lead into half time.

AJ and I respected each other’s allegiance.  There was no sledging.  We didn’t complain about the umpires too much.  We let our frustration show.  Exuberance was kept to a minimum.

North had 12 inside-50s in the second quarter, one more than Essendon.  They were slow off half back and bombing the ball to Essendon.

He wasn’t convinced by the lead.  AJ couldn’t shake his pessimism.  ‘North is the best third-quarter team in the league,’ he said.

North had dominated third quarters for the year, kicking 90 goals to 50 but when Paul Chapman put the Bombers 33-points up, I wondered how big the margin would get.  AJ wanted another goal.

‘It isn’t enough,’ he said.  ‘It isn’t over.’

I sent a text to my brother, Nick – This is really poor.  Seriously.

Suddenly, North began to play on, to break the lines.  Instead of missing targets, they found free space.  The revival in the third quarter had been foreshadowed.  This is how North play.

Ben Brown kicked three goals in seven minutes.  The margin fritted away, to nine points then three points.

I sent Nick another text.  This is really good.  Seriously.

AJ shifted uncomfortably.  ‘I told you.  You can’t trust the Bombers with a lead.’

Essendon retained the lead late in the third term.  It was either nine points or three.  After the siren, Tom Bellchambers put the Bombers back out to a nine point lead.

The goal kicking, at crucial times, was extraordinary.  Brown, Daniher, Bellchambers and Paul Chapman had kicked brilliant, pressured goals from the boundary, from long range and from snaps and set shots.

The brilliance continued into the last quarter.

Ben Cunnington, Daniel Wells and Levi Greenwood were relentless.  Jobe Watson, Dyson Heppell and Chapman were the same.

The margin loitered around three and nine points.  Nick offered a text – If we hit the front it’s done.

North finally hit the front after 100 minutes of football.  Paddy Ryder took a one handed mark and hooked a remarkable goal to give Essendon back the lead.

AJ sat, almost motionless, with his arms crossed.  He remained sceptical. ‘North have got this.’

Drew Petrie, who had been awful, jagged two goals, one from a snap, the other a banana to put North 11-points up.

AJ watched silently.

I apologised for my excitement, which was heard inside the house.

He didn’t want to hear it.  ‘Don’t apologise, this is what it’s all about.’

A Petrie point with three minutes left sealed the game.  I pumped my fist silently.  We didn’t speak as the game crept to its end.  The score told the story.  Essendon’s season was over.  There was no vindication.  Making the finals will have to be enough.

When the siren went, AJ stood up and shook my hand.  ‘I’m gonna get going,’ he said.

I nodded and tried not to smile.  Losing a final is a dreadful experience.  As we walked to the gate I was chatting to Adam G, a North fan.  I kept my voice even as AJ trudged to his car.

When he was gone I let the emotion out.

‘Lucky for Brad Scott,’ Adam said.  ‘Because I was about to kill him.’

I sent Nick a text – Just for recreation sake.

Happy Father’s Day was his response.

Games like that are a privilege to watch.  It is impossible not to get caught up in the terror and thrill.

Ben Brown and Joe Daniher had break-out games in their first final.  Wells was indefatigable.  Cunnington kept running.  Watson and Heppell were tireless.

It is how good footballers are supposed to play in finals.

Stevo called and said it was the eighth biggest finals comeback in history.  He inquired about AJ’s state of mind.  Other mates sent me texts, wanting to know if AJ was okay.

The only thing better than watching North beat Essendon in a final, was watching it happen with an Essendon fan.

I was in bed about 10:30 and couldn’t sleep.  I kept replaying the match, wondering how North could come back like that.

In Melbourne, when Russ got home from the game at 11pm, he was so hyped he took his dog for a walk.  Then he watched the game again before going to bed.

On Sunday I wore a North Melbourne jumper all day.  My two-year old son Angus wore his North t-shirt.

Last night, I watched the second half again.  Kristine was an idle observer.  A few times I asked her to watch a segment of play.

She was surprised.  ‘They’re playing like pros.’

That’s what North Melbourne looked like in the second half, pros.  All the love, all the money, the displays of public affection with t-shirts, jumpers and scarves has been repaid.

North won a final.  It’s been a long time.

Kristine was smiling.  ‘It’s funny how you only watch replays of games North win.’

‘It’s sensible,’ I said.

‘You haven’t been able to watch too many replays this year,’ she teased.

North play Geelong on Friday night.  Hopefully there will be a replay to watch.


About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good read Matt you took us to your shed with the emotion with , AJ brilliantly .
    I must admit I floated out of Adelaide oval on Sat night after the legs win and the ,
    Norwood colours were a certainty for the royal show on Sunday it was pleasantly surprising how many people must have felt exactly the same

  2. Andrew Starkie says

    Matt, I watched the second half again during the week. It’s one of those games, you need to watch it over and over to get your head around it. Essn needed one more goal but just couldn’t get it. Probably should’ve been further ahead at 1/2 time. Thought we had em at 3/4 time. Full of run and dare and belief. You’re right, Daniher’s dropped mark was crucial. My dad’s a Bomber and he called it as the turning point. Our bottom six were great (for once). Remember Boomer publicly criticising Wright and other passengers a few years ago? Harsh, but correct. Brown was awesome, a real star of the future if all goes right for him. And i love Gibbo, a quiet achiever. Honest. Cats’defenders won’t give our tall forward such latitude and Selwood and Hawkins will take xome stopping. The latter hurts us because we lack a gorilla backmen. We will need to double team him and rotate his direct opponent. Great to see Thommo back in form. He may drag us into a prelim. All has to go right against Gee, but you never know. The Cats are looking a bit tired and bedraggled.

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