Round 16 – Essendon v Collingwood: Homecoming

Essendon versus Collingwood


3.20pm, Saturday 8 July

MCG, Melbourne

William Westerman


Living in Canberra, there are certain things I miss about not being in Melbourne, such as straight roads, vibrant strip shopping and Edwardian residential architecture. I particularly miss the chance to attend AFL games throughout the season. Having travelled down from the nation’s capital for a few weeks, I naturally took the opportunity to go along to the MCG on Sunday 8 July to watch Essendon play Collingwood.

While I love watching footy at smaller, “boutique” stadiums (as they’re now know) due to the intimacy of the viewing experience, there’s nothing like being among tens of thousands of spectators in a 100,000 seat stadium and watching old foes slog it out over a typical winter afternoon in Melbourne. The MCG dwarfs Canberra’s Manuka Oval, and when it hosts a game between two of Melbourne’s traditionally large clubs, it makes a GWS game in Canberra seem like it’s in a different league.

I hadn’t seen many big games at the MCG in recent years. The Lions’ Melbourne game are usually relegated to Docklands, and if they play at the MCG at all, it’s often against a team such as Melbourne, with a much smaller supporter base. A crowd of 25,000 does not do a 100,000 capacity stadium justice; the MCG was built for big games.

Call it parochialism, but there’s something familiar and comforting about watching big Melbourne teams play each other at the MCG. These are the games that demonstrate why Victorians will always refer to teams from other states as “interstate” teams. There is still a sense, even after decades of a national competition, that Victoria owns the game, and games between the traditionally big Melbourne teams are its truest expression.

It was also nice to get back to the essence of football, rather than having to wade through all the commentary and filler generated to keep in current 365 days per year. Most of the dissection and debate is entirely unnecessary; discussions abut ‘where are they at’, who is going to which club, which coach is under the blowtorch … none of it matters once the siren sounds for the first quarter. The narratives may link games together throughout a season, but when you strip away the baffling statistics and jargon, the over saturation in the media and the rampant commercialisation of the game, you were left with two teams slugging it out on the MCG, with a massive crowd at their backs.

The game itself didn’t matter that much to me – the act of participating in one of Melbourne’s great rituals was reward enough – but I was pleasantly surprised to be treated to a good contest. The game was played in perfect Melbourne weather: intermittent rain and overcast skies. At one point there was a spot of light rain on our side of the ground, while I could see sunlight on the other wing. By the final quarter night had descended and the lights were in full effect.

I looked forward to watching Mason Cox live. I was also hoping for a strong game from Josh Daicos, formerly of Camberwell Grammar School. Daicos got a goal in the first quarter, and I thought he was industrious throughout the game without being memorable or spectacular. Cox was well held until the last quarter, we did not get a tower pack mark from the big American in the forward pocket where we had positioned ourselves, much to my disappointment.

It was a tough contest; the game ebbed and flowed entertainingly. Collingwood started strongly, controlling the first quarter and making it seem as if this would be a blowout. I was genuinely impressed by Steele Sidebottom’s goal on his non-preferred foot after he befuddled Travis Colyer on the mark and ran inside the forward fifty. It certainly lifted the Collingwood fans, who were outnumbered by those supporting the home team but who were in good voice throughout the game.

I was pleasantly surprised when Essendon fought their way back into the contest in the second quarter. Hooker and Hurley were solid in defence, and good work from their midfield (Merrett, Smith and Heppell in particular) gave their largely unstoried forwards some good chances to draw level with the Pies.

Throughout the quarter, umpiring decisions (or lack thereof) incensed the Essendon fans. Nothing can quite replicate the sound of 70,000 people being wronged. The volume of noise and the level of anger aroused from a poor umpiring decision can be confronting. There’s a viciousness with which the officiating umpire is verbally attacked, which, although no greater than would be the case with any other set of passionate sports fans, is nevertheless amplified due to the sheer size and scale of the crowd.

Despite these injustices, Essendon kept pushing forward. McDonald-Tipungwuti took a classy mark, followed by a goal, and the Dons were up and about. He narrowed Collingwood’s lead to single digits and at that point we had a game on our hands. Another goal to Kyle Langford and at the half time break there was a point in it.

The Essendon fans had maintained the rage into the third quarter, creating a pulsating atmosphere. I was getting into it as well, having a go at the umpire myself, despite having no stake in the game beyond my own enjoyment. The third quarter was as tight as the second, setting up a fascinating denouement. Unfortunately for Essendon, Collingwood’s class started to show through. Veterans Scott Pendlebury and milestone-man Steele Sidebottom started to take control of the game. Pendlebury in particularly was impressive, demonstrating the ability, much like Beethoven did when he composed the adagio in his Piano Concerto No. 5, of making time stand still. He always seems to have more time and space than those around him. Jordan De Goey excelled in the second half once he was moved forward; for all his off-field problems, he is an exciting player to watch. Young Jack Crisp continued to be industrious, and Brodie Grundy started to get on top in the ruck duel.

By the final quarter it was night, and Collingwood’s quality were making the difference. Essendon did themselves no favours at time, with Brendon Goddard’s indiscipline costing them a goal at a crucial moment. With Essendon kicking to our end of the ground I was able to see Jeremy Howe up close, and while he took a regulation specie during the game, I was more impressed with his defensive work and clean hands. Pendlebury and Sidebottom together made a great pair to watch; there was a rousing cheer for Sidebottom right at the end of the game, when he took an easy possession in the back pocket closest to the Collingwood cheer squad.

The game was finished shortly thereafter with Collingwood securing the win. For all the nostalgia of once again seeing a big game at the MCG, I could have done without the crush of would-be commuters waiting to get on the train at Richmond Station, and then the move to the replacement bus from South Yarra to Elsternwick Stations. I guess you can’t have the best of what Melbourne has to offer without being prepared to accept the worst of it too.


Essendon                     1.2       4.5       7.6       9.8       (62)

Collingwood                4.1       4.4       7.5       12.6     (78)


Essendon: Brown 3, McKernan 2, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Langford, Baguley, McGrath

Collingwood: De Goey 3, Sidebottom 2, Stephenson, Grundy, Daicos, Hoskin-Elliott, Mihocek, Cox, Adams



Essendon: Merrett, Smith, Heppell, Hurley, McKernan, Goddard

Collingwood: Pendlebury, Grundy, Sidebottom, De Goey, Adams, Crisp, Langdon


UMPIRES: Donlon, Foot, Rosebury             CROWD: 69,868

OUR VOTES: Pendlebury (Coll) 3, Smith (Ess) 2, De Goey (Coll) 1

About William Westerman

Canberra-based historian. Author of 'Merger: The Fitzroy Lions and the Tragedy of 1996' Available here:

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