Round 6 – Essendon v Collingwood: Heart-racing footy at its finest

 

 

It’s almost like a Grand Final day.

 

Being lucky enough to purchase tickets instead of doing my usual selling Footy Records – I wake up and see a bright blue sky. It feels different – Anzac Day is a powerful day. It’s heavy, there’s a sense of something, of new beginnings and gratitude. And of course, a tantalising match of footy between my Pies and the Bombers.

 

Two and a half hours before the game I’m at the local train station, realising that the shirt and jeans I wear with my Collingwood jumper and scarf over the top is too much for the sparkling sunshine. By the time my girlfriend (who I bought the tickets for as a birthday present) and I reach the MCG, the early afternoon sun is beautifully drenching swarms of people in autumn sun.

 

Making sure our seats in the nosebleed section in gate five are occupied well and truly before the game starts, we sip our beers while applauding former and current service people, before happily enjoying Birds of Tokyo’s fleeting performance. By the time the teams have entered and we stand for the spine-tingling Anzac ceremony, the ground is almost bursting out of the stands it is that packed. I’ve been to a few Anzac Day contests, and this one takes the cake for atmosphere. Both teams are playing well, both sides expect a win.

 

The opening exchanges are all black and white – some nervous play is finally settled by a strong Mihocek mark and snap around the corner. Despite continuing to dominate general play, Collingwood’s midfield and forward line don’t take their chances, and Stringer makes them pay with a wonderful set shot goal from a tight angle. The game is well and truly on.

 

But Essendon don’t settle after Stringer’s masterpiece – Collingwood continue their strong play and finally capitalise – De Goey pounces on some miscued handballs for a stabbing goal, before cleverly tapping a cruel bounce for Hurley and allowing the returning Hoskin-Elliott to snap a goal. Adams’ open goal means that the Pies have all of the momentum, and canter to the first break with a 20 point lead.

 

The midfield dominance continues – Grundy is inconsistent around the ground but his ruckwork remains solid, and Pendlebury is gathering lots of effective touches across the middle and half-back line. When he lines up Cox with a searing kick, the big Texan feels obliged to convert in his 50th game, and duly extends the lead. Josh Thomas decides he needs to join in on the fun, randomly deciding to kick a banana from the Punt Road End pocket that curls through. It’s all Collingwood – their defence is in the midst of some thrilling battles (Moore v Daniher, Howe v Stringer) and they are finding ways to move freely through the middle. Grundy is smoothly moving, and kicks a beautiful searing pass to Cox for an easy open goal.

 

Suddenly, Essendon decide that enough is enough and they lock down the running Pies. With five minutes left before the half time break, Daniher gleefully accepts a rushed kick and slams it through from close range. Stringer then finally breaks free from Howe and kicks another miracle goal from distance and a tight angle. We’re ready for the siren to sound out before anymore damage can be done, but Daniher has other ideas. When he marks from 60 metres out and the siren rings, there’s a dread that fills me. He’s the only player at the MCG currently who can make the distance, and he sends the Essendon crowd into raptures with a dazzling long bomb that curls through. The margin is still three goals, but the momentum has swung.

 

Coming out for the second half, it’s hard to know which way it’ll go. When Daniher gets a run and jump at a high ball and brings down the mark, the now-drunk Essendon lady in the row below is screaming in delight. When he kicks it through the big sticks, she’s preaching that the Bombers are coming back and will win. Only two goals down, Essendon have engaged in a tussle, a defensive slog. And it’s working until Cox and De Goey’s easy missed chances are snuffled out by a Sidebottom evasion and classic snap that ignites the Collingwood roar once more.

 

Baguley pegs one back after ten tough minutes, as the ball slingshots from end to end with reckless desperation. Varcoe comes to the fore, crumbing beautifully to set up Stephenson for an important goal that pushes out the margin again. But it won’t hold – the Bombers transition from end to end in the last minute and kick a vital goal that shapes the match – Essendon are in it for a close one.

 

Points are exchanged for 15 minutes of brutal last quarter footy. It’s like a less skilled Grand Final – both teams play well yet can’t quite finish off. There’s still an overriding sense that Essendon will do justice to the drunk lady’s words – and a free kick to Baguley allows him to fulfil her alcohol-infused prophecy. But cometh the moment, cometh the man – De Goey silences the roaring drunkard with an ice-cold drop punt from the boundary. Of course, we all erupt.

 

But if that was ever intending to be the sealer, Daniher had other ideas. Within a minute he claims a loose ball, weaves past one and slams through a desperate snap – the game is back to within a kick. Knowing that my Pies have a penchant for losing close games (think the Grand Final), I’m shaking with nerves. We’ve led all day, there’s too much riding on it – we have to get the job done.

 

My nerves are only exacerbated when Callum Brown thinks he can kick 60 metres and instead turns it over. They jangle when I roar in approval of a dubious free kick he receives straight in front of goal. Not knowing how long’s left, my nerves are shot when he sprays it and McKenna takes off for one last play. My guts sink when he sends it down to Essendon’s talls, only for Darcy Moore to somehow effect a spoil, and Sidebottom courageously corrals the notorious Zaharakis. As he lunges for it, the siren rings. The noise is enormous, a guttural roar of built up stress and excitement. We’ve done it. Pendlebury duly collects a third Anzac Day medal as he and Bucks provide the perfect response to disgusting Essendon boos.

 

But who cares – they can boo all they like, we’ll just waltz off with 4 points and a marvellous story to tell.

 

 

ESSENDON                  1.0   5.3    8.6   10.9 (69)
COLLINGWOOD          4.5   7.6    9.9   10.13 (73)

 

GOALS
Essendon: 
Daniher 4, Baguley 3, Stringer 2, Guelfi
Collingwood: Cox 2, De Goey 2, Mihocek, Thomas, Stephenson, Hoskin-Elliott, Adams, Sidebottom

 

BEST 
Essendon:
 Shiel, Daniher, Stringer, Hurley, Merrett

Collingwood: Pendlebury, Howe, De Goey, Moore, Grundy, Crisp, Roughead

 

INJURIES 
Essendon
: Smith (knee)
Collingwood: Cox (knee)

 

Reports: Nil

Umpires: Stephens, Hosking, Ryan

Official crowd: 92,241 at the MCG

 

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