Comeback Roos Prevail in Epic Win Over Dons
NORTH MELBOURNE 2.3 2.4 9.5 14.9 (93)
ESSENDON 2.4 6.7 10.8 12.9 (81)
Essendon are the first side eliminated from the 2014 finals, going out after a mighty comeback from the Kangaroos
This is how the Herald Sun saw the all Melbourne contest
In one of the most dramatic and unpredictable finals of recent seasons, the Kangaroos defied the critics — who would paint them as flighty and prone to going missing — and scrapped their way to a remarkable 12-point win over Essendon.
Twice, key North Melbourne forwards sprang up from nowhere to produce inspired cameos that turned the course of the game.
Late in the frantic final quarter, Drew Petrie, largely unsighted throughout the evening, produced two brilliant snapped goals within a minute to put this remarkable elimination final out of Essendon’s reach.
With the Roos trailing by a point, Petrie was first to react when a Jack Ziebell pass cleared the pack, and after gathering ahead of Cale Hooker he snapped a 35-metre shot over his shoulder.
Then, after North won the ensuing centre clearance, Petrie accepted a Daniel Wells handball and wobbled through an off-balance goal under pressure to make the margin 11 points.
But the spark for the Roos’ win caught fire through his forward-line partner, Ben Brown, at the beginning of the second half.
Both Brown and Petrie had been relatively subdued, well beaten by Hooker and Ariel Steinberg respectively, until Brown began playing more like Jonathan than Ben and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the third quarter.
Brown kicked three goals within seven minutes to spark a desperately needed Kangaroos revival.
After conceding the opening goal of the second half, the Roos had fallen 33 points behind. They had no option but to throw everything at Essendon in the exhilarating third quarter.
So, the Roos redoubled their attack on the ball and also landed twice as many tackles as the Bombers for the term.
Having looked cautious, they found some risk-taking run, particularly through Daniel Wells and Shaun Atley, and in the way they launched attacks off half-back, where Sam Wright took the game on.
The result was that they kicked seven of the 11 goals kicked in a third quarter where the ball flowed from one end of the field to the other.
But even then, Essendon fought on grimly, with Paul Chapman and Dyson Heppell two who continued to drive them on from the midfield.
At one stage Chapman grabbed the footy from a centre bounce, streamed out from the centre taking two bounces, and drove the ball long to Joe Daniher to take a contested mark one the goal line and convert.
The margin at the final change remained a nine-point lead to Essendon and the game was in the balance.
North only hit the lead for the first time 11 minutes into the final quarter, when Lindsay Thomas goaled from a free kick that resulted from a high Jason Winderlich tackle.
But in keeping with the drama of the night, Essendon snatched the lead back at the 18-minute mark of the final quarter when Paddy Ryder — subject to pre-game stories about his disenchantment with the club — took a one-hand contested mark and played on to snap from 45 metres.
In the build-up to this final, all of the talk was about how these teams were more flaky than a Good Friday pub menu.
But the defining moments were anything but flaky.
Essendon was superb early, opening up a 27-point lead at half-time by scrambling four unanswered goals in the second quarter, and three of them were the direct result of unspectacular little pieces of play that probably won’t make the highlight tapes: a half-volley gather, a spoil and a knock-on.
The first came after four solid minutes of pure arm wrestle, with both teams tackling ferociously but unable to break clear.
That changed in an instant when Brendon Goddard brilliantly gathered on the half volley a scrubby pass, resulting in the Bombers working the ball into an open forward line and eventually an easy goal to Travis Colyer.
Midway through the second term, with North breaking on the counter-attack, Zaharakis lunged to spoil a Daniel Wells pass to Michael Firrito, paving the way for Goddard to launch a 60-metre shot that rolled through for a goal.
Even better was to follow five minutes later, when Joe Daniher — prone on the turf after being mauled while attempting to take an overhead mark 25 metres out from goal — dove to smother a Sam Gibson to poke and then managed to knock it on into the path of Chapman for a goal.
Daniher produced probably his best game for the Bombers, kicking vital goals and working hard to bring others into the game, while Chapman’s experience was telling in the composure he showed under the frantic intensity of a cutthroat final.
But it was the North players who stood up.
Not just the ones who bobbed up with cameos, but the ones who worked hard to keep them in the contest throughout.
Wells was classy throughout and used the ball beautifully, while Levi Greenwood was typically committed to winning contested possessions, and had a remarkable 15 disposals in the final quarter.
Scott Thompson was exceptional in marshalling the backline and frequently repelled attacks, while skipper Andrew Swallow shaded Jobe Watson. Atley’s pace was critical in breaking the lines.
In the end, they all stood up. The Kangaroos looked like their season might be done five minutes into the second half, but they showed their resolve and kicked 12 of the next 17 goals.
The prize for the Kanga’s efforts is a battle with the Cats next Friday which will be every bit as tough.