Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Patersons Stadium, Perth
Essendon pulled off the "come from behind" win of the century at Patersons Stadium against the heavily fancied Fremantle Dockers. In what passes for rain these days in a drought-ridden Perth, steady drizzle fell over the ground to make conditions less than perfect for skillful football. The imperfect conditions didn’t stop the Bombers, although they had to battle hard to get the win.
It was all one way traffic in the early stages of the game with Fremantle quickly getting on the scoreboard to the tune of five goals to nil in the opening quarter. With the ball showing all the characteristics of a giant bar of soap, the going was tough and chaotic for both teams. Essendon made the worst of it though and Bombers' players could not buy a goal, let alone get the ball into their forward half. 200 gamer Luke McPharlin had to substituted early in his milestone match when he was concussed from a Paddy Ryder shoulder to the jaw. Soon after, Kepler Bradley found himself in the hands of the doctors in the dressing room getting treatment for a nasty cut on his scalp from another wayward Bomber bump. Most of the quarter was forgettable in terms of a spectacle. However there were flashes of Docker brilliance in the bad conditions when a few fast break moves scored goals. The Dockers went into the second quarter with their tails up and a 30 point lead.
Fremantle players were outnumbering their opponents to the ball and winning contested possession with regularity. They seemed to be more at home on the wet surface but still managed some shocking errors in their kicking. Two attempts on goals from relatively easy positions saw the ball skew off the foot of the kicker and virtually go at right angles to the goal posts. This proved costly in the end, as goals here would have made the home side more confident as the game unfolded. Stewart Crameri finally got the Dons on the board as they started the long road back to overhaul a four goal deficit. It was a short lived triumph however as the Dockers answered with the next two in a row and looked to have the Bombers dead and buried at half time with a comfortable six goal lead. It was a half of football that Essendon fans would rather forget.
James Hird must have read the riot act then hit the re-boot button at half time because when the Bombers stepped back onto the paddock they were a different unit. They attacked the ball more fiercely and got numbers around the center breaks and the stoppages. With some close shots on goal as a result of more time spent in their forward half, they were peppering the sticks and causing some Docker headaches. It was Fremantle’s turn to look second rate as the quarter progressed. They fumbled, bumbled and made the easy look hard as they loosened their grip on the game. Crameri started the avalanche with his second goal from a Docker turnover in the midfield. This was followed by the next four goals to the visitors and they could smell blood. In a masterful coaching move, Hird made his substitution early and took off one of his defensive stalwarts in Dustin Fletcher. He wasn’t playing badly but Coach Hird was rolling the dice by bringing on some more ground speed in Travis Colyer. His speed kept the ball moving forward and goals were the consequence. The Bombers held Fremantle goalless for the quarter and only trailed by a paltry three points when the siren sounded for the end of the third term. Essendon had moved the ball inside their fifty meter attacking zone fourteen times for a healthy ten scores.
With all the momentum going into the final change it was no surprise that Essendon hit the front early with a sprinting goal from Nick Kommer. When Dyson Heppell followed up soon after, Essendon had kicked seven unanswered goals and were building a handy lead. It was fifty one minutes between goals for Fremantle when the tireless Michael Walters bobbed up for his second to give an injection of hope. He was also instrumental in the next goal to Chris Mayne to take back the lead with the clock ticking down. Essendon would not be denied after having fought back with so much tenacity and determination. They went all in at the ball and the opposition ball carriers, and kicked the next two goals to take the lead late in the quarter. Incredibly Fremantle found their second wind and were frenzied in their attempts to move the ball towards their goals. With minutes to play, they had two golden opportunities to kick goals. When Danyle Pearce missed horribly and Mayne kicked an absolute gift into the post, it was too little, too late and the Dockers went down by four points in a game they should have won. That said, nothing should be taken away from Essendon's extraordinary comeback. The Bombers never believed they were out of it and proved that six goals in the modern game is no obstacle if the mental toughness and desire to win are there.
One of the problems with Coach Lyon’s stifling style of play is that his teams need to get a significant score on the board to stop spurts by the opposition. It didn’t happen in this case and Fremantle’s ineptitude with the football when they had it in their hands didn’t help their cause. The Bombers take on Hawthorn away in Round Five and will not start favorites. Essendon has won its first three games in a row and this is a position they are familiar with, having started with a flurry for the past two years. The question is whether they will maintain their good form or slump badly as the season progresses. The game against Saint Kilda next week will be an acid test for them.
Scoreboard Essendon: 0.3 1.5 6.10 10.12 (72) Fremantle: 5.3 7.5 7.7 9.14 (68) Best players Essendon: S Crameri, M Hurley, M Hibberd, D Heppell Fremantle: P Duffield, C Mayne, R Crowley, M Walters
Article last changed on Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 12:27 AM EDT