Kim Densham, in Melbourne reporting for AFANA.
Saturday in Melbourne was a bitterly cold Chicago type day, 55 degrees F, inside the enclosed Telstra Dome Stadium. The wind whistled through the Dome and everyone was rugged up, apprehensive and expecting a tough encounter with the Lions. During the warm up, ‘The Big Brown Dog’, Jonathan Brown was foaming at the mouth, ready to play; his knee was still heavily strapped! Not a good sign for the 3 time premiers? While Bombers worked out in front of goals and did a fair bit of ruck work with the in-form David Hille, the Lions champion was doing short sprints and his team were warming up kicking at goal. Pregame speculation was rife, as to who would be on Brown. Consensus was that it would need to be an experienced defender and with Mal Michael out, that left ‘Dustin ‘Fletch’ Fletcher, The Bombers veteran of 290 games and recently breaking the record for the most AFL matches by a father--son combination: currently 554. Two nights earlier, Brown, sat smugly during his appearance on Channel Nine's The Footy Show, with all the confidence and certainty of a winner. The upcoming game against Essendon on Saturday was being treated as a mere formality; all the Lions needed to do was turn up and … as 'Kings of the Jungle'...win! Still smarting from last week’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the ‘cellar dwellers’ Melbourne Demons, he gave the appearance of a Lions outfit ready to cement their place in the top four. Clearly Coach Leigh Matthews had made it clear that he expected nothing less than a comprehensive win from his boys.
Game day umpires, included ‘Razor Ray’ Chamberlain (18), Matt Stevic (9), and Shane Stewart (10). ‘Razor Ray’ and the broadcast media have an interesting relationship to say the least because the word on the street is, that Razor is making hay while the sun shines, taking more than his fair share of 15 minutes fame...each game. Making sure his on screen TV time is maximized at the ball ups and gesticulating at free kicks. As the cheer squad banners went up and the Lions tore through theirs, the message read ‘Lions, Kings of the Jungle’, while for Essendon the message promised to reduce the proud Lions to meowing kitty cats Brown won the toss and elected to kick to the Coventry end toward the Essendon Cheer squad. Was this a calculated tactic to ensure a final quarter of Grandstanding and showing off in front of their supporters and cheer squad? Time would tell. As the teams filled out their positions, Paddy Ryder picked up Brown and Fletch was on Bradshaw. This was an unexpected move. Bomber fans were nervous. Brown could easily give Paddy a toweling up tonight! Was Knights being too creative for his own good?
Full back Ryder was to be tested early. Within minutes of the opening bounce Lion's midfielder Simon Black was given a free kick and played a long ball onto Brown. Ryder was quick and managed to cut the ball off and within 5 quick Essendon passes, delivered the ball to McVeigh inside their forward 50. McVeigh defied his recent form critics by kicking straight and true. Daniel Bradshaw replied just three minutes later with the Lions first, resulting in a see-sawing opening 5 minutes. Both sides stepped up the pressure with hard tackling and desperate refusal to concede ground. But when, Lucas forced a play on call in the Lions defensive 50, this resulted in a turnover and soon the Bombers had kicked 4 goals in less than 10 minutes. Paddy was chasing the Brown Dog all over the Paddock. The quarter took its turns but after 16 minutes an electrifying Leroy ‘The Prince’ Jetta scored the goal of match, his first of three; a weaving run, slicing through the Lions defense like a hot knife through butter. However, the experience and class of the Lions showed when minutes later Black slotted home his sides third for the term. Shortly afterwards he copped a strong hip and shoulder from Hille and was assisted from the ground.In the dying minute of the quarter Jonathan Brown finally got one over Paddy and scored his first for the match. It was a 12 goal opening term. Essendon kicked 8 Goals 3, to the Lions 4 goals straight. The Stats showed the Dons clearly dominated with double the possessions and 20 uncontested marks against a pedestrian 8 for Brisbane. And it was Essendon's best opening term for the 2008 season and the older players like Lloyd, Lucas, McFee, Hille and McVeigh all stood up. McVeigh shone with 12 disposals alone. It was too good to be true, Bombers fans watched as the Coaches went through their strategies in the quarter time huddle. Brown was being worked on by what seemed like a hospital's worth of physios.
Daniel Bradshaw , playing as a forward in this match, galvanized into action by Matthews address, opened the term for the Lions. Despite Bomber captain Matthew Lloyd's heroic tacking in the Essendon back pocket, Lions roared and scored three quick unanswered goals. Halfway through the term the Bombers came back and Lloyd scored his first for the match at the 23 minute mark. The second quarter was hard and demanding accountable footy. Courtney Johns missing a couple of sitters and Travis Johnstone playing hard. Both teams were goal for goal with 4 majors each for the session, but Essendon still had the upper hand, going into the big break leading by 26 points. , Continuing their first quarter form, this was the highest first half score for Essendon in season 2008 and they went to the rooms with their heads held high. Brisbane on the other hand looked grim, with concerns for Brown, limping heavily from the ground. Simon Black required a jab for his injured AC joint and defender, Daniel Merrett had a severely corked thigh.
The second half began with a touch of déjà voodoo for the Bombers with Brisbane's Daniel Bradshaw scoring in the opening two minutes, Lions on Fire! Sam Lonergan again in the wars, receiving a solid bump in a clash of heads, concussed and helped off the ground by 3 medical staff and headed to the Don’s rooms. Michael Rischitelli, playing half forward booted the ball forward to Brown; it was missed by everyone, including the defenders to bounce like the mongrel punt it was, through the posts for a major, taking the Lions into the lead. Meanwhile, on the bench, Lonergan had returned from the rooms and sitting next to the club doctor taking a written concussion test and passing that , he was required to perform several quick sprints on the side line and before being passed fit enough to play on. Before most knew he was off, he was back on the ground. As luck would have it, he found himself in the right space at the right time with a mark landing on his chest 40 meters out from goal. When lined up and shanked the ball to his left for a behind, many wondered if he was he was indeed concussed after all! Lions still in the lead! The crowd groaned! It was only 5 weeks ago that Essendon came off an 8 game losing streak, had they now come to the end of their winning ways? 20 minutes into the quarter, ‘The Prince’ stepped deftly past team mate Lloyd, crumbed the ball in the forward pocket, sidestepping first one…two and then a third Brisbane defender, to coolly chip the ball into the goal for his second. The crowd came alive and the Bombers began their resurgence. This session saw Laycock being out rucked and out marked. Brisbane kicked the first five goals, Essendon the next 5 and the ‘Big Brown Dog’ the 11th goal for the quarter. Jetta had got flattened, Welsh took a beating around the head, and Brown was limping and Lonergan had been concussed, Black was played with a jab in the AC joint and Hille once again dominated his share of the Ruck. Commitment by all! Ess 19.9.111 Bris 14.8.92.
The last quarter huddles were a beehive of activity, Brown was nowhere to be seen, and both team medicos were working frantically on legs and calves. Matthews was ‘calmly animated’, the Lions were in small groups seemingly plotting strategy and tactics. Essendon were in a tight group, arms around shoulders preparing for the next 30 minutes of battle. The siren sounded, Brown materialized from nowhere to take his familiar position at full forward and Hille kicked off the opening ruck. The contestants never wavered and the tackles were uncompromising. Jonathan Brown took such a solid hit that he stayed on all fours for what seemed like minutes, gingerly getting up, pain etched into his face; he slowly unfurled his limbs like a cartoon character regaining form after being flattened. Limping he made his way back in front of goal but minutes later he was off and had a spell on the interchange bench bike. Merrett corky proved his undoing and he was now sidelined with a bag of ice strapped to his right thigh, game over for him! Frustration was creeping into the game plan and three errant 50m penalties by the Lions gave the Bombers an edge – Mathew Lloyd adding to his tally.The activity in the final term was frenetic and despite playing literally on one leg Brown booted 5 goals. Bradshaw had Fletch’s measure and kicked 4, Brennan also kicked 4. On any other day that would have been game over! A Lion’s victory, but not today! Essendon showed promising depth with 11 goal kickers; their, enthusiasm and strong tackling proved the difference. A game predicated on Hille’s dominance in the ruck (20 disposals) supported by Andrew Welsh’s close attention to Brisbane ruckman, Jamie Charman (8 disposals) and inspired midfield running game, with a game high- 33 disposals. The team was closely supported by Stanton (31 disposals, 3 goals) and McVeigh (29 disposals, 2 goals) and the Bomber engine room of Peverill, Watson, Lovett-Murray, Nash and Monfries adding just over a 100 disposals and 3 goals. In the end Lloyd took 9 marks, kicked 4 goals and had 17 possessions with 4 inside 50’s, an inspired captain’s game. Lucas took 5 marks and kicked 5 goals; his return has added structure to Essendon's leadership on field. In the end 40,053 mostly Bombers fans saw an impressive young side, possibly the All Australian no.1 ruck in Hille and speedsters Andrew Welsh and Leroy Jetta showing their pace. Just for now though, the Lions were tamed and the kings of the jungle were left to lick their wounds.
Oh, by the way ticket number 478 won the raffle!
Essendon 24.11 (155)
Brisbane 18.10 (118)
Essendon: Lucas 5, Lloyd, Stanton 4, Jetta 3, McVeigh, Lonergan 2, Watson, Neagle, Nash, Monfries, Laycock .
Brisbane - Brown 5, Bradshaw, Brennan 4, Black 2, Collier, Johnstone, Rischitelli
Article last changed on Wednesday, July 30, 2008 - 12:13 PM EDT