At least the booing of Pendlebury was clearly explicable – it was a rage against the final decision, or decisions, that the Dons’ fans felt had deprived them of a stirring comeback win. They couldn’t boo the umpires at that stage, so Pendlebury copped it instead. It did not seem that there was anything personal against him.
Pies coach Nathan Buckley – no stranger to boos in his playing days – did not like the hooting of his skipper, and doubtless it will spark further discussion of inappropriate booing.
For much of the final quarter the game had the shape of the 2018 grand final, with the Bombers playing the part of West Coast, charging home with the greater run and momentum, and the Pies desperately clinging to a lead that had steadily been eroded since its peak of 33 points midway through the second quarter.
That the Dons couldn’t quite emulate the Eagles was due in no small measure Pendlebury, who equalled Essendon’s James Hird as the wearer of three medals for the player of the match.
On a day when players of both often failed to retain composure – fumbling and then coughing up the ball under the staggering pressure – the Collingwood captain maintained his preternatural calm and one-touch ball handling. And he handled it often – 38 times.
But if the occasion was memorable, it was made so by the persistence and enormous improvement of the Bombers, a team that one or two years ago would have been belted by several goals once they slipped worse than five goals behind.
While their comeback was a collective surge, the standout story belonged to a key forward who had spent the previous day in Ungarie, at the funeral of his grandfather and Riverina clan patriarch, Jim Daniher.
It is staggering to think that Joe Daniher was a late inclusion to the Good Friday game against North Melbourne last round and that he booted 4.0 – his oft-wayward boot deadly on this Anzac Day – in a duel with Darcy Moore that was quite special. Moore was among Collingwood’s best and some of the marks Daniher plucked would not have been stopped by Stephen Silvagni or Alex Rance at their zeniths.
Jake Stringer, too, maintained his reputation for mercurial football. He booted three goals, each of them gems. Two were from near the hotdog stand, and one of those was outside the 50m arc on the boundary in the second quarter, when the Dons sorely needed a burst of brilliance.
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti did not have the ball as often as many teams, yet was instrumental in the shifting the momentum of the match; his daring touches had the mark of quality. In the absence of Orazio Fantasia – a huge out before the match – the explosive “Walla” assumed greater responsibility in a forward line that was largely impotent early against a better-organised side.
If Collingwood’s edge at the death was that they were slightly more seasoned and knowing of each other – and less prone to slap the ball by hand or foot – the Pies also needed a goal, which was duly delivered by their own match-winner in Jordan De Goey, who broke into space and calmly converted a major that took the margin to two kicks.
Essendon won the clearances, yet lost the territorial game, with the Pies having nine more entries overall. The contested balls – virtually tied at 168-165 – were a reflection of the balance of play.
That the match ended with boos and on a jarring note did not negate the sense that, for the first time in at least seven years, Essendon and Collingwood did actually play in the biggest home-and-away game of the season.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age. He writes news, commentary and analysis on a variety of other sports.