Collingwood didn’t score a goal for nearly 40 minutes and gave up six, then Essendon failed to notch one for even longer. In the interim, Essendon’s lead of better than six goals evaporated, becoming a deficit of 18 points at the last change. Propelled by their midfield guns, the Magpies booted nine goals without a reply – an astonishing fact in a game that ended with only a dozen goals to eight.
The eventual difference was that the Collingwood surge was sustained – it stretched for more than an hour, whereas Essendon’s period of one-way traffic lasted only half an hour. The Dons’ attempted revival in the last term was squandered – they closed to 10 points, then faded – as their finishing was unequal to their effort.
This would be another theme. Collingwood could convert from its fewer forward thrusts (45 to 56) and was by far the more dangerous team in attack, even though Travis Cloke was subdued. The prod Jake Carlisle received from his coach during the week did not gain the intended rise in productivity, while Joey Daniher, after early promise, played like a skinny young key forward.
Cloke was beaten, but his athletic foil Jesse White (two goals) did just enough to keep the Don defenders honest; Essendon had no comparable contribution.
The violent swing was captured in the performances of many players on either side, with Scott Pendlebury at first subdued then revived, while the reverse happened for Brent Stanton and Jason Winderlich. But no player’s swing from silent to deafening was as pronounced as the Anzac medallist, Dane Swan, whose quiet first quarter – when his notional “opponent” Stanton had 14 disposals – was followed by four goals and a further 22 disposals. Of those four goals, three were memorable, one extraordinary. In hindsight, Swan’s ridiculous second goal 21 minutes into the third quarter can be seen as the moment when most of the 91,731 guessed that the Pies would prevail: It was on his left boot, from an acute angle, following two bounces at near top pace – we doubt Swan could repeat it at training.
Swan booted another angle shot bursting from a pack later in the third quarter, and his fourth, a snap at the Ponsford Stand end, killed the Bombers’ belated charge. Swan’s claims on his second medal on this day were irresistible, even though his midfield cohorts – mainly Steele Sidebottom, Pendlebury and Dayne Beams – were not a mile behind. And a mile behind is precisely where Swan and co had found themselves two minutes into the second term.
The Bomber midfield led the onslaught in an outstanding first quarter, in which the Dons rediscovered the manic intensity and quick ball movement of rounds one to three. Collingwood had deployed its blanket, Brent Macaffer, on Jobe Watson, and restricted the champion to five disposals in the first quarter. But other Bomber mids were rampant, none more than Stanton, who was backed-up wonderfully by Dyson Heppell. Unlike his teammates, Heppell did not disappear.
Jake Melksham, given one of the game’s most imposing tasks – running with Pendlebury – contained the Collingwood skipper while gaining the ball nine times himself, then booting Essendon’s sixth goal.
Cloke had been spoilt in the aerial contests by a springy Cale Hooker, while speedy Winderlich had more than occupied Nick Maxwell.
Essendon’s burst of early goals were largely created and scored by small or medium players, namely Stanton, Watson, Chapman, Winderlich.
The Pies first crept back into the contest with goals to White and Swan, then exploded from the midfield in the second quarter, and began that swarm around the ball that has typified their last month. Sidebottom booted three goals for the quarter from a combined distance of about 12 metres – two were open goals on the line, another from a questionable mark he shared with Michael Hurley.
Pendlebury, unsurprisingly, became a creative force, along with Beams, while the Collingwood defence tightened, and the Dons struggled to find passage through the swarm that surrounded the ball. Lachie Keeffe held Carlisle captive in his form slump, Jack Frost eclipsed Daniher.
At the close, both teams were banged up, Alex Fasolo was subbed out with a bad foot or toe, Clinton Young and Chapman were corked and almost concussed in the same collision. Younger Bombers tired.
One team’s momentum had lasted longer, and it had taken greater advantage in that time.