As on grand final day last year, Collingwood looked in control and rolled out to a confident lead. As on grand final day, the opposition came back – and suddenly the confidence disappeared.
As on grand final day, the Pies were stung by a goal of brilliance. In Essendon’s case it was two players, not one, and three goals were kicked, not just Dom Sheed’s one for the ages. First came Jake Stringer’s twin goals from the boundary, 50 metres out. Then came Joe Daniher and his Malcolm Blight-like roost from about a kilometre out from goal.
Daniher nearly got his side over the line. Scott Pendlebury did. The Collingwood captain was exceptional throughout, but superb in the last quarter in holding his team together and holding Essendon off.
The Bombers looked impotent up forward for most of the first half. They had kicked just two goals for almost the half but then just as Collingwood kicked out to a game high 33-point lead, the Bombers found their game. They kicked one against the flow, to Daniher, and it heralded a rush. Suddenly they had three in six minutes and all the momentum.
If you were to be churlish you would suggest Essendon had got three of their five first-half goals from acts of freakishness – two from Stringer from the boundary 50 metres out and Daniher from Rod Laver Arena after the half-time siren. They hadn’t been able to get easy goals, where Collingwood were scoring more regulation shots: two marks and goals from easy range for Cox; snaps and pressure goals from others.
There was some truth to that suggestion, but the more important change in the game was in how Essendon brought the ball forward, not how they got it through the goals once they got it forward.
It was also irrelevant because once momentum goes your way, goals come easier and Essendon had the momentum. Daniher’s first goal of the second half was at once regulation and still utterly spectacular. He took a towering mark over Darcy Moore, coming the other way next to the goal square. This was an odd match-up because Daniher was Essendon’s best player, but Moore was still one of Collingwood’s best.
Essendon’s change was in the fact they began to rebound the ball fast and hard from their backline, with Adam Saad and Conor McKenna’s run unsettling Collingwood and opening the game up.
Collingwood’s game had been initially about owning possession and frustrating Essendon. Collingwood played a game that was at once careful yet bold. They ran hard with the ball to move it forward but they were cautious with their ball use when they did kick it.
Collingwood had the balance, through Pendlebury in the middle but then also their range of forwards – De Goey, Stephenson and Will Hoskin-Elliott – to find the goals when they mattered to just keep their noses ahead of the Bombers.
Despite the AFL pleas for fans not to boo star players and to respect umpires, the message fell, predictably, on deaf ears. Nothing could silence the Essendon fans’ thoughts on the umpires at the game’s end. Nor about who was the Anzac Day medallist – they booed Scott Pendlebury as he accepted his medal, prompting coach Nathan Buckley to take the booers to task.
The Anzac Day Medal nominally goes to players displaying Anzac traits of courage and doing a job, but typically it goes to the best player. An early contender for an effort offering Anzac traits, however, was Tom Phillips’ brave – or reckless – decision to go back with the flight of the ball in a marking contest on the outer wing. He went straight into Mitch Brown, flying the other way, and hit the ground looking more like Alex Jesaulenko running into Stan Magro, but was able to get up and play on.
A similarly solid hit came early when Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti slammed into Steele Sidebottom. Nothing untoward, just a big, strong hit.
Orazio Fantasia was a late out for Essendon with Darcy Parish coming back into the team. The loss offset the absence of Jamie Elliott for Collingwood, replaced by Hoskin-Elliott for his first game for the year.
Devon Smith missed last week and he only managed a bit over a half on Anzac Day before again succumbing to a knee injury.