GEELONG 5.1 8.4 8.6 13.11 (89) ESSENDON 1.3 3.5 8.10 11.14 (80)
Goals: Geelong: T Hawkins 3 J Selwood 2 M Duncan 2 S Kersten 2 S Motlop 2 C Enright G Horlin-Smith. Essendon: J Carlisle 2 J Daniher 2 T Colyer 2 B Howlett B Stanton C Dempsey J Merrett M Hibberd.
BEST Geelong: Selwood, Duncan, Kelly, Mackie, Rivers, Motlop, Hawkins, Murdoch. Essendon: Heppell, Ryder, Zaharakis, Colyer, Goddard, Stanton, Myers.
Umpires: Robert Findlay, Chris Kamolins, Brett Rosebury.
Official Crowd: 43,732 at Etihad Stadium.
They found a way to fall behind. They found a way to get in front. One did it at the right time. It always seems to be Geelong that conjures a way.
The Cats kept top four thoughts alive. Essendon kept its spirit alive, even if the loss harmed designs on the top eight.
From five goals up, Geelong fell behind. One quarter of lethargy and Essendon brilliance swung the game. One final quarter of brilliance and electrifying football from both teams elevated a game from contest to spectacle.
When Geelong fell behind, twice it was Steven Motlop who put it back ahead. Twice it was with moments of outrageous brilliance. Laying balls across his right boot, both times running across goal.
These goals completed the earlier efforts of Mitch Duncan to caress balls through from out wide to get Geelong back into a game it had at once dominated but was then outplayed.
For the first half Geelong was far the better side. The Cats were sharp, composed and had command of the play across half-back through James Kelly, Andrew Mackie and Jared Rivers. They had Tom Hawkins at his muscular best. They had Shane Kersten providing encouraging foil. They had Joel Selwood, labouring with a hip and hamstring, moving forward and kicking two goals. Things were going right.
This magnified what Essendon did not have. They could not find targets inside 50 and consequently were retrieving balls bouncing out of their forward line. Just as Geelong had thrown Selwood forward out of necessity, Essendon also put its best player, Brendon Goddard, forward to try to find someone to take a mark.
Who knows why it changed. But it did and the ailments Geelong had been able to mask in the first half suddenly became problematic. Harry Taylor was off for the full duration of a concussion test. The Cats looked slow in the middle. Dawson Simpson was beaten in the ruck.
Essendon was five goals down. Geelong surging. The world seemingly against them. Officials denying them in the Federal Court and on the ground. Playing terribly.
Against a side it had beaten once since 2006 Essendon shrugged at these mishaps and played with an unexpected freedom. It upended the match.
It began with Patrick Ryder and Dyson Heppell in the middle of the ground, was aided by Brent Stanton, David Zaharakis and Goddard. The Bombers won the clearances 13-3 for the third quarter and the difference was palpable.
Nothing illustrated the change better than the goal Joe Daniher kicked to put the Dons within a point. Geelong had not won a clearance for the quarter when Ryder rose, palmed the ball to David Zaharakis who burst at speed and put the ball in front of Daniher to mark and convert the set shot. Teams practice for months in the hope a drill like that might happen in a game.
It illustrated precisely what Essendon had not done in the first half. It hadn’t won clearances (13-23) and it hadn’t had a marking forward. Suddenly it had both. It had not had contested ball winners in the middle of the ground suddenly it was winning the ball and with the pace of Zaharakis and Travis Colyer surging hard ahead of the ball and opened Geelong up.
The Dons had all the momentum and when Courtenay Dempsey kicked the first goal of the last quarter they were nine points up and Geelong had not goaled for a quarter. Duncan hit back against the tide first with a steadier then with one that aroused the idea of a contest. Colyer’s pace kept Essendon in it with a goal, and his legs pumping too fast for his body on a second shot that sprayed wide hurt them equally. When Daniher booted a goal to recover the lead the Dons were nearly home. Until Motlop’s second moment. And a sealer from Hawkins.
The day began in the Federal Court with Neil Young, QC, examining the needle and the damage done. It ended with a men in blue, the whistle and the damage done.
The half-decisions seemed to go Geelong’s way. The howlers, too, against Essendon such as when Goddard was inexplicably denied a double grab mark in front of goal.
Paul Chapman playing his old club was unable to have an impact. Encouragingly for Essendon, Daniher and Jake Carlisle played their best half of football operating in tandem as forwards.
It could have al been so different. Some Motlop brilliance. Two balls that shave posts. Such is the way extraordinary games are decided.