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Heart-stopper

Date

Greg Baum

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Blair's winning goal off his hand?

We can't decide, so you be the judge. Was Jarryd Blair's goal good or not?

PT0M0S 620 349

COLLINGWOOD 2.4 5.6 9.8 11.14(80) ESSENDON 1.3 3.6 7.8 11.13(79)
GOALS Collingwood: Swan 3, Cloke 3, Blair 2, Beams, Jolly, Sidebottom. Essendon: Davey 3, Zaharakis 2, Monfries, Howlett, Stanton, Dell’Olio, Hocking, Lonergan.
BEST Collingwood: Swan, Pendlebury, Johnson, Clarke, Beams, Sidebottom, Maxwell. Essendon: Zaharakis, Heppell, Fletcher, Howlett, Lonergan, Watson, Dyson.
INJURIES Essendon: Hibberd (hamstring).
UMPIRES Donlon, Stevic, Meredith.
CROWD: 86,932 at MCG.

SEVENTEEN years after Collingwood and Essendon drew in what - with a little licence - is called the start of the Anzac Day footy tradition, they played themselves to an epic standstill again.

It came down to a slip and a slide. The slip was Lachlan Keeffe's as the ball took a perverse bounce at one end, allowing Brent Stanton to snap what looked to be the winning goal for Essendon.

Eyes on the prize: Dustin Fletcher (left) tangles with Anzac Medal winner Dane Swan yesterday.

Eyes on the prize: Dustin Fletcher (left) tangles with Anzac Medal winner Dane Swan yesterday. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Two minutes and two seconds remained. Essendon tried to despatch bodies back, but heavy legs got only halfway. The ball spilled to the back of a pack in the Collingwood goal square and Jarryd Blair slid in to toe-poke it across the line. It was such a near thing that the umpires called for a video review, escalating the already unbearable tension.

One minute 20 remained, a mini eternity. Incident and accident filled it, until at last the ball fell into the hands of Dane Swan, who paused as long as he dared before taking the last kick of the match. It was his 42nd disposal. Unanimously, he was awarded the Anzac Medal.

''We tag Swan, and [Scott] Pendlebury wins the medal. We tag Pendlebury, and Swan wins,'' said Essendon coach James Hird, himself a three-time winner. It was ungrudging tribute.

Flags fly at the MCG. Click for more photos

Anzac Day clash: Collingwood vs Essendon

Collingwood plays Essendon in the traditional Anzac Day clash at the MCG. Photo: Pat Scala

Afterwards, neither recollection nor composure came easily. Footy-speak was forgotten. ''Awesome game,'' said Swan. ''Cracking game of footy,'' said Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley, whose exploits as a player also are part of the legend of this fixture. ''Very proud,'' said Hird, ''and very disappointed.''

To Collingwood, straitened by injury, it felt like an epic win. For Essendon, also decimated, and further reduced by another soft-tissue injury, victory would have been no less heroic. That was the scale of it. Both sides were playing on four-day breaks, easily overlooked in a contest as rugged and willing as any this season. Never was there time, room or the least inclination for a short step. Between them, they laid 176 tackles. This was just round five, a preliminary to the preliminaries.

The low and glowering cloud, the abiding commemoration of the Anzacs and the edge-of-the-seat engagement of a crowd of almost 87,000 amplified the gravitas. At the start, the minute's silence was so complete that the flapping of the flags at half-mast atop the scoreboard could be heard. At end, nothing could. ''I thought I heard the siren three times,'' said Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell.

Three players personified the day. One was Swan, latterly down on form, but yesterday back to his trampling best. ''Hopefully, this is just an ordinary game and I can get better,'' he said with a smirk. His personality is like his football, its force disguised by a laconic front. As a personality, his gig is to mock the cult of personality.

Marty Clarke, five games back from two years in Ireland, restricted Stanton to two touches before half-time, and 11 after it. Nathan Brown reappeared after 18 months and two knee injuries to limit Stewart Crameri, a match-winner for Essendon last Saturday, to two lonely kicks.

For the Magpies, this was back to the future, personnel-wise. So was their football; for the first time this season, it had the Malthouse stamp again. The truth about premiership teams is they must evolve or die. For Collingwood and its new coach, this verity has been made sharper by injury. Already, this season had become a matter of adapting to new circumstances. It was what made victory yesterday so gratifying.

If this seems rather to undersell Essendon, it is because for long stretches of the day - and statistics notwithstanding - the Bombers looked overmatched. Hird admitted as much. That they kept a foothold in the game, and came within a couple of minutes of winning it, was a credit to the footballing smarts of Alwyn Davey, David Zaharakis and especially Dyson Heppell, but also to a new and steelier resolve in defence.

It meant that in the first half at least, the match was played as a series of lockdowns; whichever side got the ball forward kept it there, but did not necessarily score. Pressure and damp conditions multiplied until it seemed that the ball was alive with voltage. Only at the boundary line did it die.

A slight loosening in the second half worked to Essendon's advantage, and especially Davey's. In such a heart-stopping finish, luck inevitably played as much a role as any other factor; both coaches said so.

At the final siren, both sides looked eight quarters spent. So did the crowd. Keeffe, though, bounded from one knot of players to another, relieved, overjoyed - and seemingly ready to do it all over again.

32 comments

  • An absolute thriller yet again. WA has its derbies and SA has its showdowns. This is Victoria's big game contested by Victoria's biggest teams. Buckley v Hird. I would like to think it puts an end to calls that the Anzac Day fixture be played between lesser teams. But somehow I know the chatter will again begin next year in the lead-up.

    Commenter
    Truman
    Location
    Hawthorn
    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 12:49AM
    • Well done to both teams. You deserve this day if you play like this.

      Commenter
      BusterH
      Location
      CBD
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 1:40AM
      • What a game, a heart stopper. If anyone bags this regardless of what team they follow - then they are not a true follower of the game. Credit to those guys who must have been out on their feet to play it to the end after a 4 day turnaround in such a pace-evolved game these days. Credit to both clubs

        Commenter
        Stealth Hoverer
        Location
        Heaven
        Date and time
        April 26, 2012, 3:27AM
        • Another incredible ANZAC Day clash, further cementing that the idea of taking the game away from these two clubs would be a total joke.
          I find it purely insulting that other clubs want to ride on Collingwood and Essendon's coattails by trying to be apart of this event.
          The AFL is still a business and maybe these other clubs should focus on getting fans through the gates on normal games before they can even think of pinching a blockbuster game off the two clubs who established this tradition.
          Maybe these clubs should attempt their own innovation if they wish to see a decent revenue stream, not just mooch off a tradition that has been established with no effort on their part!

          Commenter
          Whitey
          Date and time
          April 26, 2012, 5:03AM
          • Further Cementing...? - you forgotten that the last six Anzac day matches have been walkovers? Pretty easy to convince yourselfof something you already believe huh? Yeh c'mon all the other clubs stop your whinging- cos' there's just sooo many other public holidays to choose from....maybe giving away a few free memberships might help?

            Commenter
            debagger
            Date and time
            April 26, 2012, 7:38AM
          • Debagger, you forget the 2009 match, where (as a Collingwood supporter) my heart sank as Essendon won the match in the dying seconds.

            Commenter
            Christos
            Date and time
            April 26, 2012, 9:33AM
          • Really Debagger?? Check the facts. In 2006, the margin was 17pts, in 2007 the margin was 16, in 2009 it was 5, and yesterday just the one.

            Commenter
            DJCJ
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            April 26, 2012, 9:34AM
          • Really teabagger? Easy to convince yourself of something you already believe? Is that hypocrisy or irony?

            Commenter
            Bum McFluff
            Date and time
            April 26, 2012, 10:15AM
          • I think it's quite clear that YOU'RE the one trying to convince themselves of something they already believe. And your comment about clubs giving out free memberships is a great idea, at least in that case they're doing something new with a bit of initiative. Rather than just trying to steal something they know already works.

            Commenter
            Whitey
            Date and time
            April 26, 2012, 10:35AM
          • "ride on Collingwood and Essendon's coattails" You have to laugh at supporters of these clubs really who honestly believe they have the right to get virtually every blockbuster game. It wasn't even Sheedy's idea despite all his bragging about this.
            You're only big clubs because of the free publicity the AFL so gladly gives you.
            Thought the standard of footy was actually pretty poor - a close game doesn't necessarily make it a good game. Essendon were certainly better last Saturday in defeating Carlton who, the week prior, had flogged the Pies.
            As for commentators saying things like they have fought in the spirit of the ANZAC legend - nauseating and quite insulting to those, and their families, who have actually fought in wars.

            Commenter
            Go Blues
            Date and time
            April 26, 2012, 1:30PM

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