ESSENDON 3.3 3.6 9.10 10.13 (73) WESTERN BULLDOGS 3.5 5.8 7.9 9.11 (65)
Goals: Essendon: J Watson 2 B Goddard B Howlett B Stanton C Dempsey D Heppell J Daniher J Winderlich P Chapman. Western Bulldogs: L Dahlhaus 2 A Cooney J Macrae J Stringer L Hunter L Jones S Higgins T Liberatore.
BEST Essendon; Fletcher, Hurley, Heppell, Hooker, Goddard, Watson. Western Bulldogs: Higgins, Dahlhaus, Picken, Wood, Cooney, Boyd.|
Umpires: Simon Meredith, Jason Armstrong, Matthew Leppard.
Official Crowd: 33,289 at Etihad Stadium.
Essendon was going nowhere fast early in the third quarter against the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium. Five minutes after half-time, the Bombers hadn’t kicked a goal for nearly two full quarters and looked flat as a tack against a hungry opponent.
Its forward line was proving impotent again, and even skipper Jobe Watson was struggling for touch and touches. But suddenly, something clicked. Joe Daniher hit up hard on a lead, getting to a contest first and firing off a handball to Watson, who suddenly found space. His kick to a one-on-one saw Jason Winderlich beat Bob Murphy to the ball, and a left-foot grubber dribbled through.
That wasn’t the cue for a massive about-face in this game, but it was enough to stir Essendon’s reserves of self-belief. The Dons would boot six goals to two for the quarter to take a 13-point lead into the final change, then manage to find enough of that grit missing earlier to survive a last term in which they could add only another solitary six-pointer, the final goal of the match to the Bulldogs’ Lachie Hunter as early as the 10-minute mark.
This was a game in which neither side could muster a decent attack. But that said as much about the quality of the defence, which in Essendon’s case, was the difference. Dustin Fletcher turns 39 next Wednesday, but his performance was his present to himself, a superb display of spoiling and creating, so well he ended up his side’s equal leading possession getter. In 384 AFL games, an unlikely first.
Michael Hurley did an excellent job on former teammate Stewart Crameri, with Cale Hooker not far behind. Indeed, that trio finished the game with a collective 69 disposals. For the Bulldogs, Shaun Higgins was similarly prolific off half-back, still finding time to venture further afield to set up a couple of goals, Easton Wood impressive also.
And not unusually for the Bulldogs, Luke Dahlhaus was everywhere, midfield, creeping into attack to finish his team’s only multiple goalkicker. When he was at his busiest in the first half, so was his side at its best. But similarly to last week against Adelaide, the Doggies just couldn’t close the deal despite an ascendancy which stretched to 14 points late in the second term, and but for some wasted opportunities, would have been more.
Essendon certainly gave the Dogs a sniff. As they had in the previous two games, the Dons started quickly and then stopped as abruptly. And unlike Anzac Day against Collingwood, on this occasion there were only half the scoreboard returns.
The Bulldogs first stemmed the flow then began to get right on top, so much so they’d kick the only goals in the first half from that moment. Admittedly, that was only five, but in what became a dour scrap in the second term, the Doggies dominated the clinches.
The second quarter was a poor spectacle, but that would hardly have concerned Bulldogs’ coach Brendan McCartney, whose side bored in harder and ran harder to create opportunities than their opponents, booting the only two goals of the term as a result, both testament to the Dogs’ work ethic.
Adam Cooney had the first after kicking into space inside the forward 50 for Jake Stringer, then continuing to run, working into position for Macrae to find him 30 metres out. The next didn’t come for nearly another 15 minutes, but epitomised the contrast in attitudes. With Essendon in possession, the Dogs’ pressure was intense enough to hassle first Jake Melksham into a hurried handball, then David Zaharakis into a hurried kick into a forward 50 that contained not one teammate or opponent.
The footrace was on, but there were more Bulldogs prepared to take it on, regaining possession then sweeping it to the other end, where another incisive pass from Higgins hit Dahlhaus, in the clear and 20 metres out. The margin was 14 points the Dogs’ way, and the alarm bells were ringing.
The only difference this time was that the Dons actually woke up in time to do something about it.