ESSENDON 2.3 6.4 7.8 9.11 (65) BRISBANE LIONS 3.0 4.3 8.6 8.9 (57)
GOALS Essendon: Z. Merrett 2, Goddard, Zaharakis, Carlisle, Daniher, J. Merrett, Watson, Ryder. Brisbane Lions: Green 3, Merrett, Zorko, Brown, Paine, Paparone.
BEST Essendon: Watson, Goddard, Heppell, Hurley, Stanton, Ryder. Brisbane Lions: Rockliff, Green, Aish, Paparone, Hanley, Redden.
REPORTS Maguire (Brisbane Lions) for deliberately tripping Joe Daniher in the third quarter.
UMPIRES Meredith, Mitchell, Leppard.
CROWD 26,432 at Gabba.
You wouldn't think now is the best time in the Brisbane Lions' history to be invoking memories of the Bad News Bears. In a blast from the past, they took to the field for their match against Essendon in a commemorative jumper based on the club guernsey from 1989 to 1991, to honour the club's biennial Hall of Fame event in 10 days.
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Bombers hold off brave Lions
Essendon held off the Brisbane Lions to win by 8 points in a tight game at the Gabba.
But at least they came to play, after another week marred by goings-on off the field. Certainly there was far more spark and spirit in their game than last week, when they were destroyed by the Swans. Going one on one with the Bombers, they forced their opponents to scrap and scrape for everything.
In the end, the Bombers just scraped over the line, fatigue getting the better of the Lions in the last minute, Paddy Ryder kicking the winning goal after a turnover upfield. The home side had been better for much of the night but in the end lacked the class and firepower to put Essendon away.
But it was an intensely physical, often willing contest. Paul Chapman's raised elbow to the jaw of Jack Redden was indiscreet, to say the least. More awkward was Andrew Raines' collision with Brendan Goddard; the Jack Viney precedent should see Raines exonerated for an accidental clash where both players were clearly going for the ball.
Earlier, Redden had clashed heads with David Zaharakis, forcing both players temporarily from the field. By the third quarter, even umpire Matthew Leppard required attention after being upended. It was that sort of game; chaotic, low-scoring and no showcase of great skills, but hotly contested.
You couldn't say that about too many other games at the Gabba so far this year. And while the Bombers prevailed, they were anything but convincing, with Chapman facing suspension and more questions over the dismal form of Jake Carlisle. Surely the patience of coach Mark Thompson must be exhausted.
The Lions were wonderfully served by first-year player James Aish, whose courage and clean hands in close were a feature, and second-year tyro Marco Paparone, who was at times erratic but ran far and wide to set up scoring opportunities for his team, including the pass that set up the Lions' first goal, to Daniel Merrett.
Merrett didn't have a great game, but with Matt Maguire back in defence (possibly briefly, for he, too, was reported, for tripping Joe Daniher, in the third quarter), he helped give the Lions some structure and confidence in attack, something they've been lacking all year.
When Jonathan Brown kicked his first from an imperious set shot to give the Lions an early 10-point lead, you could see his teammates visibly lift. Red time, however, has been an Achilles heel for the young Lions all year, and Zach Merrett kicked a running shot on the siren to keep the Bombers in touch.
For most of the second quarter, it looked like the Lions' resistance would melt away. Daniher scrounged one off the deck that floated over the goal line; Carlisle kicked his only goal courtesy of a 5- metre penalty; Zaharakis opened the Lions' defence as easily as an envelope to score the Bombers' fifth.
Another 50-metre penalty for Zach Merrett's second extended the Bombers' lead to 20 points. But instead of wilting, the Lions rallied, showing a pride in the jumper that their predecessors of a generation ago didn't often show. And with just 10 goals kicked collectively to half time, they knew they were well and truly in the contest.
In the third quarter, they charged. It was clear the Bombers were rattled when Daniher, after being tripped by Maguire, sprayed a simple shot from 20 metres out, then Brendan Goddard put a second opportunity out on the full. Josh Green, who played an exceptional small forward's game for the Lions, made them pay.
A goal to an otherwise quiet Jackson Paine gave the Lions back the lead, and from there the match see-sawed, Jobe Watson winning the lead back for his side, Green wresting it again for an increasingly engaged and vocal home crowd in the shadow of the last change. But they couldn't muster another goal in a frantic last quarter, a slick banana on the run from Jackson Merrett giving the Bombers back the lead for the last time before Ryder finally sealed the deal in the last minute.