MELBOURNE – The barest of touches of a boot and the barest of margins separated Collingwood from Essendon yesterday.
The Magpies won a drama-packed Anzac Day clash 11.14 (80) to 11.13 (79) at the MCG in front of 86,932 fans, thanks mainly to Dane Swan’s magnificent performance.
However, the midfield marvel’s Anzac Medal- winning 42 disposals, 13 clearances and three goals would have been wasted, if not for a dribbled winner from Jarryd Blair, confirmed after a tense wait for a video referral.
It was the last score of a nerve-jangling final term.
Essendon coach James Hird expressed great pride in his team despite the loss.
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said he would have felt likewise even if a Brent Stanton goal that gave Essendon the lead two minutes from full-time had proved the winner.
“But ultimately, after they’d invested so much through the game, credit to them. They were able to find a little bit more in that last couple of minutes to kick the final score,” Buckley said.
He said his team, still missing premiership stars Luke Ball, Dale Thomas, Heath Shaw, Alan Didak, Ben Reid and Chris Tarrant, had set the bar for its season.
“It’s the closest thing we’ve given to a four- quarter performance this year,” Buckley said.
It was Essendon’s first defeat and gave the Magpies a positive win-loss record (3-2) for the first time.
The Magpies looked superior for much of the day, particularly the first half, when Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Dayne Beams controlled the midfield, Harry O’Brien excelled as a defensive sweeper and Travis Cloke threatened in attack.
Essendon’s Stewart Crameri, who starred with 5.6 against Carlton four days earlier, was superbly held by Nathan Brown, in a brilliant comeback from knee injuries by the Magpies defender, playing his first AFL game since the 2010 grand final.
However, the Bombers stayed in touch, helped by some Collingwood misses.
A sprayed Chris Dawes set shot late in the first half allowed Essendon to race away for an Alwyn Davey goal, keeping the half-time margin to two goals.
It was still within two goals at the last change, despite a heroic 13-touch, two-goal third quarter from Swan.
The buffer stretched to three majors, before a goal to Cory Dell’Olio and two to Davey tied the scores.
Another Magpies miss, from Ben Sinclair, allowed Essendon to hit the front through Stanton’s snap, but only for about 40 seconds, before Blair pounced on a ball that slipped over a goalsquare pack.
“You never want to let the ball get out the back on a wet day,” Hird said, adding it was just one moment among many the Bombers could learn from.
This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.