Boilover: Bombers fall hard

Brendon Goddard Desperately trying to hang on … Pearce Hanley is tackled by Essendon’s Mark Baguley. Photo: Pat Scala
Nanjing Night Net

BRISBANE LIONS 3.4 6.5 11.7 14.12 (96) ESSENDON 3.1 7.6 10.9 12.14 (86) GOALS Brisbane: Zorko 3, Brown 2, Raines, Moloney, Staker, Lisle, Polkinghorne, Redden, Leuenberger, Hanley, Black. Essendon: Heppell 2, Crameri 2, Bellchambers 2, Howlett, Myers, Kavanagh, Hocking, Watson, Ryder. BEST Brisbane: Zorko, Brown, Merrett, Hanley, Golby. Essendon: Heppell, Goddard, Hibberd, Hooker, Hocking, Watson. INJURIES Essendon: Hurley (concussion). UMPIRES Wenn, Pannell, Fisher. CROWD: 33,915 at Etihad Stadium.

Two statistics best sum up the Brisbane Lions’ stunning 10-point upset of Essendon at Etihad Stadium on Saturday. One is that the team sitting 15th on the AFL ladder somehow managed to defeat one in second spot. The other is that the lead in this gripping, highly entertaining game changed on no fewer than 18 occasions.

This was one of the best games of the season to date, but perhaps even more so because it was so unexpected. Sure, Brisbane had rediscovered some competitiveness and Essendon had lost, but this was supposed to be all about the Bombers getting back on track against a team that had won just once in its past nine visits to the venue and lost both games there this year by more than 10 goals.

But you knew this wasn’t going to be all one-way traffic within 10 minutes. In fact, you could have argued a convincing case at that moment that if this game was indeed going to be one-sided, it would be Brisbane dominating. The Lions certainly had to that point. Incredibly, by then, Essendon hadn’t had a single inside-50 entry. Brisbane had had nine and scored two goals from them, both to livewire Dayne Zorko.

The first came after Bomber skipper Jobe Watson got a little too cute for his own good, dummying a handball inside his defensive 50, Zorko smothering and pouncing on the spoils. The second was a classy right-foot snap. With a Jonathan Brown poster and another behind, Brisbane was 14 points up and looking good.

The Lions had been on the angry pills, too. Daniel Merrett slammed Michael Hurley in a sling tackle, forcing the Bomber forward off the ground, and eventually to be substituted out of the game. Only a couple of minutes after that, young Lion Justin Clarke, playing only his fourth game, came in even later than the Metro timetable on Elliott Kavanagh, conceding a 50-metre penalty and the Dons’ first goal.

This was feisty stuff, and it seemed to spur the Bombers into action. Essendon proceeded to take control at ground level, if not on the scoreboard, enjoying the next seven inside 50s before David Myers converted some of that dominance with a thumping left-foot goal from beyond 55 metres. But from that moment, until half-time, these two teams were pretty hard to split, going virtually goal for goal.

Brown gave the Lions a little breathing space, Tom Bellchambers promptly closed it. Kavanagh put the Dons in front, Matthew Leuenberger snapped a response. Dyson Heppell, one of the Dons’ best, snapped off one step. Jack Redden clawed it back with a goal from a free kick and 50-metre penalty. Bellchambers kicked a second from a tight angle, and veteran Simon Black, having a big influence, had no trouble popping one through after a clever pass from the impressive Ryan Lester.

Stewart Crameri’s snap just on half-time for Essendon made it seven lead changes. But by the final change that had become 14, Brisbane determined to make its clearly greater levels of commitment count for something a lot more substantial than just honour. Essendon had key midfielders David Zaharakis and Brent Stanton subdued and even skipper Watson a little quieter than usual early, and by the time the urgency of the situation appeared to dawn on the Bombers, they were up against a side just as confident it could prevail in the end.

Essendon began hammering the goals, but the Lions defence was superb, Joel Patfull and Merrett resilient, Mitch Golby tough and productive when opposed to either Zaharakis or Jason Winderlich. Essendon finished the game with 61 inside 50s for 26 scores, the Lions went in just 39 times for the same number. At one stage in the third term, they’d had five entries for four goals.

There was controversy when Brown converted a mark that had appeared to be taken over the goal line, Ben Howlett pounced on a bungled kick-in from Jed Adcock, but the lead changed hands for a final time when Zorko, reprising his dynamic start, put Brisbane in front again after a rare turnover from Bomber defender Michael Hibberd.

And the exclamation mark was a beauty, a set shot from Brent Staker from just inside the 50, hard up on the boundary line, with less than a minute to play. It was only the second time in the entire game one side had led by a double-figure margin. And the closeness will have Essendon rueing a lost chance. But the Brisbane the Bombers met on Saturday was a far tougher proposition than the one they expected to be taking on. And the price paid for the underestimation was fair enough.

EARLY BITE

With their season on the line, the Lions chased the ball – and man – with vigour, as shown when Dayne Zorko booted the opening two goals of the match. The first came after Zorko smothered a Watson kick at half-back, collected the loose ball and ran into goal; the second after he scooped up a loose ball as the result of pressure in the forward pocket. The Lions had been slow starters this season.

CHANGING TACTICS

The Bombers were forced to reshuffle their forward line when Michael Hurley (concussion) was forced off. This prompted James Hird to use Tom Bellchambers, his premier ruckman, predominantly as a key forward, alongside his best ball winner, Jobe Watson, through the first half. This seemed an odd move considering the contest was tight and there had been few smooth passages to goal. Hird changed tactics in the third term and shifted the pair into the middle. Watson helped the Bombers to a staggering 41-19 advantage in clearances by three-quarter-time.

NO THANKS, SAYS LETHAL

Leigh Matthews maintains he has no interest in joining the Lions’ board as a director – despite repeated entreaties – or eventually becoming chairman. ”I haven’t had the motivation, I am away all the time,” he said. The Lions need someone of Matthews’ stature on their board to help impart football knowledge, and to help sell the club. What concerns the club’s triple-premiership mentor is that few leading business types in Brisbane want to join the board, unlike in Melbourne where all clubs generally have a long list of candidates. ”The Lions are struggling to get people to put their hands up. It’s not the AFL heartland,” he said on 3AW. – JON PIERIK

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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