The Scots have a word – dreich. A dreich day is a grey, gloomy day and they have a lot of them.
Launceston had one yesterday which was unfortunate because it was hosting the elimination final between Essendon and the Bulldogs.
Cody Weightman of the Bulldogs is congratulated by Adam Treloar at a wet Lauanceston.Credit:Getty Images
The rain, when it came midway through the first term, was not a downpour. It was a persistent drizzle that made both the ball and the playing surface slippery. Up until then, Essendon were impressive, playing with precision and purpose, were calm and unhurried in their decision-making.
Darcy Parish in particular impressed, showing class and poise off both sides of his body.
The Dogs are professional and tough but they struggled early.
Tom Liberatore cracked in, the sound of one of his bodily collisions carried to the grandstand, but the early signs were not good. For the Dogs to be dominant, their midfield has to be on top, and here they were struggling to break even. Fortunately for the Dogs, ruckman Tim English performed well in this phase, with a series of strong marks.
It was a game where individuals had periods where they played well and materially influenced the course of the match. Marcus Bontempelli had his in the second term, but the player who split it open for the Dogs was miniscule firecracker forward Cody Weightman.
Weightman is smart, skilful and up for big challenges. His two goals in two minutes in the third term gave the Dogs their first real break of the match. Up until then Essendon had done the bulk of the scoring but suffered from inaccuracy.
It was a match which brimmed with consequences that went beyond the fact that it was an elimination final. The Dogs won a fabled flag in 2016 but hadn’t won a final since. History was starting to weigh heavily on Bevo’s boys. What was more, they won in ’16 by engendering a special closeness among players. Then one of those players, the mercurial and enigmatic Jake Stringer, was ejected from the kennel and landed at Essendon.
If the footy gods employ scriptwriters, this match-up – Stringer v his old club – must have given them a lot of food for thought.
Stringer can do things other players can’t, and knows it. He seems to have done quite a few of them this year. He kicked the first goal of the match, a snap off his left foot, and danced a jig.
The hugely pro-Essendon crowd chanted “BOMBERS, BOMBERS”, and it seemed the footy gods might have decided to punish the Dogs, but Luke Beveridge had made a shrewd move matching Stringer with 2016 premiership captain Easton Wood.
Wood’s 2016 finals series was a combination of acrobatic class and courage that will live in the memory of all who saw it. He no longer leaps over packs like he once did but he had the right combination of grit and experience to keep Stringer largely in check.
By the third quarter the game had become a scrap and the Dogs, the more seasoned team, scrapped better. Caleb Daniel was his usual excellent self – calm, consistent and unfailingly efficient. The three Baileys played well – Williams and Dale were bold defenders while Smith provided acceleration and daring around the packs. The more the Dogs controlled the match, the better their delivery into the forward line became, bringing Aaron Naughton into the game.
Dons ruck Sam Draper was competitive throughout, but it was hard not to watch for Stringer. He kicked a goal just before half-time to bring Essendon within three points.
In the third quarter, he was involved in an extended wrestle. At the start of the fourth, he concocted a shot on goal from a loose ball that travelled scarcely above head height for 40 metres and would have brought a crowd to their feet at White Hart Lane.
He had the ball when the match ended and had a shot for goal, electing to kick a torpedo. He missed.
It was not his day, nor Essendon’s.
Nonetheless, it has been a year of achievement for the Bombers. They have a core of good young players and to have come as far as they have since the prolonged trauma of the drug saga speaks of a club that has recovered its morale and can once again be the master of its destiny.
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