Fairy-tale finish

I had a full weekend moving into my new home. The removalists didn’t finish unloading until 9.30 Friday night, and for the rest of the weekend I was opening boxes and shifting them to the point of exhaustion. It’s hard work, and I’m only halfway done – the place looks bloody ruinous.

Though I worked myself to the bone – and feel it – I found myself taking time off yesterday afternoon to watch the footy. In another reality I’d have been at the MCG, like so many times before, sitting there as my team took on arch-rivals and reigning premiers, Hawthorn. I couldn’t do that this time, but the TV was on, and before too long I found myself sitting on the couch watching instead of opening boxes.

In the scheme of things it was a wise investment of time. The boxes can be opened anytime; the game couldn’t wait. As it turns out it was an absolutely ball-busting game of football. I’ve spent the whole summer loving the cricket, but push comes to shove you can’t beat the footy. Yesterday was irrefutable proof of that.

In brief Essendon got off to a good start and had a lead of 35 points in the second quarter at one stage, and led by 22 at the break. By ¾ time the lead was 8 points, but Hawthorn were coming. Last week we had a big lead and blew it as we ran out of legs, due to a compromised pre-season. The same script was on the cards this time. In fact there was an air of inevitability about it. Brave effort that, but ultimately it all goes to script…

Sure enough Hawthorn claimed the lead, then went further ahead. Essendon kept at it, but it was clear that tiredness was getting to them. When Hawthorn went 16 points up with a few minutes to go it looked like it might be the ball game. An immediate reply reduced the lead back to 10 points. Hawthorn attacked again, and kept it there, sucking players into their forward half from further up the field, like a receding tide.

There’s always a danger in that from the quick counter-attack. Gain possession and ahead of you are wide open spaces. That’s what happened. A quick break, a couple of beautifully weighted kicks, and a goal to Essendon reduced the lead to 4 points with a little over a minute to go. Then from the re-start the ball was bombed long into our forward line and swooping on the ball was the most unlikely of characters. Our centre-half back, Cale Hooker, had rotated forward and gathering the ball kicked it across his body towards goal. It was an ugly-looking kick, but it was true. You could see Hawthorn players put their head in their hands: they had 57 seconds to regain the lead.

It was an eventful 57 seconds. A great smother, then a crunching tackle denied Hawthorn, then Bruest ran onto the ball and kicked the goal for them – a second after the siren had rung.

It was a great, a famous, an electrically charged win. The players celebrated like it was a final, which in its way it was. It was not just a victory against the top side (lauded as unbeatable during the week). It was vindication of their hard work and commitment, an emotional counter-balance to  the stresses and strains, the accusations and abuse of the last 2 years. Here they were doing what they wanted to do, and did best – play footy. This was it, a validation of their profession. The roar when the final siren rang said it all – this was a moment of cathartic release for everyone associated with the club.

I believe we have the team to go far. I believe in Hird, much pilloried as he is, that we have exactly the right man at the helm. What a story it will be when we make the grand final. That’s the end this story deserves – but then, I’m biased.

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