Kangaroos end Bombers season with stirring comeback

North Melbourne 14.9 (93) defeated Essendon 12.9 (81)

The Kangaroos stormed home in the second half of the Elimination final to run over the top of Essendon and setup a clash with Geelong next week, in a pulsating contest played in front of almost 80,000 fans at the MCG on Saturday night.

For much of the night it didn’t look like ending that way.  The Bombers were the much better side in the first half and led by 4 goals at half time, and truthfully it should have been more.  When Paul Chapman kicked the first goal of the third quarter to put Essendon 5 goals up the game seemed all but over, but the Roos were able to turn it around by generating run via a loose man in Essendon’s defense and forcing the Bombers into turnovers through the middle of the ground.  The Roos banged on an incredible 5 goals in 11 minutes in the third and 7 for the quarter after kicking just 2 goals in the entire first half.  Essendon were able to steady late in the quarter thanks to a goal from Ben Howlett, and then retake the lead into the 3 quarter time break after a terrific set shot from ruckman Tom Bellchambers after the siren when he nailed one from 40 metres out deep in the forward pocket.

That setup a frantic last quarter, both teams looking the winner at times before Drew Petrie – well held to that point by Cale Hooker – was able to get on the end of a kind bounce and a Daniel Wells handball and snap 2 fantastic goals in quick succession to first put the Kangaroos a goal up and then essentially ice the contest with the second.  His first drew an almighty roar from the crowd, though it’s hard to know if it was the goal or his ‘Frank the Tank’ celebration afterwards that was most popular.
The Bombers would have one last chance to get back into the contest late as they streamed through the middle of the ground via Dyson Heppell but he sprayed his pass directly to a North player, and the Bombers season was over.  Heppell had 34 possessions but was unusually inaccurate by foot, his disposal efficiency well below his normal lofty standards at just 61%, perhaps impacted by the glove protecting his recently broken hand.  Still it was another strong performance for the 22 year old who has been a star from virtually his first AFL game but became a genuine A-Grader this season.
Like Heppell skipper Jobe Watson had a night with many positives and more than a few negatives, injuries to both Heppell and Watson at the wrong time of year didn’t help the Bombers come finals time.  One player who did stand up for the red and black was 20 year old Joe Daniher, clearly their most influential player for the night in his first final despite only having 11 disposals in a performance that will provide some solace for disappointed Bomber fans over the coming days and weeks.  He was fantastic Daniher, jumping at everything that came his way and either clunking strong marks or forcing the ball to ground – he managed to either halve or win virtually every contest he was in for the night.  Four goals were just rewards for the sublimely talented youngster who’ll be looking to hit the gym again this summer, a few more kilos on his lower body will make him a scary proposition for key defenders next season.  From the youth to, well, the not so youthful, Paul Chapman was excellent for the Bombers and probably their second best player behind only Daniher, he certainly did his best to get another crack at his former club next week, but sadly for him he’ll have to wait until next season.  Micheal Hurley finished a terrific season for the Bombers in fitting style as another of their best, while speedster Travis Colyer had a wonderful first half before fading a bit when North hit their straps.

For the Roos it was another young forward who would prove the game breaker in the pivotal third quarter, Ben Brown finished the game with 4 goals in his matchup with young Bomber back Ariel Steinberg, 3 of them coming in 7 minutes of the third quarter to erase what had looked a match winning lead for the Bombers.  Brown lead and marked well and was able to use his extra size over Steinberg to great effect during his burst.  A couple of his set shots were no gimme’s either, but when you’re hot you’re hot and Brown certainly was.
Daniel Wells, missing for much of the season, picked the right time to turn in a blinder and finished as one of his team’s best with 28 disposals and much of the creative run and ball use that he’s become famous for, which was particularly important for a team that were very predictable with their ball use in a disappointing first half.  Levi Greenwood was also excellent with 32 possessions as was Ben Cunnington with 30 and Sam Gibson with 27, while Sam Wright was able to orchestrate much of the third quarter onslaught as the loose man in defense and finished with 27 disposals himself.  It was a curious coaching move from Bomber Thompson not to man up the loose behind the ball as Wright and at times Scott Thompson (13 marks) were able to setup attack after attack in the third quarter burst that would decide the game.  Far be it from us to question Thompson’s tactics, but Roos coach Brad Scott had a big win over his Bomber counterpart for that pivotal 15 minutes.

Patrick Ryder, focus of much speculation about a potential move away from the Bombers during the week, was good without being outstanding.  He did kick a stunning goal in the last quarter and had a passionate celebration with teammates afterwards to look like anything but a player who wanted out of his football club, but then looks can be deceiving.  After marking one handed while locked into battle with his opponent Ryder casually snapped around his body from almost 50 metres out on an angle to kick a goal few in the game are capable of kicking, and no doubt remind the Bombers of exactly why they must be desperate to keep him.  On another night it might have been the fairytale goal that got Ryder’s team team home after a tough week for him personally, but not this time.

This time it was Petrie living the fairytale, though for much of the night it didn’t seem like that’s how it would end.

So for the Bombers season 2014 comes to a close.  It was a season that promised plenty but never quite delivered, and as much as many in the media continue to suggest Essendon are fools for reinstating coach James Hird over Thompson next year it is worth remembering that the 2014 Bombers never reached the level of Hird’s 2013 version nor did they win as many games, despite if anything being under more media scrutiny last year than this.  Thompson  was able to get some real growth out of players like Cale Hooker, Michael Hurley and David Myers and he certainly kept the media entertained with his press conferences, but in watching Essendon this year it always seemed that a bit of their passion under Hird the year previous was missing, as was their ability from last season to put away close games just like this one.  They’ve earned a pass mark for this season but will be looking to improve further with a still young list of developing players heading into 2015.

The Roos meanwhile have at least one more game in 2014 and must be a strong chance to turn one more game into two next week.  After an inconsistent year where they beat most of the top teams but lost to a couple of the cellar dwellars, their win over the Bombers has surely moved their season from “OK” to “Success”, with any more wins a bonus on top of that.  They are a genuine chance next week against the Cats, whose 6 goal loss to Hawthorn on Friday night could have just as easily been 10.  If North Melbourne can reproduce the kind of football they played in the second half against the Bombers they’ll be a chance against anyone.

Best

North Melbourne – Wells, Brown, Greenwood, Wright, Cunnington, Thompson
Essendon – Daniher, Chapman, Heppell, Hurley, Colyer

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