Western Bulldogs 5.4 8.9 15.10 19.13.127
Essendon 4.5 7.10 11.15 13.19.97
Western Bulldogs: Johannisen 4, Dickson 3, Webb 2, Bontempelli 2, Murphy, Roughead, Suckling, Hunter, Liberatore, Cloke, Daniel, McLean
Essendon: Daniher 6, Fantasia 2, Zaharakis, Parish, Colyer, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Hooker
Alex Docherty's Best
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Biggs, Johannisen, Cordy, Roughead, Hunter, Macrae
Essendon: Daniher, Hurley, Zaharakis, Parish, Heppell, Goddard
The media billed this match between the Western Bulldogs and Essendon as the game of the round and it delivered in spades. It had everything you could look for in a game critical to the finals aspirations of both sides. It was fast-paced, both teams had their moments, both good and bad and at the end of it all, it was arguably the better side that won on Sunday afternoon.
A jam-packed crowd of 48,754 at Etihad Stadium witnessed another cracking game to the collection of exciting matches in the 2017 AFL season, as the Western Bulldogs continued their late-season revival in a bid to defend their title in September with their third-straight win. defeating the Bombers by 30 points to leapfrog Essendon into ninth spot on the AFL ladder at the conclusion of round 19.
Three weeks ago, when the Bulldogs were destroyed by Adelaide at Adelaide, serious questions were raised about this team's credibility as a football side, there were too many passengers, the hunger and desire for the ball was in serious question and the continued talk of player unrest began to rumble louder and louder. On Sunday, the Western Bulldogs turned in one of their best games of the season against a side that is contending for finals.
However, one would have to say that the 30-point margin seperating these two sides sounds mildly flattering to the Bulldogs, as the Bombers challenged the Dogs every step of the way until the final few minutes. They kicked the first goal of the afternoon through Darcy Parish within the opening 30 seconds. This was followed by another two quick goals as the Bombers raced out to an early 19-point lead after just seven minutes.
The Bulldogs would hit back though, and once they settled with the frenetic pace, kicked five of the last six goals to take a five-point lead at quarter time. The first quarter looked as if we were going to see a free-flowing, high-scoring battle. Both sides had nine scoring shots as the ball zipped up and down either end of Etihad Stadium and there was hardly a stoppage until things began tightening up after quarter time.
Although the reigning premiers lead at every change, they couldn't get any further ahead in the second quarter despite some brilliance from Travis Cloke in his return to AFL footy since being diagnosed with depression. His snap from the pocket with his non-preferred right foot was not only a delight to watch, but a heartwarming moment as he continues to look as if he enjoys his footy.
The second quarter more displayed both sides' frustratingly inaccuracy in front of goal, both sides slotting 3.5 from numerous inside 50 entries. On one end we saw Cale Hooker - fresh from a bag of five goals last week against North Melbourne - butcher a set shot from 30 metres out straight in front and on the other end we had Marcus Bontempelli missing one from a similar position, but regardless of the accuracy, fans of both sides were treated to an entertaining first half.
Essendon quickly had the lead at the start of the third quarter thanks to a fifth goal from Joe Daniher, but that would be the last time the Bombers had the lead. Both sides traded goals in the third quarter, with the Bombers getting to within a point, late in the third quarter, but it was a seven-goal third quarter gave the Bulldogs some ascendancy heading into the final break.
But they can also thank the Bombers for their 19-point lead at three quarter time as they continued to be plagued with inaccuracy, registering another five behinds and squandered many opportunities. With Hookers' mark inside the goal-square and play-on kick to only touch the leg of Lewis Young on the goal-line perfect proof on what was proving to be a difficult afternoon for the boys from Windy Hill.
The stage was set for an epic fourth quarter. The Bombers weren't going to go down with a fight, and they brought it. After another easy shot on goal went begging for Hooker, it was up to Joe Daniher who took another big contested grab in the goal-square and slotted his sixth goal and when Orazio Fantasia made it two goals in a row with just four minutes left to go, the Bombers were only a goal down and looked primed to steal the victory.
But the Bulldogs would again rise up to the Essendon challenge that was thrown their way. Marcus Bontempelli was awarded a free kick for a sloppy defensive effort and subsequently made them pay with a ice-cool shot from 40 metres on a 45-degree angle for their Dogs first goal of the fourth quarter 22 minutes in, but it was the most important goal of the game for the Dogs, and then all of a sudden the game blew out with another three goals in quick succession before the final siren.
Caleb Daniel saluted his 50th game with a goal, Johannisen capped off his day with his fourth goal thanks to some sublime Bontempelli brilliance, and then a Toby McLean goal from a 50-metre penalty courtesy of a visably frustrated Brendon Goddard was the cream of the cake, made even more sweeter when a swarm of Bulldog players got around him after McLean's goal - crystal clear evidence that the confidence, the swagger, the desire and the hunger of the Western Bulldogs of 2016 is on the way back if it hasn't returned to the team already.
Leading The Way
Marcus Bontempelli was arguably the Western Bulldogs' most influential player on the afternoon. He wasn't the game's leading disposal winner, but he didn't need to. He was kicking goals and setting them up down forward and was winning important clearances for the Dogs in the midfield. He finished with 23 disposals, seven marks, six clearances, five inside 50s and two goals, but the one thing that I find myself continuing to knock is his inaccuracy in front of goals, registering three behinds to take his goal-kicking tally in 2017 to 18 goals and 22 behinds.
Another man that was dangerous up forward was Jason Johannisen, who enjoyed a change from the backline and kicked a career-best four goals from 18 disposals and four marks - all of those taken inside 50, I did find it puzzling how Essendon refused to put anyone onto him to tag him out of the game as many have done before him. His two goals in the opening half, both came from long range and at crucial moments in the game. He formed a solid partnership up forward with Bontempelli and the returning Tory Dickson, who kicked three goals in his first game since round 15.
Shane Biggs was very busy in defence and as a result played one of his better games in 2017. He registered a team-high 29 disposals, a team-high 11 marks and a team-high seven rebound 50s, whilst young second-year player Bailey Williams (16 disposals, six rebound 50s and four marks) was also productive coming off half-back. However it was the defensive efforts of Zaine Cordy, in the fourth quarter in particular, that needs serious praise.
In a match in which he could've let Joe Daniher walk all over him, he continued to fight and in turn, made a lot of crucial spoils that could've resulted in more goals to the Essendon forward, the stats may not have shown his impact (10 disposals, five marks and eight one-percenters), but anybody who watched the game could've acknowledged how huge he was in defence in that last quarter.
Other Bulldogs that had good games included Lachie Hunter (25 disposals, nine marks and one goal), Jack Macrae (25 disposals, seven marks, five clearances and four tackles) and Jordan Roughead in the ruck (19 disposals, 22 hitouts, five marks and one goal) had a very productive game, keeping fellow ruckman Tom Bellchambers to only five disposals and three marks. Also an honorable mention to Tom Liberatore who successfully tagged out dangerous Essendon midfielder Zach Merrett, limiting his impact and keeping him to 23 disposals for the match.
Essendon coach John Worsfold conceded that he was frustrated by his club's ball use in the post-game press conference, the Bombers had the same amount of scoring shots, but were more wasteful in front of goal and as a result, his club find themselves sitting 10th at 9-9 and face a hard task to get back into finals contention.
However, because the Bombers finished in 18th last year, get a bit of an easier run-home in comparison to some of the other sides. In the final month, they play Carlton, Adelaide at Etihad, Gold Coast at Metricon and Fremantle at Etihad. Three wins of four probably won't get them to the finals, they'll need to win all four games from here and rely on other results.
Joe Daniher was Essendon's best player by the Flemington straight, his impact down forward could not be contained, equalling his personal-best six-goal haul that he kicked on the Brisbane Lions in round eight in the 2015 AFL season, booting 6.4 from 18 disposals and 11 marks. He could've easily have breezed past his personal-best, had it not been for some wasteful shots on goal. Despite that fact, Daniher now remarkably leads the Coleman Medal race with four rounds to go, with 53 goals for the year.
On the other end, Michael Hurley continues his fantastic year in defence for the Bombers, recording 30 disposals, 13 marks and eight rebound 50s in a fine display, whilst David Zaharakis (Game-high 32 disposals, five marks and a goal), Darcy Parish (29 disposals, five marks, three clearances and a goal) and captain Dyson Heppell (29 disposals, six clearances, five inside 50s and five tackles) were all prolific in the midfield.
The Western Bulldogs have a perfect opportunity to make it four wins in a row and put the rest of the competition on notice as they travel up to Brisbane to tackle the Lions in Saturday twilight footy. It might sound like a gimme win, but it was only three months ago that the Brisbane Lions took it right up to the Bulldogs, leading by 38 points at one stage in the second quarter, before losing the contest.
To make things all the more interesting, the reigning premiers haven't beaten Brisbane at the Gabba since 2009, and that's even through some of Brisbane's darkest moments as a footy club, with the Doggies' last loss to the Lions up North in round 23, 2015. When the Bulldogs unexpectedly announced themselves as a finals contender and when the Lions were seriously struggling.
Next Saturday might sound easy enough, but if the 2017 season has taught us anything, it is that no game comes easy anymore - an interesting challenge awaits at the Gabba next Saturday.