Essendon VFL’s preliminary finals plans have taken a slight detour, after falling agonisingly short by two points to Richmond in Saturday’s qualifying final at the Swinburne Centre.
The undermanned VFL Dons led by as much as 40 points early in the last quarter, before the Tigers kicked seven of the next eight goals in the 15.8 (98) to 15.10 (100) thriller.
It was a tough learning for the young Bombers, featuring just 11 senior-listed players to Richmond’s 20, who put in three impressive quarters of footy before taking their feet off the gas in the last.
Essendon got off to a fiery start, with captain Aaron Heppell and vice-captains Danny Younan and Heath Hocking combining for the first three goals of the match, which ultimately set the tone.
The VFL Bombers executed their game plan to perfection early, laying crunching tackles to help cut off Richmond’s trademark ball movement through the middle.
Hocking slotted his second midway through the term, as the Dons seemed to have caught the minor premiers off guard.
Richmond responded with two late goals to get itself on the board, in the midst of a number of scuffles that broke out across the ground.
As tempers flared, Essendon shrugged off the heat and continued its dominance, slotting five goals to two in the second term.
The third was much of the same from the VFL Dons, bringing the same defensive pressure and confidence to each contest.
They were rewarded on the scoreboard for their work-rate and effort, and had kicked away to a near seven-goal lead at the final break before the game flipped.
The Tigers stormed home in the last term to record the unbelievable comeback, leaving the Dons to lick their wounds as they prepare for next weekend’s semi-final.
Moving Michael Hartley (14 disposals, seven marks, 11 hit outs) forward worked a treat, with the typical defender bagging three goals, while skipper Heppell (26 disposals, nine tackles) finished with four.
Emerging ruck Riley Bowman held his own against AFL-quality ruckmen, recording 26 hitouts.
Veteran forward Mark Baguley kicked the most clutch of goals at the 26-minute-mark when scores were level, while Brandon Zerk-Thatcher took one of the marks of the match to save a likely goal.
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to hold off Richmond, which gradually chipped away at a six-point deficit, before converting from a free kick late.
David Myers was influential with 36 disposals and five tackles, while Trent Mynott (20 disposals, six tackles) and Jake Long (17 disposals, seven tackles) were just as important.
Senior coach Dan Jordan hoped his side could take what they learnt from the match into next weekend’s semi-final.
“It always tough when you lose by that little. Clearly we didn’t play four quarters, and we’ve spoken about that – finals footy needs four quarters of effort and intensity," Jordan said.
“(Considering) we had nine or 10 guys fronting up in their first final (against) a well-drilled list like Richmond, I thought some of those younger guys played their roles really well. For me there were a hell of a lot of positives, particularly the way we played and the pressure we brought.
“Being able to sustain that is probably our next step – we’ve just got to learn how to win it in that last four or five minutes, (but) we’ve given ourselves a double chance, so we’re still alive.”
Essendon VFL will get another opportunity next weekend when it faces the winner of Box Hill/Werribee in a semi-final.
Match details will be confirmed during the week.
RICHMOND 2.1 4.3 8.4 15.10 (100)
ESSENDON 4.3 8.4 14.8 15.8 (98)
Goals: Heppell 4, Younan 3, Hartley 3, Baguley 2, Hocking 2, Landt
Best: Heppell, Myers, Younan, Hartley, Long, Hocking