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VFL preliminary final match report

The Bombers' impressive finals run came to an end against Casey Demons on Saturday.
The Bombers' impressive finals run came to an end against Casey Demons on Saturday.

Essendon’s season has come to an end with a close preliminary final loss to the Casey Demons at a wet and windy Stannards Stadium.

After already netting two wins in a finals series for which they had only qualified late, the Bombers were building momentum when they met the Demons under cloudy skies.

For the second week in a row, the margin was no more than 13 points at any stage in the match but this time the result did not fall the Bombers’ way; Casey had the answers in defence and attack in an arm-wrestle of a final quarter and prevailed 10.13 (73) to 10.5 (65).

The wind and rain impacted the contest all day, sometimes in its presence and sometimes in its absence. Essendon kicked with the breeze in the first quarter and Nino Lazzaro put the Bombers on the board when he converted from a holding the ball free.

The 19-year-old first-year Bomber showed how quickly his game has developed across his maiden VFL finals series in the second quarter when he marked, landed like a cat and kicked his second.

Casey dominated forward entry in the second term (at one point leading inside-50s for the quarter 17 to three) but the mettle of Essendon’s defence was proven through the work of defenders Michael Hartley, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Aaron Francis.

James Stewart followed Lazzaro’s goal with a set shot conversion of his own and the Bombers had tied the scores at 39 apiece at the main break.

The third quarter got off to the perfect start when Hocking volleyed through an improbable goal from over twenty metres out before Jackson Merrett snapped what proved to be his final major as an Essendon player.

Having already provided another titanic effort not only rucking against AFL Demon Cam Pedersen but winning enough ball to be considered a fourth midfielder, Sam Draper provided a burst of inspiration for his side when he made the most of Casey not contesting a ruck contest in the Bombers’ forward half and kicked a goal on the run from the pocket.

With the momentum and the wind at their backs, it seemed Essendon had gained an upper hand in the contest for the third week in a row.

However, Casey’s AFL players stood up at the crossroads moment with a pair of goals – the first through an improbable mark to Cam Pedersen just outside the goal square and the second through a shrewd Jeff Garlett snap – to slash the Bombers’ lead to just a point at the final change.

The big-bodied Demons goaled in the first play through James Munro. Over the next 20 minutes, Essendon had its chances to reply but were foiled by the desperation of Casey’s defence and the sheer numbers the Demons were able to get around the ball.

Garlett’s third pushed the gap out to 13 and although Dylan Clarke capped another prolific performance with a goal as the clock ticked past 27 minutes, the Bombers’ finals charge had ended.

With 30 disposals, Clarke had seven more touches than any other player. He was followed by Kobe Mutch, who not only won 21 possessions but finished with 10 tackles and pushed to the fore around the stoppages in the final quarter.

In conditions ill-suited to key position players, the intercept marking of defenders Michael Hartley and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher was crucial to Essendon’s chances.

Despite the anguish of falling to Casey by a narrow margin for the second time in a season, Dan Jordan at the end of his first year holding the reins of the senior coach.

“I thought our guys were really strong around the ball,” Jordan surmised.

“I’m really proud of their effort and the way they finished the season in the last month,” he said of the four-game winning streak that took his side from narrowly scraping into the top eight to coming within two kicks of a Grand Final appearance.

“It would have been easy to fall off the perch, but they responded and came back with two strong wins to make the finals and I think that, if anything, the last three weeks shows them that that’s about where I thought they were.

ESSENDON        3.3       6.3       9.4       10.5 (65)
CASEY              3.4       5.9       8.10     10.13 (73)

Essendon – Lazzaro 2, Heppell, Younan, Clarke, Stewart, Hocking, Draper, Hind, Merrett
Casey – Garlett 3, Pedersen 2, Wagner, Lefau, Gent, Vince, Munro

Clarke, Ridley, Lazzaro, Mutch, Long, Heppell