Essendon VFL has fallen one step short of a Grand Final berth, suffering a 26-point defeat to Williamstown in its preliminary final at Adcon Stadium on Sunday.
Chasing their first VFL/reserves Grand Final appearance since 1999, the Bombers were left to lament a slow start, conceding a 29-point deficit at the first break.
A Brayden Ham major on the half-time siren cut the deficit to 16 points, but the Bombers couldn't get within three goals in the second half as the Seagulls stamped their authority in the 14.12 (96) to 9.16 (70) affair.
The defeat also marked the end as Bombers for retiring veterans Mark Baguley, David Myers, Matt Dea and vice-captain Heath Hocking.
Baguley scored the first goal of the match, before Williamstown piled on six unanswered goals to make things difficult for the Bombers in trying conditions.
Having played in the past 10 prelims, the Seagulls’ final experience was on full display as they chopped off Essendon’s ball movement through the middle.
The VFL Dons seemed to get caught up in Williamstown’s game plan early, struggling to stop the Gulls’ run and dominance in the centre.
The second term was arguably the Bombers’ best, however, bringing relentless pressure to each and every contest.
Jordan Houlahan and Tuth Jok (14 disposals, 10 tackles) combined for back-to-back goals midway through the quarter, giving the group some confidence and belief they were still a chance.
Momentum swung the Dons’ way even more after Ham’s (10 disposals, five marks) half-time major, but unfortunately the 16-point deficit was as close as the Bombers would get.
The third quarter was quite scrappy, with neither side able to take clean possession through the light drizzle.
The rain stopped shortly after, but was enough to create slippery conditions making the Bombers’ chase even harder.
The inaccuracy in front of goal didn’t help either, but ultimately it just wasn’t the Dons’ day.
Skipper Aaron Heppell (20 disposals, seven tackles) led by example once again, while Ben McNiece (21 disposals, six marks) impacted where he could.
Brandon Zerk-Thatcher was strong in the air down back, while Bruno Laguda (15 disposals, three marks) gave the Dons some speed.
Young ruck Riley Bowman sat the last quarter out through injury, leaving Jok and Michael Hartley to alternate duties.
Despite the disappointing end to what was otherwise a great season, head coach Dan Jordan was proud of his side’s effort throughout the year.
“We were outplayed for that first quarter and a half, which was potentially the difference in the game,” he said.
“Our guys stuck to the task and tried to find a way back into the game, but a really experienced side like Williamstown just shut (us) down.
“While its disappointing for our boys, I’m still proud of them for the season they put in and the effort that they’ve given to get here and be one step away from a Grand Final.”
FULL TIME: That brings an end to our 2019 season.— Essendon VFL (@essendonvfl) September 15, 2019
Plenty to be proud of boys.
ESS 9.16 70
WIL 14.12 96 pic.twitter.com/LFQ6I7aBO5
Jordan said the main takeaway will be getting better around the contests, but was impressed by how the Dons responded after quarter-time.
“We did everything we could to try and stop the onslaught a bit, but having said that I thought the guys adjusted and tried to find a way back into the game.
“If not for taking some opportunities in front of goal in the third quarter, we could’ve been really close.
“We’ve made preliminary finals for two consecutive years, so (in 2020) it’ll be how we can take that next step up.”
Jordan also wished outgoing veterans nothing but the best, and thanked them for their service.
“(Baguley, Myers, Dea and Hocking) have been huge, particularly in the back half of the year – their leadership, instruction and buy-in has just been significant.
“They’ll leave an imprint on our young AFL and VFL guys in terms of not only how to be a competitor, but how to carry yourself as a person and be a quality individual around the club.
“They’ve left a legacy here, and we wish them all the best in whatever they do next – now its time for someone else to step up (in their place).”
WILLIAMSTOWN 6.3 9.6 12.12 14.12 (96)
ESSENDON 1.4 6.8 7.11 9.16 (70)
Goals: Ham 2, Baguley, Begley, Bowman, Houlahan, Jok, Myers, Younan
Disposals: McNiece 21, Heppell 20, Ridley 20, Long 17, Myers 17