Essendon win benefit game by a point
Essendon have beaten the Western Bulldogs by one point in a thrilling AFL bushfire benefit game at Telstra Dome. Adam McPhee’s snap at goal with less than a minute left went through for the match-winning behind as the Bombers won the round-one pre-season game 1.8.13 (70) to 1.8.12 (69).
More than $1.2 million was raised at the game on Friday night and immediately after the final siren, it was announced that the Red Cross appeal had hit an overall total of $100 million.
McPhee’s match-winning score redeemed a quiet night for him – a couple of minutes earlier, his shot at goal went out on the full.
Captain Matthew Lloyd then marked, but his set shot from an acute angle hit the post with 65 seconds remaining.
Midfielder Andrew Lovett impressed for Essendon with 22 disposals and Bulldogs captain Brad Johnson kicked four goals.
Lovett was nearly traded at the end of last season after two club-imposed suspensions.
Essendon will next play the winner of Saturday night’s NAB Cup game between Brisbane and St Kilda in the knockout competition.
Several young key forwards showed promising signs in the match – Scott Gumbleton and Jay Neagle for Essendon, along with the Western Bulldogs’ Jarrad Grant.
The game was originally scheduled for Friday night in Darwin, but the league quickly rescheduled the fixture last Monday and made it a benefit game as the full horror of the bushfire crisis became apparent.
Victorian Premier John Brumby led a minute’s silence before the first bounce as the crowd remembered the victims of Australia’s worst natural disaster.
A lower than expected crowd of 35,123 attended the game after 37,000 tickets were pre-sold.
Scores were level at halftime as first the Bulldogs and then the Bombers could not build on a small lead.
The ‘Dogs had plenty of chances in the second term, but could only manage a wasteful 1.5.
Essendon fans will hope the first play of the second half is a preview of things to come.
Lovett stormed out of the centre and his bullet-like pass found Neagle, who goaled to put Essendon six points up.
The Bulldogs kicked two successive goals to regain the lead, but again squandered a couple of chances to pile on the pressure.
At 17 minutes, Bulldogs defender Paul O’Shea cannoned into Jarrod Atkinson as the young Bomber took a mark in the middle of the ground.
Tempers nearly boiled over before Atkinson made the most of his 50m penalty, kicking a super goal to put Essendon ahead.
Former Adelaide player Hayden Skipworth goaled on the siren and two minutes into the final term to put Essendon 17 points ahead, the biggest lead of the game.
But the Bulldogs hit back with three goals, including two to Johnson, to lead by a point and set up the exciting finish.
Essendon were missing a few key players, including key forward Scott Lucas, but the Bulldogs were without several of their best.
Brownlow Medallist Adam Cooney, Mitch Hahn, Ryan Griffen and Robert Murphy were among the top ‘Dogs not playing.
Essendon coach Matthew Knights and his Bulldogs counterpart Rodney Eade were particularly pleased with their key forward experiments, Gumbleton and Grant.
The two youngsters have struggled with injuries and there are big hopes about what they might do if they can stay fit.
“We’ve all been waiting, we’ve been sitting on the edge of our seats,” Knights said of the expectation surrounding Gumbleton.
“I came here tonight and … it didn’t concern me if he touched the ball four times for the game.
“I just wanted him to play 70-80 minutes of footy and get through – for his confidence, for his belief in himself.
“He hasn’t had a lot of doubters, he’s just had a lot of doubt in his own mind.”
Gumbleton had nine touches and kicked a goal, while Grant kicked a supergoal and four behinds.
Grant is best known so far in the AFL for coming off second-best when he trod on a stingray during a recovery session last year in Port Phillip Bay.
“Jarrad certainly displayed his talents, he can find the ball,” Eade said.
“He’s just got to be able to finish off his work.
“We were a bit worried before the game because we thought he’d played the game four times in his head … we just tried to calm him down a bit.”
Grant is yet to make his senior debut, while Gumbleton did not play any senior matches last year after five in 2007.© AAP 2013
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