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Giants reel in big lead to run down Bombers

The umpire paid the free kick, and Ward went back and booted what proved to be the winner.

“I thought I played it pretty well,” Ward said afterwards in the changerooms. “I didn’t play for it, but I knew the contact was coming, yeah.”

GWS coach Leon Cameron said he needed to see the incident again before giving a proper appraisal of Ward’s conduct, which is a strong chance of attracting a $500 fine from the AFL match review officer.

“For him to kick that goal at such a crucial time and give us a little buffer, it clearly made a difference,” Cameron said.

“There’ll be one side that’s probably disappointed and there’ll be another side that’s going to be happy. I thought our endeavour for the last 30 to 40 minutes of that game willed us over the line. When you’re playing with that momentum, normally that run of the ball can go your way.”

Bombers coach John Worsfold appeared to bite his tongue on the Ward incident.

“What was the free kick for? I’m not sure. It’s hard to comment, because I do say it every week – I won’t say it, I’m not going to say it. No comment on the free kick,” he said.

It was enough to keep GWS in the top eight, but for the first half at a rainy Metricon Stadium they were staring down the barrel of a defeat that would have seen them drop out.

Stephen Coniglio of the Giants is tackled by Dylan Shiel of the Bombers.

Stephen Coniglio of the Giants is tackled by Dylan Shiel of the Bombers.Credit:Getty Images

It’s also the first time they’ve won a game this year without Toby Greene, who hurt his hamstring last weekend and could yet miss their next two fixtures.

The Giants are not a one-man team, but it appears as if there’s only one man who can provide the spark that gets them going. It took them far too long to find it on Friday night, and they’re lucky it wasn’t too late.

The Bombers, led by Zach Merrett (33 disposals) were irrepressible in the second term, outworking and out-enthusing GWS to establish a lead that should have got them home. Then, inexplicably, they stopped.

“They’re a very good team,” Worsfold said. “They had their patch where they started to get on top and challenged us and over the course of the full game, we couldn’t maintain that pressure on them on the scoreboard. We didn’t do that, they kept pressing and we couldn’t hold them for the whole time.”

As for the first quarter – well, the less said the better. There were no goals kicked by either side, making it the lowest-scoring opening stanza since Geelong met Footscray in round one, 1965.

Risk-averse football amid constant congestion helped shatter that unwanted 55-year record, providing more fuel for the ongoing state-of-the-game debate. The only real incident of note was a clash that sent former Giant Jacob Townsend into the middle of next week.

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As Heath Shaw gathered a loose ball in Essendon’s goal square, he made accidental high contact with Townsend, who was laid out and left with a bloodied nose.

Clearly concussed, he tried to push a trainer away as he was ushered off the ground and later emerged on the bench in his tracksuit, and would take no further part in the match. Shaw showed immediate concern for his opponent and should not be in any match-review trouble, given the nature of the collision.

The first goal of the match finally arrived 53 seconds into the second term, as Giants skipper Stephen Coniglio nailed an angled set shot from 40 metres out.

And then came the flood: the Bombers responded with the next five in a row, and after half an hour where neither team seemed capable of kicking a goal, suddenly only one did.

Another ex-Giant, Dylan Shiel, delivered the pick of the lot with a bomb from inside the centre square that sailed through. Shaw snapped Essendon’s run to get one back for GWS – his first AFL goal since the 2016 preliminary final. He would finish with two for the night.

Seconds later, Conor McKenna outworked Shaw to the ball at the other end of the ground to snap another major for the Bombers, extending their lead to 22 points at the long break.

When the teams re-emerged from the sheds, it was as if they’d swapped guernseys.

ESSENDON 0.2 6.3 7.5 8.7 (55)
GWS 0.2 2.5 4.7 8.11 (59)
GOALS – Essendon: Langford 2, Saad, Shiel, Zaharakis, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Draper, McKenna
GWS: Shaw 2, Cameron 2, Coniglio, Finlayson, Ward, Himmelberg
BEST – GWS: hitfield, Taranto, Coniglio, Cameron, Hopper, Haynes
Essendon: Merrett, Hurley, Draper, Smith, Saad
UMPIRES Fisher, Deboy, Ryan
CROWD 1178 at Metricon Stadium

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