Bewick, one of the most unprepossessing of assassins, was as lethal as ever up forward. He kicked six of Essendon‘s last 11 goals, including two at the start of the last quarter to level the scores. His opponent, 18-year-old Mark Ricciuto, has had a good first season, but for some time he will be having the sort of “I’ll catch you one day” nightmares about the red-headed Bewick that Wile E. Coyote has about the Roadrunner.
With Paul Salmon marking strongly and kicking four goals, Essendon had forward options in the air and on the ground.
It would be trite to categorise Adelaide as a gallant loser. The Crows went so close to an unexpected win. They led by 17 points at quarter- time, 42 at half-time and 12 at the final change. Had Andrew Jarman converted from 20 metres near the end of the third quarter, or had one of a string of second-quarter misses gone through, a second consecutive interstate premier might still be a possibility.
Lack of run finally proved Adelaide‘s fatal weakness, but for a long time it seemed that the Crows might overcome it. But when Tony McGuinness was checked, Jarman ran out of steam, and Chris McDermott kept too busy to provide attack from the half-back line, Adelaide was gone.
Early on, the Scott Hodges-Tony Modra combination was effective.
Hodges neutralised one defender, leaving space for Modra to fly. The full-forward rediscovered his finishing touch; his confidence soared.
He had five goals by half-time, and six for the match, erasing much of the memory of two mediocre finals performances.
But eventually, Hodges and Modra, too, were exploited for their lack of running. When David Flood ran off Hodges twice in the last quarter, the only run left in the Adelaide man’s legs was that which took him to the bench.
Graham Cornes went perilously close to saying his side had choked. In fact, the dreaded C-word did slip out in one interview, but Cornes immediately qualified it. Rightly so, for his side has performed above expectations. Given average luck, time is on his side. An elimination final win over Hawthorn and losses by 18 and 11 points to the two best sides in the AFL is a sound base on which to build next year, and the manner of Saturday’s loss will provide an added spur.
In the end, Essendon boasted too many good players with too much run in their legs. That, and the indomitable spirit typified when Long, as outstanding for the Bombers when they were in trouble as when they were on top, rose high above a pack at a boundary throw-in in the tense final minutes to thump the ball 20 metres his way, and once more over the line.
Putting the final touch to the Dons’ party was the side’s oldest player, Tim Watson. Thirty-two he may be, but Watson is imbued with the spirit of the youngest of them. Chasing down his own skied left- footer from outside 50, he burrowed into a pack, fished out the ball and kicked the clincher. He is clearly slipping. In his halcyon days, Watson’s left foot would have done the job first time.
Carlton will have had mixed feelings watching. On the one hand, Essendon had as hard a game as the Blues could have wished. But then, there was that unquenchable spirit, pulling the Bombers back from football’s version of a near-death experience.