The free was paid against Dustin Fletcher, although he seemed no more culpable than did Rocca in the shoving and bumping that took place.
But, dispensing with his Essendon hat for just a moment, even Sheedy must have been impressed by Rocca’s herculean display. His marking was electric, his kicking deadly and after three opponents Tim Darcy, Dustin Fletcher and Ryan O’Connor it took the final siren to stop him.
And he received handy help from Dermott Brereton, who while not bothering the statisticians very often, did much of the bullocking work in the packs to clear the way for Rocca.
Almost as heroic for the Pies was Gavin Crosisca, who took Essendon’s main avenue of attack, James Hird, out of the match.
Crosisca was admirable throughout but, until half-time, could count only Nathan Buckley as an ally. After that, Mick McGuane, Alan Richardson, Brett James and Shane Watson also came into proceedings and provided great drive for the Magpies off half-back.
But they retreated in the final term, in the face of a withering burst from the Bombers who, as they did in 1993, relished the opportunity of a grandstand finish on a big occasion. Joe Misiti, who was superb throughout with 30 possessions, regained his edge over the rampant McGuane, and put him out of business.
Rick Olarenshaw, another who dominated in the first half, generated Essendon attacking moves from the other wing, while Michael Long, subdued for most of the match, also gained key possessions out of the middle.
But if Rocca almost won the match off his own boot for Collingwood, the same could be said for Che Cockatoo-Collins, who more than justified the $1500 fine Essendon received for including him in its side at the last minute.
His scintillating 12-touch final quarter included a towering mark and a goal of Roccaesque proportions.
It was Buckley who had the last chance to win the match when he streamed goalwards in the final seconds, but he chipped the ball wide instead of bombing it long and Essendon cleared.
It would be unfair to chide Buckley for a decision he was forced to make in an instant under enormous pressure. But it was the last chance for either side to emerge from yesterday’s epic as the victor.
As trite as it sounds, it was football that took the points.
NEXT WEEK: Collingwood: The Pies have just five days to regroup before a visit to the physically taxing Waverley Park, where they take on Hawthorn, who will be three days fresher. But Matthews remains confident his side can stand up. Essendon: The Bombers are likely to grow water wings as they freshen themselves for Sunday’s home game against St Kilda at Optus Oval, with Sheedy promising plenty of time in the swimming pool. Yesterday’s late omissions, Bewick and Thompson (both ill), should be back but Harvey (ankle) is doubtful.