GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 3.3 10.5 15.5 18.9 (117) ESSENDON 5.3 7.7 10.10 15.11 (101) GOALS: Greater Western Sydney – Greene 3, Scully 3, Williams 3, Lloyd, Shiel, Perryman, Cameron, Kelly, Whitfield, De Boer, Kennedy, Taranto. Essendon – Green 3, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Hooker 2, Fantasia 2, Bellchambers 2, McKenna, Myers, Daniher, Colyer.BEST: GWS – Kelly, Greene, Williams, Whitfield, Shiel, Tomlinson. Essendon – Merrett, Gleeson, Watson, Bellchambers, Hooker.INJURIES: GWS – Nil. Essendon: McKenna (leg).UMPIRES: Donlon, McInerney, Fisher, O’Gorman.CROWD: 13,671 at Spotless Stadium.
Greater Western Sydney haven’t yet scaled Everest, but after five-and-a-half seasons, they have reached the summit of the AFL’s K2. For the first time in the expansion club’s history, the Giants will end a round atop the ladder after they beat Essendon by 16 points at Spotless Stadium on Saturday, their fourth win in a row.
The Bombers were far from embarrassed in veteran Brendon Goddard’s 300th game, and gave the Giants a scare when Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti kicked goals in quick succession midway through the final quarter as Essendon charged, with the margin closing to just nine points, but the men in red and black are again in the red, having lost two in a row, falling to 5-6, with a game against in-form Port Adelaide at Etihad Stadium to come before the Dons’ bye.
The Dons will rue some untidy kicking for goal and weren’t helped by some dubious umpiring, but that shouldn’t detract from the Giants’ achievement. They have reached this summit despite a horrendous run of injuries during the first half of the season, and a look at who’s to return before the finals – Steve Johnson, Brett Deledio, Rory Lobb, Jacob Hopper, Ryan Griffen, Nick Haynes, Devon Smith and Stephen Coniglio – should send a shiver down the spine of all their premiership rivals.
This GWS win was all the more meritorious given they were coming off a six-day break, and had returned from a trip to Perth last weekend.
Despite their casualties, the Giants are still fielding a team with plenty of supremely talented players every weekend. Surely none have been more influential in their climb to the top of the ladder than Josh Kelly, who at this rate could be underpaid next year regardless of whether he chooses to stay at GWS, or head back to Victoria to join North Melbourne or St Kilda.
The midfielder was relentless, racking up 38 disposals of which very few were wasted. In the final term as the Dons gave themselves a sniff, Kelly’s composure was vital. He had plenty of helpers though. Zac Williams found plenty of the ball too, and drifted forward to kick a career-high three goals, including a last quarter-settler, while Dylan Shiel and Lachie Whitfield were strong midfield contributors, Toby Greene shone up forward, and Adam Tomlinson limited Joe Daniher’s influence.
While not entirely dominant, the Giants were tracking comfortably enough for the first 20 minutes, breaking out to a 14-point lead.
The highlight of that early period came from Tom Scully, who having missed last weekend’s win against West Coast returned with a beautiful running goal from just inside the boundary line 40 metres out.
Essendon were struggling to string the ball together with much fluency, but with little warning they clicked into gear. Zach Merrett and David Zaharakis were proving highly effective, while veterans Jobe Watson and Ben Howlett both showed signs they aren’t yet spent causes with classy baulks to set up majors for Conor McKenna and Orazio Fantasia respectively, as the Dons shot ahead with four majors in seven minutes.
GWS midfielders Callan Ward, Shiel and Scully had all been quiet, and coach Leon Cameron gave his charges a tongue-lashing at the quarter-time huddle.
The second term was a frustrating one for the Dons, who failed to take their chances in front of goal. The Giants – despite their long injury list – still have too much class to let a team get off the hook. GWS clawed their way to 16-point lead at half-time on the back of brilliance from the supremely talented Greene, Kelly and Whitfield.
Greene’s freakish efforts – which included a stunning overhead mark – appeared more remarkable given he looked to be labouring early in the game with an ankle injury.
The Giants threatened to break the game open but Essendon were determined, never allowing the margin to get beyond 27 points. Merrett was terrific and a big reason his side threatened in the last quarter, while Martin Gleeson was solid in defence, and Watson found plenty of the ball in the clinches. But for the fourth week in a row the Giants won a game by less than three goals.
J. Kelly (GWS) 9
T. Greene (GWS) 7
Z. Williams (GWS) 7
Z. Merrett (Ess) 6
L. Whitfield (GWS) 6