While the AFL is on COVID-19 hiatus, David Schout is reliving some of the most notable upsets and bad beats over the years. This week, a huge upset from 2011.
Essendon and Geelong were due to face off this weekend, in what would have been Round 8 of the 2020 AFL season. Looking back on prominent matches between the two, it’s hard not to recall a high-scoring classic at Docklands.
By the time Round 15, 2011 rolled around, Geelong were unbeaten for the season. 14 games, 14 wins and unsurprisingly, strong premiership favourites with the bookies. Essendon by contrast had just endured a mid-season slump of epic proportions. In the top four after Round 8, the Dons then lost five in a row and all of a sudden, their finals chances were up in the air. The free-flowing footy that had typified the first of their season had seemingly been ‘found out’.
Now, in assistant coach Mark Thompson’s first game against his old club, the Bombers were looking for their first win over the Cats since 2005. But Geelong were coming off a 52-point thumping of Adelaide and many were pondering whether they could go the entire AFL season unbeaten.
Unsurprisingly, the Cats started the clash as $1.08 favourites despite being away from home. By the first bounce, the Dons were out to $8.26 and given little hope of snapping the long winning streak. Pre-game, the line was as far out as 44.5 points, while the bookies also predicted a high-scoring affair, the total points line sitting at 197.5 points.
The cats shot out of the blocks, booting the first three goals and quickly establishing a 20-point lead that surprised few at Etihad Stadium. But James Hird’s side shot back quickly, booting the next six goals unanswered and by the time the half-time siren rang, his side had established a handy 15-point buffer. Pre-game, the odds for an Essendon-Essendon results in the half-time/full-time AFL market was paying a juicy $11.
The onslaught continued in the third term, as the Bombers banged on the first three goals of the quarter to extend the lead to 33 points. But as was the custom, Geelong were never far away. Goals to Duncan, Wojcinski, Motlop and Chapman could cut the margin to one straight kick. But two settlers before the final break would give the Dons a handy 17-point buffer heading into the fourth quarter.
As they did after half-time, Essendon kicked the first of the quarter to extend the lead. And by the 21-minute mark of the term, they’d held onto a solid 22-point lead, looking more than likely to break their five-game losing streak that AFL season. But as with any champion side, the Cats were never out of the contest. Steve Johnson booted two inside a minute – the second of which an outrageous kick while laying down. Duncan kicked another and all of a sudden, they were within four points. But when Jake Melksham booted one through in the square, it was seemingly all over. That was, until another late goal by Johnson kept them in the contest. But the dons would hold on to register a famous victory.
Incredible echoes of Rd20 2009 when Bombers ended the St Kilda streak. Thick with tension and exhilaration. Remarkable. #afldonscats
— Gerard Whateley (@GerardWhateley) July 2, 2011
So Geelong is fallible. Thank God. New life breathed into the premiership race. #afldonscats
— Nick Wade (@nick_wade) July 2, 2011
Coming of age
The night was not only huge in the context of Essendon’s season, but also looking to the future. Melksham (29 disposals, 7 tackles, 8 clearances, one goal) would earn the three Brownlow Medal votes that night, while first-year player Dyson Heppell (30 disposals, one goal) would get the two. Later that year he would claim the AFL Rising Star award and six years later would go on to captain his boyhood club.
I know it's a hot field but Dyson Heppell has to be a contender for the Rising Star. Hasn't put a foot wrong all year
— Julian de Stoop (@jdestoop80) July 2, 2011
Round 15 of the 2011 AFL season, July 2
Essendon: 4.3 8.4 13.5 18.7 (115) def
Geelong: 3.3 5.7 9.12 16.15 (111)
ESS: Monfries 3, Colyer, Crameri, Welsh 2, Davey, Heppell, Hille, Howlett, Ryder, Jetta, Reimers, Zaharakis, Melksham
GEEL: Johnson 3, Duncan, Chapman, Christensen 2, Kelly, King, Motlop, Ottens, Stokes, Vardy, Wojcinski
Brownlow Votes: 3 Jake Melksham (ESS), 2 Dyson Heppell (GEEL), 1 Paul Chapman (GEEL)