Bombers seal finals to silence knockers
Essendon secured its finals spot and eased the pressure on coach John Worsfold with a 32-point win over Fremantle at Perth Stadium.
The Bombers rebounded from the humiliation of a 104-point defeat by the Western Bulldogs last weekend and overcame the loss of David Zaharakis in the first half to an ankle injury.
"Everyone was coming at us during the week," Essendon skipper Dyson Heppell said.
"We had a really poor couple of weeks, but I think that shows the resolve and character of this group.
"The most pleasing thing about it is we had everyone play their role, everyone chipped in. The boys stood up when it counted."
Star forward Jake Stringer said the past couple of weeks have delivered some harsh lessons for the Bombers.
"We had a really good six weeks, then we fell into a hole," Stringer said.
"We've managed to dig our way out of it and we'll butter up again and get ready for Friday night."
A proud Essendon coach John Worsford said he always expected a response from his charges and for them to "throw everything" into the match.
"I was proud of them last week, we lost and we lost badly and it was just one of those bad days for us all, but my level of proudness, if there's a measure of it, doesn't change because I know that wasn't deliberate and they didn't give up," Worsfold said.
"I knew that they would re-focus and come out and give it everything, with no guarantee of a win coming over here, but I knew they would come over and back themselves in to throw everything into the game."
Despite finals being a certainty after other results went their way, Worsfold wasn't looking past the home-and-away season.
"We've got a game to go so that will take care of itself," Worsfold said.
"I'm a big stickler for the season is 23 rounds long and the rest rolls on, so I'm really keen to see how we finish the home-and-away season off and then we can focus on that."
The Dockers tried hard, they kept coming but there was no joy at the end of it for retiring heroes Aaron Sandilands and Hayden Balantyne.
Essendon was brilliantly led by midfielder Dylan Shiel, rebounders Connor McKenna and Adam Saad and Stringer was dangerous all night.
They were well served by defender turned midfielder Patrick Ambrose who kept Nat Fyfe under control for much of the match.
But the fact that the rebounders were big for the Bombers was significant.
If there is a statistic that sums up why Fremantle will not play finals it is this one: the Dockers won the contested possession by 45 and yet not only lost the game, they lost it 13.9 (87) to 7.13 (55).
The Dockers will win the ball and then give it back.
Fremantle won the clearance count 43-29 off the ruck dominance of Sandilands.
It won the inside-50 count 59-48. But it got picked off by Michael Hurley and was exposed by Saad and McKenna on the way back.
The Bombers had jumped to a 21-point lead when Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti kicked their fifth goal 27 minutes in.
Essendon was also a man down with Zaharakis nursing a sore foot but it had the scoreboard edge.
And in the third term the Dockers walked straight off the edge - of the cliff.
Essendon kicked three goals to one to extend the lead to 31 points. The goals came after Walters had kicked the first of the quarter to give the Dockers hope.
Back-to-back goals to Nat Fyfe and Cam McCarthy narrowed the lead to 19 points with 10 minutes left but as soon as they had breathed life into the game, the Bombers snuffed them out. Kyle Langford kicked two goals in three minutes.
FREMANTLE 3.4 4.6 5.10 7.13 (55)
ESSENDON 5.1 8.4 11.5 13.9 (87)
Fremantle: McCarthy 3, Walters 2, Darcy, Fyfe
Essendon: Brown 2, Stringer 2, Merrett 2, Langford 2, Parish, McDonald-Tipungwuti, McKernan, Fantasia, Shiel
Fremantle: Walters, Sandilands, Fyfe, McCarthy, Mundy, B.Hill
Essendon: Shiel, Stringer, Merrett, Saad, Ambrose, Hurley
Essendon: Zaharakis (foot), Hooker (groin soreness) replaced in selected side by Zerk-Thatcher
Umpires: Margetts, Whetton, Fleer
Official crowd: 47,833 at Optus Stadium
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