Saints unable to stick the landing against Essendon at the NEC Hangar
The Southern Saints battled against Essendon at their home ground in search of their fifth win for 2023.
Photography: Anthony Vella
In what was one of the coldest days of the season, the Southern Saints weren't only challenged by Essendon's ability to control the game, but also the wet weather that loomed over the NEC Hangar at Melbourne Airport. After defeating the Bombers by 25 points in round two earlier this season, the Saints were conscious that Essendon were vengeful.
Determination kept the Saints in the game for all four quarters. Although resulting in a 12 point loss, the Saints' success was highlighted through the individual performances on the ground. Tessa Boyd finished with the most touches for the day (17 disposals, 4 tackles and 2 marks) whilst Gaby De Angelis and Jemima Wrigley had an impressive day in regards to their defensive pressure, finishing equal with 7 tackles. Notably, Ali Hynes showed her leadership with 12 tackles whilst Emma Stuber had eight disposals and found a way to convert the Saints' only goal.
The Southern Saints started the game strong from the first siren - Madi Capsalis won the clearance from the centre and kicked inside the forward line, finding Lucy Burke who leapt for a courageous contested mark just forty metres out from goal. Although her set shot was unable to get the Saints on the board early, the passage of play gave the team confidence.
At the four-minute mark, Essendon were able to make their way up the ground and found their first opportunity to hit inside 50, however our backline got to work, applying pressure to the ball carrier. The Bombers eventually had an opportunity to score but the ball was rushed for a behind. Boyd continued to work hard in the back half, at one stage receiving a switch of play and working the ball up the ground. Unfortunately Essendon's midfield were strong, competing at stoppages, which eventually led to their second second score for the day.
The Saints moved the ball fast through the middle of the ground - De Angelis moved inside 50 kicking to Stuber who attempted to kick the first for the Southern Saints, unfortunately not making the distance due to a southerly wind. The heavens eventually opened up, making it difficult for both teams to score. The Saints were providing options going forward, though the conditions made it difficult to find a clean piece of play in and around the contest. Essendon went into the first break with a 5-point lead.
Although Essendon had more forward entries in the beginning of the second quarter, our defence continued to hold strong. Essendon turned over the footy after Burke rolled up into the backline and took a huge mark at the six-minute mark, which helped to slow down the play. Melbourne's weather continued to be unpredictable with the sun returning, leading to cleaner football from the Saints.
When going forward, the Southern Saints took their opportunities, Capsalis received a set shot on the back of a free kick 30 meters out from goal. Although kicking across the face of the goals, we were able to set up and continue to put pressure on Essendon.
Notable highlights from the quarter were a great tackle from Hynes and Winnie Laing using her body well to control the Bombers' strength and be first to the footy. Essendon were less conservative with the ball, taking more risks which allowed them to get the ball down their end of the ground and were rewarded with their first goal in the closing minutes of the first half.
Essendon continued to maintain the play in their half of the ground which was a challenge for the Saints, but we persevered to push the footy away from their goals. Laing's defensive ability in and around the stoppages allowed her to win some of the clearances. Wrigley came off early in the quarter with what looked to be a knock to her knee, but courageously got back onto the ground after a short rest and had an immediate impact.
Despite Essendon's inaccuracy on goal, their willingness to take risks is how they were able to hold the lead, kicking another behind. A hard-fought battle between both sides resulted in a 'goalless' quarter, although the Saints gained momentum towards the end with Michelle Podnecky marking outside the Bombers' forward line and kicking down the line to Burke, who marked the ball on the wing and began rolling through to our half of the ground.
Essendon started the final term with momentum, keeping the Saints from taking the lead. The Bombers won it out of the centre but Boyd leapt and intercepted the pack, putting to sleep the opposition's hopes for another goal. It wasn't enough to slow them down with Essendon marking the ball in the goal square and playing on to convert their second goal minutes later. The Saints stayed in the game, keeping the ball in our half of the ground and pressing the Bombers out to the boundary.
After a stoppage inside 50, Stuber found the dangerous space and snapped the first goal of the afternoon for the Saints. The moment elevated the team and gave extra confidence that they could stay in the game. Burke again used her aerial ability to take a mark in the backline and kicked into the corridor, giving a chance for the Saints midfielders to roll quickly up the field.
Although the Saints couldn't get the win, we were impressive in other aspects of our game. Winning the clearances (41-32), our midfield worked extremely hard to keep us in the game. With the weather conditions creating a challenge in the first half, the Southern Saints' pressure overall was consistent all over the ground.
Final Score: Essendon 2.8 (20) defeated Southern Saints 1.2 (8)