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Rounds Of Our Lives: The greatest moments from Round 16

Essendon’s James Hird and John Barnes embrace after hauling in a 69-point deficit to defeat North Melbourne in 2001. Photo: FAIRFAX SYNDICATION

Rounds Of Our Lives: The greatest moments from Round 16

Rohan Connolly    

Cyril Rioli may have pulled the pin on his AFL career, causing not just Hawthorn supporters but fans of all clubs and lovers of footy thrills to weep.

But there’s always the past to visit when things get mournful, and this equivalent round of the AFL season has thrown up some of the most amazing moments and stunning revivals the game has seen.

From the greatest comeback of all time, to post-siren heroics, to cricket-like scores, to a moment etched in football folklore. Because like the haunted expression on the face of that guy standing behind Kevin Sheedy when he waved his jacket, so are the Rounds of our Lives.

ESSENDON 27.9 (171) d NORTH MELBOURNE 25.9 (159) (MCG, Round 16 2001)

It remains the greatest comeback in AFL history, and some would argue, among the top handful of games ever seen.

Essendon went into the round 16 clash as reigning premier and still undisputed king of the AFL, three games clear on top of the ladder. North, in contrast, was outside the top eight on percentage.

But despite the absence of skipper and superstar Wayne Carey, along with Anthony Stevens and Mick Martyn, the Roos began this game like a team possessed.

They slammed on an incredible 12.1 for the first term from 19 inside 50s, Sav Rocca and Jess Sinclair sharing eight goals between them, North already a staggering 58 points in front by the first change. After another three quick goals, the Roos led by 69 points 10 minutes into the second quarter.

At that stage, avoiding a 100-point defeat seemed about Essendon’s only conceivable target. But the Bombers began to pick up the pieces, and quickly got a taste for it.

Jason Johnson started the ball rolling for the Dons with a snap, but it was skipper James Hird who offered the moment of inspiration, crunched as he took a courageous mark, but immediately regaining his feet and running into dribble another goal.

That set Essendon alight. The Bombers would kick the next seven straight in remarkably quick time as the crowd of nearly 52,000 sensed something special happening. And after a 10-goal quarter, the deficit come half-time had been pegged back to just 21 points.

Now each team had landed a huge blow each. And this began an epic third quarter, in which Essendon added another seven goals, but North, having recovered its composure, six of its own, the Roos still leading by 14 points at the final change.

It was nuggety little man Gary Moorcroft who gave the Dons the lead for the first time at the 11-minute mark of the last quarter. With Essendon now right on top, another Moorcroft goal with just seven minutes left gave the Bombers a 17-point lead.

But still North kept coming. Two quick goals to Corey McKernan in two minutes got it back to seven points with still more than five minutes to play. Another towering mark to the North big man gave him a chance to make it just one point. McKernan missed. Six points the difference now.

Finally, with under two minutes remaining, Hird gathered a ball near the boundary line and snapped back in the general direction of goal. It bounced over the head of Moorcroft and his opponent Troy Makepeace, and into the path of Blake Caracella, who ran in and sealed one of football’s most famous victories.

Matthew Lloyd finished with nine goals for Essendon, Jason Johnson four goals and 31 disposals. For North, Rocca and McKernan shared nine.

Some commentators called Essendon the greatest team of all time after this amazing comeback victory.

But it would prove something of a last hurrah. The Bombers would lose four of their last nine games of the season, including the grand final, where they were eventually overpowered by a Brisbane side which would itself become a contender for the “greatest” tag after three premierships in a row.

BRISBANE 14.20 (104) d HAWTHORN 14.7 (97) (Gabba, Round 16 1995)
The Bears had won just four of 15 games in another miserable season, coach Robert Walls already having announced his intention to resign at the end of the year. This game looked no different, Brisbane trailing Hawthorn by 45 points at the last change. But on a hot Queensland Sunday afternoon, Walls spotted the tiring Hawks seeking refuge in the shade of a light tower at the last break, and convinced his players the game was still winnable. They responded emphatically, slamming on nine goals to just one, Brisbane taking the lead for the first time with only just over a minute left after Adrian Fletcher marked 70 metres out and his long bomb was shepherded through by Darryl White. The miraculous win kick-started a miraculous run by the Bears, who’d win six of their last seven games to sneak into the finals, then running eventual premier Carlton closer than anyone else in September before losing by 13 points.

ESSENDON 12.17 (89) d WEST COAST 13.9 (87) (MCG, Round 16 1993)
Essendon was outside the then final six and coming off a defeat when it took on reigning premier West Coast this Sunday afternoon in a game critical to its finals hopes. The seasoned Eagles led for the entire first half, but a five-goal third term gave the Bombers a 13-point lead at the last break. West Coast surged with three quick goals and seemed to have stemmed the tide. With only 90 seconds left, the Eagles still led by four points. Dean Wallis launched one last attack for the Dons, from which Paul Salmon was paid a free kick for a jumper hold by Glen Jakovich 45 metres out. Salmon had been in the kicking horrors with three behinds for the afternoon, but nailed the one which mattered, Essendon hanging on for an emotional victory. So pent up was Bomber coach Kevin Sheedy that when the siren rang he burst out of the coach’s box swinging his club jacket around his head, a gesture which would become iconic and which is still mimicked by supporters of both clubs in Bombers-Eagles clashes.

GOLD COAST 13.12 (90) d RICHMOND 13.10 (88) (Cazaly’s Stadium, Round 16 2012)
Gold Coast was still feeling its way in its second season, bottom of the ladder and still winless when the Suns journeyed to Cairns to take on a Richmond side ready to move into the eight with a win. And a Tiger win seemed inevitable when they led by 16 points with under four minutes left, even a goal from the Suns’ Josh Caddy. Richmond was still 10 points up with only 40 seconds remaining when big man Tom Derickx spilt a simple chest mark from a Shane Tuck short pass, Jarrod Harbrow running in to goal for Gold Coast. By the time the ball returned to the middle, there was only 25 seconds left. Trent McKenzie sent the ball the Suns’ way one last time and from the resultant crumbs, Brandon Matera hooked the ball back towards goal, where somehow rugby league convert Karmichael Hunt was standing in space with two seconds left. The siren rang as Hunt, who’d kicked just three career goals, walked back for his kick. But the inexperience certainly didn’t show as from 30 metres on a 45-degree angle Hunt split the middle, sending the Suns into raptures and leaving Richmond in disbelief.

SYDNEY 30.21 (201) d WEST COAST 10.11 (71) (SCG, Round 16 1987)
The Swans were already flying come this SCG clash against the fledgling WA side in its first year in the competition. The Eagles had won seven of 15 games and still had finals aspirations. But Sydney was about to move into a higher gear. After a relatively even first quarter, the Swans exploded with quarters of seven, 12 and seven goals to top 200 points and win by 130. Little man Stephen Wright booted eight for Sydney and Warwick Capper five. But the demolition was just the start. Sydney would go on to boot 36 and 31 goals the following two weeks against the equally hapless Essendon and Richmond to top the VFL ladder and become flag favourite. Incredibly, that was about it for Geoffrey Edelsten’s team of high-priced imports. Sydney would lose five of its last six games, including two finals thrashings, to go out in straight sets. Within three years, they were not only struggling on the field, but off it, facing insolvency until bailed out by the AFL.

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