Mark Thompson hailed his defence – led by the grand old man of the AFL – for saving wobbly Essendon from a Brisbane Lions’ boilover on Saturday night.
With Lions teenagers James Aish, Marco Paparone and Lewis Taylor enjoying their best games to threaten a Gabba upset, it took some sure and steady hands to ensure a tense eight-point victory.
Dustin Fletcher, now in his 40th year on earth, and his Bombers backline stood tall to repel a surging Brisbane outfit that lifted the gloom on a week where the embattled club’s chief executive Malcolm Holmes fell on his sword.
“If they hadn’t played so well we would have been beaten by 10 goals,” Thompson said.
“It was the best game by a 39-year-old in 100 years.”
Birthday-boy Fletcher was his usual reliable self while Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker, marking Jonathan Brown, deserved the high praise in the 9.11 (65) to 8.9 (57) win.
Brisbane had two more inside 50s and were the better side in the second-half, but they lacked the composure and experience of their rivals after leading by four points at the last change.
As the Bombers’ defensive end held firm, in the scrappy clash featuring seven lead changes, Jackson Merrett and Paddy Ryder kicked the only two goals of the final term to jump into the top eight.
“We got the points so we have to be happy with that,” Thompson said. “But I’m not happy with the way we played.”
Guilty of going missing at vital stages in recent weeks, Essendon did fade badly in the third term when a 20-point lead evaporated.
Wearing a throwback Brisbane Bears guernsey, Aish, Paparone and Taylor were prominent in the turnaround.
Club leaders Jed Adcock and Tom Rockliff were also inspirational for Brisbane, while livewire Josh Green booted a game-high three goals, but the home side failed to find the polish and deliver the finishing touches required.
“I said to the boys that there were two or three boys who had their best games for the club,” Justin Leppitsch said.
“What it shows is our kids have talent, but we’ve still got a lot of games to go.”
With fallout from Jack Viney tribunal visits dominating headlines, two second-term incidents within two minutes of each other ensured more debate about the bump.
Paul Chapman raised his elbow in a collision with Jack Redden just before Andrew Raines’ shoulder collected Brendon Goddard high as they both lunged for the loose ball, and post-match action will be intriguing.