Sun starts to set on Gold Coast’s finals hopes, Dons too hot to handle

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Sun starts to set on Gold Coast’s finals hopes, Dons too hot to handle

By Marnie Vinall
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Despite a dismal start to the season, Essendon have now beaten four top-eight contenders in the past month following a 48-point win over Gold Coast on Sunday at Marvel Stadium.

It was a must-win game for the Suns to keep their finals hopes alive and the loss leaves them four points behind Richmond, the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda, who are all battling for the eighth spot.

Jarrod Witts and Sam Draper go head to head.

Jarrod Witts and Sam Draper go head to head.Credit:Getty Images

It was Stuart Dew’s 100th game coaching the Suns, but Essendon controlled the majority of the play against a flat-looking Gold Coast, who struggled to find any opportunities to break the game open.

While the first half saw momentum swings, in which both teams moved the ball quickly when in possession, it was Essendon who had the upper hand. They dominated contested possessions 71 to 54 and uncontested 126 to 82.

Essendon powered to a 37-point lead off the boot of Jake Stringer six minutes into the third term, and the gap continued to widen as Gold Coast were kept goalless in the penultimate quarter. Although they began to make an impact with three majors in the fourth it was too little, too late.

Essendon’s improved form since the bye round has been helped with the return of Harrison Jones and Stringer and the Bombers’ midfield appears to be playing with more confidence, using the ball more cleanly and efficiently and applying both attacking pressure and defensive pressure.

Sam Draper may have also put himself in goal-of-the-year contention, with a huge burst out of centre clearance to run all the way to the goal.

And working as a team with defensive intent, the Bombers were able to lock the ball within their forward arc, cutting off the supply for Gold Coast. They also dominated the majority of the stats, including disposals, inside 50s, clearances and contested and uncontested possessions.

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Zach Merrett, in particular, had a remarkable game with 36 disposals, while Dylan Shiel, Andrew McGrath and Nic Martin all contributed well in the mid.

The Suns struggled to get it out of their back 50, a credit to Essendon’s back line, including a terrific game by Mason Redman, who missed last weekend due to health and safety protocols. Touk Miller, Noah Anderson and Jack Lukosius all fought hard but it wasn’t enough.

Jake Stringer celebrates after kicking a goal.

Jake Stringer celebrates after kicking a goal.Credit:AFL Photos

Gold Coast’s forward line struggled to get involved in the game, as Levi Casboult was kept to just five disposals, Mabior Chol eight and Sam Day six.

This was while Essendon, who previously have sought to solely hit key targets Peter Wright or Stringer when trying to find an avenue to goal, enjoyed a plethora of scoring options with a range of players contributing. They were let down by inaccuracy booting 14.19 but the crowd didn’t seem to mind.

Draper playing with ‘flair and spirit’, quickly becoming a fan favourite

When asked to explain Draper’s exciting goal late in the fourth, Ben Rutten admitted, “I [have] got no idea what he was doing, I don’t think he does, but it was fantastic” - adding he plays with some “real flair and spirit”.

“I think that’s what he brings to the guys. His teammates feed off it, the crowd feeds off it. Yeah, it’s a real highlight of the game…He can do those things, which a lot of guys can’t,” the Essendon coach said post-match.

The 203-centimetre ruck is quickly becoming a fan favourite, delivering antics on and off the field and exciting passages of play, not to mention adding six points to the scoreline with increasing regularity.

Rutten said, given he’s only played around 30 to 35 games of AFL footy, Draper is still fairly immature in terms of his footy sense but is developing along an upward curve in his journey as a footballer.

“He’s still got this athleticism and this spirit that he plays with that, that we just love about him. He’s a really popular guy in the change room, and you know, the guys really feed off his energy out there.

“So, that’s really what we’re promoting him to do, continue to work on his craft, keep working on his game, but that’ll evolve over the next five or 10 years, but he can still bring that energy and passion to the game that we all love…That’s a key part that he brings at the moment and our teammates and our supporters really, really enjoy that and feed off.”

Andrew McGrath handballs for the Bombers.

Andrew McGrath handballs for the Bombers.Credit:Getty Images

ESSENDON 4.4 9.10 11.16 14.19 (103)
GOLD COAST 4.1 5.4 5.6 8.7 (55)

GOALS
Essendon: Stringer 4, Martin 2, Wright 2, Jones 2, Draper 2, Durham, Phillips.
Gold Coast: Casboult 2, Chol 2, Day 2, Rankine, Lukosius.
BEST
Essendon: Draper, Redman, Stringer, Merrett, Shiel.
Gold Coast: Miller, Anderson, Lukosius, Ellis.
UMPIRES
Johanson, Rosebury, Whetton.
CROWD
23,484 at Marvel Stadium.

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