Giants pip Bombers in AFL thriller
Essendon coach Ben Rutten refused to blame the umpires after his AFL side's two-point loss to GWS at Giants Stadium, despite Cale Hooker being denied what could have proved a decisive free kick in a frantic goal-laden finish.
The Giants started strongly, steadied after a second-quarter slump then held on to triumph 16.11 (107) to 16.9 (105), making it four wins in five weeks for Leon Cameron's side.
The Bombers led briefly after Peter Wright booted an opening-minute goal then conceded six consecutive majors as they struggled to deal with the home side's rapid ball movement.
Essendon, having woken up at dawn to ensure they could fly in and out of Sydney on the same day because of the city's recent COVID-19 cases, never hit the front despite multiple epic comebacks.
The visitors, who were forced to substitute hamstrung star Jake Stringer in the third quarter, kicked four of the game's final five goals.
Kyle Langford trimmed GWS's lead to just two points with two minutes remaining, only for Giants midfielder Jacob Hopper to snap a goal that effectively secured the win.
Langford replied with another snapped goal, but it came with only four seconds remaining and the siren sounded as the ball was booted into the Bombers' forward line.
Rutten was "proud but also disappointed" after Essendon's third single-digit loss of 2021, refusing to dwell on the umpires calling play on when Hooker was sandwiched between GWS defenders Sam Taylor and Lachie Keeffe
"That happens - a mark or a free kick - the game is a hard one to umpire," Rutten said of the key contest, which came moments before Hopper's match-winning effort.
"There were moments in that first quarter that we didn't get right and that cost us goals too. That's just part of the game."
Cameron was relieved to bank the premiership points.
"It gets a bit nerve-racking," Cameron said.
"These close games are fantastic for our young group ... to hold on in an interesting set of circumstances was really pleasing.
"It's great to win another close one. I think we've got a record of 15-1 (in games decided by a margin) under four points, which is phenomenal."
Rutten is not sure how long Stringer will be on the sidelines.
"We (initially) tried to persist with him a bit ... we need to wait and get more information," he said.
"He was still functioning OK, so we're not sure of the extent."
Stand-in skipper Toby Greene had a hand or foot in the majority of the Giants' most impressive moments, teeing up a couple of goals and kicking two himself.
GWS key forward Jeremy Finlayson was reported for an undisciplined elbow directed at Zach Merrett in the first quarter, while he kicked three goals.
Merrett headlined Essendon's list of best-on-ground contenders, tallying a game-high 37 disposals, while Taylor, Tim Taranto and Josh Kelly starred for the hosts.
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