x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

High-flying Saints are bombed out by Essendon

Exactly 80 years ago, Collingwood became the only team in the Victorian Football League - the precursor to the AFL - to win all of their regular season matches; a record that stands today, thanks to Essendon.

St Kilda have been beaten. Exactly 80 years ago, Collingwood became the only team in the Victorian Football League - the precursor to the AFL - to win all of their regular season matches; a record that stands today, thanks to Essendon. The Saints looked like becoming the AFL's first, even after the siren in yesterday's last match of round 20, when captain Nick Riewoldt missed a 50m set shot, meaning his team had to wear a two-point defeat.

It was almost fitting that the Bombers were the team to break the Saints' run of 19 wins. In season 2000 it was the Dons - another name for the Bombers - who were being held up as likely to end the home-and-away season with a spotless record. That season, the Bombers were overwhelmed by the Great Flood of round 21, where the Western Bulldogs - under the charge of Terry Wallace - crushed them by "flooding" every player into Essendon's forward half at the pinnacle of the ugly practice.

But it was a different story yesterday. The Saints looked as if they would pull another one from the fire after paring back a 43-point lead from very late in the third quarter. That task was made easier when injuries to veteran Dons defender Dustin Fletcher, the brilliant young ruckman Paddy Ryder, Courtenay Dempsey and others meant an empty interchange bench. Saints coach Ross Lyon said the loss would serve as a valuable lesson to his charges to "really respect the opposition and try to play Saints footy", according to www.afl.com.

The win, while a cruel blow to the Bombers' available list, lifted the club into eighth place on the ladder with a staggering 10 fewer wins for the season than the beaten Saints. In more bad news for them, Bachar Houli's season is probably over because of a leg injury. pstafford@thenational.ae