The last round of the 2007 home and away season was a special one for the Essendon Football Club.
They traveled to Perth to take on the reigning premiers in West Coast, and did so under Kevin Sheedy’s reign and with James Hird by their side for the last time.
Each week, Aflplayers.com.au will bring to light the perspective of someone at the heart of a memorable moment from a game played between two sides before their upcoming clash.
The Bombers were out of finals contention and the Eagles were preparing for another premiership assault but the build-up was a different one for Essendon forward Scott Lucas.
“It was a significant game in our history with Kevin Sheedy and James Hird’s contributions to the club coming to an end.” Lucas told Aflplayers.com.au.
“The build-up was incredibly different. It had a relaxed feel to it and it was more about playing a good game to honour those guys and what they’ve done for the Essendon Football Club than the cut and thrust of chasing four points because it was the last game of the season and our year was pretty much done.
“A lot of Hirdy and Sheeds’ family and friends spoke in the lead up about their experiences and contributions so we were a bit more relaxed going in but we were keen to play well and finish off the year.”
Things went sour for Essendon from the start, however, as the Eagles kicked out to a 16-point lead by quarter time, 38 points at half-time and 44 points at three-quarter time.
Just as things looked lost and Sheedy and Hird’s careers were about to end in the worst possible way, the game started to turn.
“At three-quarter time, I remember Hirdy spoke about it being the last quarter of football for the season and he said words to the effect of ‘I loved playing with you all over my career so let’s have some fun and have a real crack in the last quarter’,” Lucas added.
“From memory, we got some entries out of the middle and a bit of momentum, kicked a couple and went on a bit of a roll.”
Those couple of goals were kicked by Lucas. After spending the first quarter down back, the Essendon key forward, by his own admittance, was playing okay “at best” by the last change, much like the rest of the side.
But the game was steadily changing, with Lucas nailing his third goal for the quarter from long range to draw the margin back to 33 points with 13 minutes left to play.
While the then 29-year-old was on the verge of something special, he believes there were other factors at play that influenced his performance.
“In the last term, we were able to get a few centre clearances and get on top. At that stage, West Coast were in the top four and obviously going to play finals so no doubt they would’ve been thinking towards next week going in at three-quarter time with such a lead.
“While we kept going, they probably took their foot off the pedal ever so slightly and went into a bit of self-preservation, which is natural for teams in that position.
“The nature of playing as a forward is you can have quality opponents who are trying to stop you and we hadn’t had a lot of the ball beforehand, so there’s a bit that conspires against you, but each quarter for me was always the same — go out there and try and do your best.”
Another goal from a set shot from 30 metres out on the boundary, followed by a snap around the body closer to goal a minute later and Lucas had kicked the Bombers back in the contest.
He had five goals for the quarter and six for the match and, with 10 minutes to play, it was only 21 points the difference. Remarkably, Lucas wasn’t done with yet and neither were the Bombers.
Angus Monfries became only the second Essendon goal scorer for the quarter when he kicked his first for the match and when Lucas marked the ball unopposed in the pocket, he wheeled around to snap his sixth fourth-quarter major and the deficit was now only nine points.
Less than 40 seconds later, Lucas was rewarded a free kick almost directly in front of goal and the footy world couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Sure enough, he split the middle. Lucas had seven goals for the quarter and eight for the game and the margin was three points with six minutes to go.
“I was fortunate in the sense that I was having the shots, but it’s one thing have the shots and the other is to finish them off and I was kicking straight that day,” Lucas said.
“That makes a massive difference. If you have a big quarter and kick 3.3, while it’s still a large quarter, you’re ruing the missed chances, and luckily I was kicking straight at that point of the game.
“That was the best quarter of footy I’ve ever played. I’d be silly to sit there and assess whether or not I’ve played a better one.”
The Bombers had arrived. In his last game gathered, Hird gathered 34 touches and Andrew Lovett was having a big say in the last term. With a little more than three minutes on the clock, Mark McVeigh sent the ball inside forward 50 to Lucas in a one-on-one against Darren Glass.
Glass went to ground but as Lucas gathered the loose footy he stumbled. Regaining his feet, he quickly sent the ball towards goal but it was way wide and registered a behind.
Sure enough, a minute later West Coast’s Brent Staker soccered through a goal and the scores wouldn’t change for the remaining two minutes.
But despite coming so close, Lucas said the match was more notable because of the respect shown to Hird and Sheedy by West Coast and the attending fans.
“Irrespective of that last quarter, it was one of the more memorable games I’ve been a part of because of what it meant for the club, the contribution of the Hirdy and Sheeds and also because there was a presentation after the match for Sheeds and Hirdy from the West Coast footy club and no one left the ground for that.
“All the Eagles supporters stayed there to honour or pay tribute, which was really significant and shows how good our football fans are.”
Hird was emotional — his 253-game career came to a close — and so were a few of his teammates. It also ended up being Chris Heffernan and Mark Bolton’s last AFL match.
The feeling in the rooms afterwards, however, was one of celebration other than sadness, according to Lucas.
“To be honest, you wouldn’t have known if we had won or lost afterwards because it was a pretty relaxed mood. The season was over and it was all about honouring those guys and reminiscing in a slightly different environment.”