Mixed emotions after Bombers fall just short

IN the aftermath of Friday night's Essendon-Hawthorn nail-biter at Etihad Stadium, I've got those familiar feelings of mixed emotions that footy brings out.

It's that fine line many supporters of a middle-of-the-road team - like Essendon has been - feel when their team has been brave against a superior opponent that has beaten up on it for years, but ultimately, come up short.

As I sit here on Saturday afternoon still stewing on the result, just as The Easybeats sang in 1966 - I've got Friday on my Mind.

Hawthorn has been a source of constant torture for us Essendon supporters in recent years.

The Hawks are a damn good football side, but thanks to the fierce rivalry that was built back in the '80s when the two clubs locked horns in three grand finals in a row, Hawthorn always seems to take its game to the next level against the Bombers.

In round 18 last year I was on the train back to Bendigo at three quarter-time after watching the Hawks put on a clinic against Essendon in what was then a top-of-the-ladder clash.

The result that night was a 56-point win to the Hawks as they made the Bombers look a shell of the team which that stage of the season had won 13 of 16 games.

Which poses the quandary of how to be feeling following Friday night's four-point loss?

The fact Essendon, having so long been a whipping boy for Hawthorn, was able to compete with the Hawks and get itself into a winning position must be a positive and a sign the Bombers are headed in the right direction... shouldn't it?

Yes, the Hawks had key players out and it was a relief not having to worry about Buddy Franklin turning it on like he has so often against the Bombers in the past, but you can only play the 22 who are out there against you.

Should I be proud of the way the Bombers fought back from a 32-point deficit at half-time?

Of course I was. That result could have easily blown out to 12 goals-plus with the Hawks having the sniff of Bomber blood.

But when you take away the half-time deficit and Hawthorn's dominance of the Bombers in recent years, plus the fact the Hawks are the reigning premiers with the biggest target on their backs this season, the bottom line is Essendon blew a golden opportunity.

It's all a blur when I think back on the frantic final quarter, but the Bombers were nine points up with about three minutes to play after my new favourite player, Paul Chapman, snapped a goal.

Yet the Bombers couldn't hang on as the Hawks kicked the last two goals through Luke Breust and Cyril Rioli to do what the elite sides do - find ways to win against the odds.

There was plenty of praise for the Bombers on social media after the game, and one post-match shot on the TV of the Essendon cheer squad where had you not known the result, you would have sworn it was a red and black win.

But the conclusion I've come to is that if the Bombers, or any other team coming from a similar mid-table position, are going to take the next step and genuinely challenge the big boys come September like I believe Essendon can, losses like Friday night need to be treated by us fans as that - losses, not near enough is good enough.

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