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Western Bulldogs small forward Cody Weightman was public enemy number one among angry Essendon fans after their elimination final loss - but an injured teammate has leapt to his defence.
Despite the Bombers failing to kick a goal in the second half, Weightman was held up as the villain after kicking four goals from four free kicks in the Bulldogs' big win.
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The 13.7 (85) to 4.12 (36) result was the Bulldogs' first finals win since breaking their 62-year premiership drought five years ago and sets up a semi-final at the Gabba against Brisbane on Saturday.
However some Bombers fans, heartbroken after the club's record finals winning drought was extended by the Bulldogs, turned their attention to Weightman's free kicks.
Three of his four goals came from contentious calls, with Eddie McGuire declaring the fourth “was not a free kick”.
“This is extraordinary. This could be his fourth. In a really tight game," fellow commentator James Brayshaw said.
“In a tight final in the wet, how is that a free kick? What is that for?”
Some fans tended to agree, flooding Weightman's Instagram page with abusive comments following the 39-point defeat.
Despite having suffered a ruptured ACL on the eve of the finals, Weightman's teammate Josh Bruce was quick to stick up for his teammate.
Bruce occupied himself with replying to the aforementioned foul comments, much to the amusement of AFL fans.
— Michael G. (@mickeyg4) August 29, 2021
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said after the game that he could understand some of the frustration from opposition fans, but that ultimately Weightman's job was to kick goals.
"He was brilliant in the air and on the ground. He's come on in leaps and bounds this year," Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said of Weightman..
"I'm wrapt to see what he did in such a big game."
Western Bulldogs extend Essendon's 14-year finals drought
The Bombers, who started the stronger of the two sides but couldn't convert their chances, haven't tasted finals success since 2004 and have now lost six straight elimination games.
The Bulldogs were ahead 34-31 at the main break before flying home courtesy of a eight-goals-to-none second half.
The last club to go goal-less in the second half of a finals match was Geelong in 1956.
Weightman nailed two goals in the crucial third term, one from a tight angle after a free kick for a seemingly innocuous push, while Josh Schache justified his late inclusion with his second.
Schache, who was promoted from the emergencies moments before the first bounce, also set up an important goal to give his side a four-goal break early in the last quarter.
Aaron Naughton finished with three goals and Mitch Hannan two in what ended up a convincing victory.
"Our second half was enormous. We haven't won a final for a little while and everyone felt the pressure. To come through that, is a great experience for us all," Beveridge said.
Essendon's Darcy Parish was one of the best on ground in the first half and finished with a team-high 35 possessions for the match.
Teammate Jake Stringer had his moments, snapping the first goal of the contest and an important major to keep the Bombers in touch just before the main break.
"Our work through the first half was pretty good. I thought we created enough opportunities. We weren't able to convert," Essendon coach Ben Rutten said.
"The second half, the Bulldogs played the conditions a fraction better. It suited their personality a bit more than us."
Tempers flared at the end of the third quarter after Essendon were awarded a free kick for a hit off the ball.
Rutten conceded the Bulldogs put themselves in better physical positions to earn free kicks.
Essendon had the better of inside 50s in the first quarter but trailed 13-10 at the first break.
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