MATHEW Stokes has played 197 AFL games, kicked 209 goals and won two premierships at Geelong, but insists he has never played a better half than that produced by Essendon teammate Orazio Fantasia on Sunday night.
It's some statement given Fantasia is just 20 and was playing his 20th AFL game.
But if the third-year small forward wasn't best-afield at half-time against Greater Western Sydney, then he looked the most likely matchwinner.
The Bombers then led by 12 points – ultimately succumbing by 27 points – and Fantasia had gathered 10 possessions, six marks (one contested) and kicked 3.4.
He was also credited with two score assists, one of which was a well-timed handball to ruckman Mark Jamar for a goal from point-blank range that Fantasia could have been forgiven for kicking himself.
He could have had seven goals to his name by half-time, with each shot being gettable and there being some narrow misses, including a poster on the run from 50 metres in the second term.
"I've played for 11 years and I've never had a half like that," Stokes told AFL.com.au post-match.
"Some of the stuff he was doing … the pressure he was putting on, his work rate, the goals, the kick off the ground, his assists – he was awesome.
"He worked really hard to get on the end of a few, but what was really important was all the other opportunities and space he created just with his movement and his pace and his determination to get to a contest. He drew defenders too him, which opened it up for his teammates.
"The role of small forward is the hardest role to play because you can be out of the play. Most of the time, you only get rewarded only when you put in the effort with the tackling pressure and defence, and he was fantastic in those areas."
Fantasia had just two more possessions for the match, both in the third term, during which he slotted a fourth goal – a neat snap that brought the Bombers back to within eight points nearing three-quarter-time.
Just moments later, Fantasia became a victim of his own courage, being momentarily stunned after colliding with Giant Nick Haynes.
He was forced to spend the next 20 minutes on the sidelines as he was tested for concussion.
Essendon coach John Worsfold was as pleased with Fantasia's competitive instincts as he was his goalkicking.
"As a small forward, to have that many shots at goal in a half is really exciting for us," Worsfold said in his post-match press conference.
"That's the first game where we've got the ball forward with that sort of volume (and) he's been threatening.
"In games where we've only gone forward 30-odd times, he's been getting two or three shots at goal.
"And with Joe Daniher as well, those guys are holding up under very limited supply. They got more supply tonight and they were very good contributors."
Fantasia has played 12 games this season and has tallied 13.14. His previous best effort was two goals.
"It's great reward for all the hard work he does behind the scenes, too," Stokes said.
"He's great to teach because he really listens and takes everything on board."