ESSENDON 3.2 9.8 13.14 14.20 (104) NORTH MELBOURNE 4.3 8.5 10.10 15.12 (102)
Just when you thought the opening weekend of footy couldn’t get any more exciting, along came an after-the-siren epic between two highly competitive and developing sides.
Unsurprisingly for a round one clash, this game played out with both sides trying to find their preferred style and without any real rhythm or flow – this should become second nature as the season progresses.
For the majority of the first-half, we saw a game of attack and counter attack. Both sides attempted to implement their respective defensive press, with inconsistent results that provided plenty of space for the spread to gain an advantage.
At the midway point of the first-quarter, Essendon hard man Heath Hocking received a ball to the face at full speed and was quickly subbed off after failing the concussion test for Nathan Lovett-Murray who had an immediate impact.
North were looking ominous and lead by as much as 17 points, however Lovett-Murray gathered eight possessions and kicked two important goals against the flow to help Essendon to an unlikely nine-point lead at the main break.
The third-quarter saw Hamish McIntosh mark and goal within the first 45 seconds before both sides tightened up, which seemed to suit Essendon as they extended their lead despite an inaccurate quarter in which they scored 4.6 to the Kangaroos’ 1.5 after the McIntosh goal.
The final stanza was fascinating in so many ways. Essendon began with a 22-point lead and looked poised to run away with a comfortable win, and in the last term they had 14 inside 50’s to six and had eight scoring shots to seven – yet North found a way to make things happen.
The Bombers’ inaccurate kicking found them registering 1.6 to North’s five straight goals and four points behind with five minutes still remaining on the clock.
These last few minutes were frenetic: a marking opportunity from Aaron Edwards was rushed through for a behind by Fletcher, as both sides became desperate in their attack on the ball.
With 30 seconds remaining on the clock, it seemed the Bombers would get home by three points, until a last gasp surge saw a North bomb inside 50 resulting in a mark to McIntosh 45 metres out, just moments before the siren.
Remarkably, for the third time in three years, the Bombers were left to watch their opposition shoot for the win from about 40 metres out after the siren, each time being at Etihad stadium.
And for the third time in a row, the result went Essendon’s way when the McIntosh kick faded to the right.
Partly injuries and partly depth lead to North Melbourne entering this game one key position player short of what they would ultimately desire.
Robbie Tarrant leaving the field with a hamstring injury in the second-quarter left North with no choice but to create space for their small and medium forwards, and forced their ruckmen to spend more time up-forward and less time resting on the bench than was ideally desired.
Stanton was assigned to Wells for the first half, with neither player showing the other enough respect. At the break Stanton had 18 touches to Well’s 17, yet unquestionably Wells was the more damaging of the pair.
Match-up of the night
It may well be argued that Essendon and North Melbourne have two of the three best ruck combinations in the league, with West Coast being the other obvious choice.
With both teams also relying on their big men to provide forward targets, this battle was always going to go a long way to determining the outcome, and David Hille and Patrick Ryder were in no small way responsible for the Essendon win.
Ryder and Hille combined for 44 hit-outs compared to McIntosh and Todd Goldstein’s 30, had 38 possessions compared to 21, and kicked 2.2 whilst North’s ruckmen kicked 1.1 – this was the difference more so than any other battle.
Essendon: Stanton 2, Melksham 2, Hurley 2, Lovett-Murray 2, Heppell, Hille, Watson, Jetta, McVeigh, Ryder.
Nth Melb: Harvey 3, Edwards 2, Petrie 2, Adams 2, Thomas 2, Wells, McIntosh, Macmillan, Harper.
Essendon: Stanton, Fletcher, Howlett, Ryder, Heppell, Myers, Hibberd
Nth Melb: Wells, Swallow, Adams, Harvey, Petrie.
VOTES: 3 – Stanton, 2 – Wells, 1 – Fletcher
REPORTS Sam Wright (NM) for charging Brent Stanton in the second-quarter.
UMPIRES: M Stevic, J Armstrong, J Bannister.
CROWD: 45,818 at Etihad Stadium.