Rick Browner reporting for AFANA from Perth
Twenty-five years of rivalry came to a head Friday night at Etihad Stadium. A pro-Hawthorn crowd of 50,000 was looking forward to an easy win over the Bombers, and tipsters from all around Australia were licking their lips at the odds.
As expected, the first quarter was played in Hawthorn's forward line. Stuart Dew kicked the first Hawthorn goal as Essendon looked on with trepidation. Jay Neagle countered to produce Essendon's first goal and the game turned around when Nathan Lovett-Murray kicked their second. Hawthorn began to feel the heat and looked shaky in their goal kicking as their confidence waned. The Hawks were punished for their inefficiency in front of goal and when Matthew Lloyd kicked truly after the first quarter siren, Essendon found themselves with a handy twelve point lead at the break.
With eight behinds and only one goal to Hawthorn, the game could have been all over early in the piece. However the Hawks rebounded and kicked the first three goals in the second quarter to win back the lead. To the Bombers' credit, they didn't panic and kicked the next three goals in a row to reassert their authority on the game. It was an exciting quarter with both teams committed to the contest and neither giving an inch of ground. Some tough tackling by Buddy Franklin on Bachar Houli saw him rewarded with a goal late in the half. After a close and tight contest, the Hawks were up by a point at the major break.
At half time, many spectators thought that the Bombers had produced their best and that their intensity and determination would drop off as the game progressed. Most tipsters would have echoed those thoughts and predicted a second half dominated by the reigning Premiers. No-one told the Bombers however, and when the third quarter got under way, they scored the first two goals to fire up the team and their fans. It was goal for goal for most of the term, until an inspired burst saw Essendon kick four of the last five goals to take a 17 point lead into the final break. All watching had the feeling that the Bombers were in the mood to take it up to the champions in the fourth quarter.
Leading from the front, Essendon Captain Matthew Lloyd continued to present a consistent forward target for his midfielders. His spectacular overhead marking was inspirational and when he kicked the first goal of the last quarter, the writing was on the wall for the biggest upset of the round. Franklin kept the Hawks in the game with four goals for the match, but it was not enough in the end and Essendon ran out easy 44 point winners.
The backbone provided by the Bombers' ferocious midfielders was what produced the confidence needed to get up and beat last year's Premiers. The dilemma for Essendon coach Matthew Knights is how to keep up the momentum provided by this outstanding performance for the rest of the season. Hawthorn coach Alistair Clarkson faces some challenges of his own with a team that looked brittle and was clearly rattled by the defensive pressure of a less talented but more determined Bombers outfit.
The Hawks are on the road in Round 8, traveling to Subiaco Oval to face an in-form Fremantle who are on a high after three wins in a row. The Hawks face the formidable task of playing the Dockers in front of a home crowd which usually lifts them to the next level of performance.
Forlorn tipsters will be resigning in droves after the first seven rounds have produced one of the most unpredictable starts to an AFL season in years.
Scoreboard: Essendon 4.2 6.7 12.10 17.14 (116) Hawthorn 1.8 6.8 9.11 10.12 (72) Best Players: Essendon A Monfries, M Lloyd, B Stanton, J Watson, A Lovett Hawthorn L Franklin, C Rioli, J Roughead, S Mitchell
Article last changed on Sunday, May 10, 2009 - 2:23 PM EDT