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by Kim Densham for AFANA in Melbourne

Carlton and Essendon games open up old wounds with a traditional rivalry going back decades. The intensity of feeling was well summed up by long time Carlton fanatic Barb, who wore a button that stated simply "I Hate Essendon". Pre-game Carlton coach Brett Ratten played down its importance, saying this was like any other week in footy and was just about the four points. Essendon coach James Hird avoided the spotlight, but the playing group highlighted their recent performance and the success of the new game plan. The last time the two sides met, the Blues smashed Essendon by 71 points and this trouncing no doubt contributed to the demise of former coach Matthew Knights. This season however the Bombers are up and about and fuelling early talks of Finals.

Essendon drew first blood and in the first quarter exposed the Blues. They opened up a 20 point lead kicking three goals to zip. An effervescent quarter of football was dominated by the evergreen Dustin Fletcher. In an outstanding highlight, Fletcher received the ball in the Bombers' defensive half, took one bounce and, from within the center square, launched a long bomb punt kick that hit the stadium fencing to score the goal of the day. The quarter was marred for Essendon by a double blow. First, the loss of Jason Winderlich who, at the 18 minute mark, put forward pressure on a shell-shocked Blues' defense, turned in open play and blew out his left knee. Winderlich was stretchered off and Essendon activated their substitute. Ten minutes later, there was a second blow when Courtney Dempsey defended a rare Blues' foray on goal and jumped up to spoil a marking attempt by Jeff Garlett. His awkward landing blew out his left knee and he too was carried out of the game. Both players have suspected serious ACL injuries.

After a pedestrian opening quarter, the Blues hit back in the second. They dominated from the opening bounce with their midfield guns, Chris Judd, Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs firing on all cylinders and ensuring quick disposals to their running midfielders and fast forwards Garlett, Chris Yarran and tall forward Jarrad Waite. The Blues kicked four goals and nine minors as the Bombers played like victims of circumstance after the loss of Winderlich and Dempsey.

In the third term, Carlton was quick off the mark again with goals to Jeremy Laidler and Garlett. Heath Scotland played like a man possessed in the midfield. Up forward Waite was asserting himself in the contest and winning more of his own ball. By contrast Essendon was again sluggish with key players missing in action and their vision and run looking to have evaporated. They played kick to kick football and paid the price on the scoreboard.

In the final term, the Blues again took early control. Waite earned a free kick and Andrew Carrazzo scored. Within minutes Waite took a strong mark and passed to Murphy for another goal. Three minutes later ruckman Andrew Warnock added to the tally. Carlton's midfield group were playing power footy with run and carry. After a good intercept by Fletcher with a deft backhand flick on the boundary, the ball travelled across the center line to the opposite wing where David Zaharakis centered to the square and Jobe Watson kicked a goal. Kade Simpson extended the Blues' lead again but the Bombers were in fight back mode. Despite several chances to take the lead they added only behinds. Essendon's oldest player Fletcher was again the hero, savng a certain Carlton goal with a desperate lunging tackle. As Carlton tried to play down the clock with a one point lead, a kick out of bounds on the full by Simpson, who had played a major role in getting the Blues to the lead, provided the Bombers with the chance to go forward.  The ball ended up in the hands of Zaharakis, who had the chance to repeat his ANZAC Day heroics in 2010 when he won a game for the Bombers with a goal in the dying seconds. On this occasion he missed, scored a behind and the Bombers drew level with Carlton. When the siren sounded, stunned fans realized they had witnessed the third draw of the 2011 season.

For game day action click on the following link:

Carlton       0.2  4.9  6.13  11.13 (79)
Essendon      3.2  6.3   7.8  11.13 (79)

Article last changed on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 8:08 PM EDT

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