Round 1 – Essendon v Hawthorn: New Beginnings
Round 1: Essendon versus Hawthorn
7:25pm, Saturday 25 March
The Old Enemy. Them bastards in brown and gold. As if this game didn’t already have enough weight behind it, they’ve put us up against Hawthorn. Oh god, please let us win.
Much has been written about the exploits of the Essendon Football Club since ASADA came knocking back in February 2013. Indeed, entire books have been written. And I am sure that many more words will come, as the story is not yet finished. Saturday night was another memorable chapter. I like to think of it as the first chapter of a new book. The exciting part of the saga where the hero has overcome their difficult upbringing, conquered adversity and now sets forth on new adventures – fun for the whole family. If that is indeed to be the case then Saturday was an excellent opening.
I was at the Line in the Sand match. Ten-year-old-me was occupying the far reaches of the MCG with my dad as chaos broke out on the same turf that only moments earlier had been adorned by the Olympic torch, making a mockery of its symbols of peace and unity. I was there in 2009, when our captain Matthew Lloyd’s elbow sent the Red & Black into the finals, at the expense of Brad Sewell’s jaw and ending his own career. I was there in 2015, when the recently-acquitted Bombers defeated the reigning premiers with a mongrel Cale Hooker punt in the dying moments of the match. And I was there on Saturday, when the Comeback Story began in earnest, when the Essendon Football Club welcomed back their boys and conquered the Hawks in front of over 78,000.
Saturday was a special night. The roar from the crowd was loud as the Bombers ran out through the banner. It was louder when they stormed out of the gates and kicked the first three of the match, and it was loudest when Dyson Heppell slotted it from 50 to ice the game. The pro-Essendon crowd was in full chorus all night, from the 6pm march at Federation Square to the final siren at the MCG.
The Hawks of course had their own comeback story in the form of Jarryd Roughead who played his first game since 2015 after overcoming melanoma. Like Heppell he was captaining his first game for his club. When he kicked his first goal for the night in the third quarter his teammates swamped him from all angles, and supporters from both sides applauded the champion.
After the initial rampage the Hawks regrouped and by half time held a slender lead. It seemed as though raw emotion could only get the Bombers so far. They would have to prove in the second half that they could match it with Hawthorn not on just the adrenaline mustered by the narrative surrounding the game, but by superior skills, speed and endurance. And so they did. A run of five straight goals in the third quarter gave the Bombers the lead, and two quick goals in succession to begin the final quarter had them on the cusp of a famous victory.
The Bombers looked slick. They looked quicker than they had in years, and the forward structure provided more options than I have seen in a long time. The six returning players looked comfortable and slotted back into the rigours of a high intensity game of football with grace and aplomb.
The outpouring of emotion on both sides of the fence after the final siren was unlike anything I had witnessed at a football match before. After four years of turmoil and uncertainty the fans finally had something to really cheer about. Sure, there were some great and memorable wins during the years of the saga, but this was different. This was the beginning of the new era for the Essendon Football Club. With the return of our boys, coupled with some young and exciting talent it is onwards and upwards from here.
Essendon 4.4 5.8 12.12 17.14 (116)
Hawthorn 2.3 6.10 10.14 12.19 (91)
Essendon: Fantasia 4, Daniher 3, Hooker 3, Heppell 3, Stanton 2, McKernan, Zaharakis
Hawthorn: Roughead 2, McEvoy 2, Puopolo 2, Breust, Hartung, Rioli, Schoenmakers, Shiels, Smith
Essendon: Heppell, Merrett, Fantasia, Goddard, Watson, Baguley
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Langford, Birchall, Roughead, McEvoy, Smith
UMPIRES: Foot, Findlay, McInerney
VOTES: Heppell (Ess) 3, Merrett (Ess) 2, Fantasia (Ess) 1