Round 1 – Essendon v Hawthorn: The most Essendon loss ever…but what a game!


Essendon v Hawthorn

7:25pm, Saturday March 20

Marvel Stadium



I’ve been struggling for about 24 hours as to how I should start this. In the aftermath of my beloved Bombers throwing the match away against our hated enemy in what was my first live footy game since the State of Origin Bushfire Relief game in February last year, I am filled with mixed-feelings.



I guess I should start with this: what a game! The Hawks and the Bombers have a streak of six games, five before Saturday night, where the game’s result was in doubt until the last quarter. Actually, most of those games were in contention until late in the final quarter. Think of Hawthorn’s four point win over us in Round 20, 2018 where we kicked a goal with ten seconds left to make it really interesting. Or the Joey Daniher match last year in Adelaide. For the first part of my footy supporting life, which started when I first took to the sport in 2009 like a moth to a flame, Hawthorn have dominated us. Sure, there were the occasional moments of Bomber bliss, like in 2009 when we prevented the Hawks, then reigning premiers, from participating in September with a win in Round 22. Or in 2015 when Cale Hooker became an Essendon hero (and the timekeeper nearly made himself an Essendon villain). But mostly it was Hawthorn blowout victory after Hawthorn blowout victory. That all changed in Round 1 2017, the comeback game for so many Essendon players that night and for Jarryd Roughead too. The game on Saturday only added to the ever-growing rivalry between these two teams.



It felt almost alien when I put on my Essendon scarf and beanie for the first time since Round 23, 2019, and I got on the number 96 tram towards Southern Cross station. Sitting in my seat, looking out at the people around me, mostly wearing red and black, it was such a surreal experience. A month ago, I was in Dubai with my parents, wondering if I could make it back to Australia in time for the University semester to start. Three weeks ago, I was in hotel quarantine in Sydney, watching the AFLW on my laptop as I looked out over the Sydney CBD. And now, there I was: at Marvel Stadium in Docklands, standing up as people walked shuffled past me to get to their seats.



But as soon as that siren sounded, all those thoughts about how weird it was to be there melted away. Game on.



Aside from Hawthorn dominating the the uncontested marking and moving the ball out of their defensive 50 far too easily, I thought the first quarter was really even. Had Hooker not missed an easy shot, we would have been ahead at the first change. Not sure why all the Essendon supporters around me were so upset. If we fixed those two areas of concern in the second, we’d be miles in front, I thought.



Sure enough, in the second quarter, we locked the ball inside our forward 50 for pretty much the entire quarter and made the Hawks work hard in every marking contest. The result? A red and black domination, a Bomber-blitz. Cox looked awesome on debut, Hind looked great on after coming back to Bomber-land from St Kilda, and Jones looked promising (he needs to learn how to kick straight, though). I felt confident heading into the third quarter.



Big mistake.



It was as if the teams had swapped guernseys before the restart. Hawthorn crushed us in their own eight goal-to-one third quarter after we’d kicked eight goals to one in the second. I’ll admit, I started to understand the Essendon fans around me and their frustration as the mood in the cheer squad changed from one of pure serenity to one of horror. We were lucky to be in front at the last change.



I honestly thought neither team deserved to win it in the final term. Both teams tried their best to hand the other victory. Hawthorn allowed us a lot of territory dominance to start the quarter, and yet we couldn’t take advantage. Behind after behind after behind. Finally, with me having lost my voice and the Essendon fans around me nearly losing theirs, Smith put us in front with just over two minutes to go, as I found out later through watching the highlights of the match. We had victory in our grasp.



O’Brien thought differently. Cool as ice, he sent a dagger through my Essendon heart. But it wasn’t over yet. With 12 seconds left and Hawthorn having given the ball away due to a free kick, Draper had the footy on the edge of defensive 50 with plenty of time to kick it long to the edge of the forward 50, or at least pass it to someone close enough to launch inside attack. Instead, the kick shanked off the side of the boot. The Essendon fans closest to me had had enough. Seconds later and the siren sounded. The most ‘Essendon’ loss ever.



It reminded me of the Round 2, 2014 game between the two sides. We hit the front with two minutes left, and I declared to my Dad as we watched the game on TV from the UAE, that ‘surely we couldn’t lose it now’. Enter Cyril Rioli. The Hawks won by less than a goal. It was the one game during the first part of the 2010s between Essendon and Hawthorn that was a genuine classic.



Round 1 of 2021 was an instant classic too, one that will surely be replayed whenever we meet Hawthorn in future. Hopefully the game between us later this season will have a very different result.



I was numb as I left the stadium and I checked my phone for the score of the Brisbane-Sydney game to see how my Swans were going. But I realised something as I left the ground. The sweet relief of winning, the hollowness of losing, the bizarre sensation of a draw, walking into the crowd, moving together as if part of a massive beast or machine towards the station, the banter between friends, the weary shrug of the shoulder between fans of the losing team while the supporters of the winners smile and sing the theme song with gusto…that’s what I missed about going to the footy.


Losing my voice, eating a meat pie and a bag of chips, complaining loudly about bad umpiring calls, urging my Bombers to regroup heading into the last quarter, and loudly cheering every Essendon major…that’s what footy is about for me. I’ve dearly missed the rollercoaster ride footy takes me on. As I walked towards the tram stop to catch the 96 home, I smiled to myself already anticipating our next game in Melbourne.



At least my Swans beat Brisbane. Maybe they can teach Essendon how to play four quarters per week?




ESSENDON         2.4     10.6     11.10     13.13 (91)
HAWTHORN       3.1      4.3       12.3      14.8 (92)



Essendon: McDonald-Tipungwuti, Shiel, Smith 2, Draper, Hooker, McGrath, Merrett, Parish, Snelling, Wright
Hawthorn: Moore 3, Brockman, Morrison, O’Brien 2, Breust, Ceglar, Hanrahan, McEvoy, Phillips


Essendon: McGrath, Merrett, Heppell, Caldwell, Hind
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Day, O’Meara, Jiath, Moore, Phillips





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About Caspar McLeod

Third Culture Kid at Heart. Grew up in Asia, discovered footy at age 9. AFL has since been my burning passion. Ask me who were the winners all the grand finals between 1938 and last year's decider, and I'll be happy to tell you. I'm a footy nut with a passion for writing and acting. All though I love writing and acting, during the footy season, AFL is my true passion. Waiting ever so patiently for the day when Essendon Next win the flag.


  1. Great essay Casper and you nailed in your third last paragraph, noting, as you left the ground, what you really missed about going to the footy. Yep, we all get that.

    It was a nail-biter of a game. I’m a Hawker and while I was happy just to watch our young ‘uns on the park I was also, like you, jumping around on my couch at every wow moment, umpire error, classic stuff up and the clock ticking down!

    Good luck for the Dons season.


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