Essendon coach John Worsfold has hailed the fighting loss to GWS as cause for hope and urged fans to keep faith in their nightmare AFL season.
The Bombers had their worst home crowd since 1991 on Sunday as GWS eventually shook them off to win by 27 points, 17.15 (117) to 12.18 (90).
Only 14,163 fans attended – the Bombers’ lowest home attendance since 12,970 went to Windy Hill in ’91 to see Essendon play Brisbane’s bad-news Bears.
The paltry crowd was no surprise, given Essendon’s makeshift team was coming off two big losses to Fremantle and Hawthorn.
It was also a cold Melbourne winter’s afternoon and the Sunday twilight fixture is a proven crowd killer.
But Essendon gave GWS a giant fright, leading by 12 points at halftime and pushing them well into the last quarter before the likely finalists kicked clear.
“We’re not dreading the second half of the year – we’re looking forward to challenging ourselves to keep learning and get better than even what we showed tonight,” Worsfold said.
“We want our fans to stick with us if they can – our players are making a commitment to play out the year and learn and grow, keep showing some of the excitement that we showed tonight.
Worsfold added it was Essendon’s best performance this year for inside 50s and scoring shots – areas where they have struggled badly.
It was the first time since their upset round-two win over Melbourne that they were in front at the main break.
While pleased his team rallied, GWS coach Leon Cameron damningly admitted his team dropped off for more than a quarter in the first half.
After a bright start, GWS kicked six successive behinds and Essendon took control.
“When you’re away, you need to put scoreboard pressure on and we didn’t do that,” Cameron said.
“And then … we just had a mental lapse for probably the next 40 minutes.
“But the pleasing thing is, we hung in there.”
Giants co-captain Callan Ward and Tom Scully played vital roles in sparking their team after GWS were found wanting in the second half.
Matthew Kennedy kicked three goals on debut and Toby Greene added four.
Orazio Fantasia starred for Essendon with four goals and his extended absence with a concussion test either side of three-quarter time was a significant blow for the Bombers.
Midfielder David Zaharakis continued his strong form and defender Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti was also prominent.
Giants co-captain Phil Davis (foot) and Nick Haynes, who hurt his back in the marking incident where Fantasia was dazed, managed to play out the game.
Cameron said it was unclear whether those two players would be in doubt for next Saturday’s home game against Carlton.