Essendon’s first step into an AFL season of great uncertainty was to put their foot firmly on Carlton’s youthful throat.
The Bombers were impressive as they ruined the occasion for the Blues on a perfect February afternoon on Sunday at Princes Park, winning by 10 goals in front of 18,718 fans.
By definition, the 1.13.8 (95) to 1.3.8 (35) NAB Challenge win means nothing.
New coach John Worsfold said they could have gained plenty from the match regardless of the result.
But it was a timely morale boost after losing 12 players, including many of their stars, for the season because of doping bans.
Four of their 10 replacement players were in Sunday’s team and Ryan Crowley, Jonathan Simpkin, Sam Michael and Sam Grimley all showed good signs.
It also never hurts beating Carlton, their fierce rivals – especially when it was the first time the two teams had played at the Blues’ spiritual Princes Park home since 1992.
The win also comes a few days after David Parkin, Carlton’s most recent premiership coach, said their list does not look as good as Essendon’s.
“It’s always nice to win, but we did see a lot of good things,” Worsfold said.
“You look at it with youth versus the experience we had in, you would think Essendon should win the game.
“But we have a lot of players who don’t know each other that well yet and learning about each other.
“I believe we could have started on the right foot, win or lose.
“Today was about a big hitout, building on what we’ve been doing in the last couple of weeks in terms of workload.”
While Essendon were close to full strength, Carlton were missing captain Marc Murphy and fellow front-line stars such as Bryce Gibbs, Andrew Walker, Matthew Kreuzer, Patrick Cripps and Dale Thomas.
They were particularly young in the midfield and after a scrappy first term, that is where Essendon took control.
The Bombers kicked nine unanswered goals from midway through the first term until early in the third.
Darcy Parish, their No.5 draft pick last November, impressed and Brendon Goddard kicked three goals in his first game as captain.
The obvious highlight for Carlton was No.1 draft pick Jacob Weitering, who surely will be in their round-one team next month against Richmond after impressing in his first pre-season match.
The 18-year-old key defender looked at home as a senior footballer and took nine marks – six of them intercepts.
Blues coach Brendon Bolton said his players could learn from Eleni Goulftsis, who took the first bounce as she made history by becoming the AFL’s first female field umpire.
“Eleni, the trailblazer for women out on the deck umpiring, I thought she showed great composure,” Bolton said.
“It was probably an area we needed to improve on with our ball-use, particularly going forward.”
Also this weekend Geelong beat Collingwood, Melbourne upset Collingwood and Richmond overpowered Hawthorn’s understrength lineup.