Essendon’s makeshift team has honoured their game-day Make A Stand theme by staging a stunning AFL upset win over Melbourne at the MCG.
The 13-point boilover capped a day full of symbolism for the Bombers and also had the Demons returning to hard questions about the team’s psyche.
Melbourne looked set for their second comeback win in as many weeks on Saturday when they kicked the first three goals of the last quarter and regained the lead.
But the Bombers dug in, responding with the last three goals of the match and winning 11.14 (80) to 10.7 (67).
It buried the pre-season speculation about whether Essendon’s team of kids, top-ups and a smattering of stars could win at all this year.
Nine players had their first wins at Essendon.
This was worth much more than the four points – before the game, thousands of fans had joined the Make A Stand march to the MCG from nearby Federation Square.
At Essendon’s first home game of the season, the faithful were determined to start putting the long-running supplements debacle behind them.
The Bombers also announced two major sponsorship deals before the match, while Heath Hocking has become the first of their 12 banned players to sign a contract extension.
Retired Essendon legends formed a guard of honour for the team as they ran onto the ground.
And from the first bounce, the team caught the defiant mood.
After losing tackles and contested possessions in last week’s 10-goal loss to Gold Coast, the Bombers beat Melbourne in those key areas throughout the match.
“It’s obviously round two, so in the context of a normal season it’s just nice to get a win on the board,” said coach John Worsfold.
“But certainly for us, pulling the team together, the work and the desire the players have shown has been outstanding.
“It has been a big day for the club.”
While Joe Daniher’s goalkicking was terrible – 2.4 and two out on the full – he was best afield with 15 marks.
Fellow youngsters Zach Merrett and Darcy Parish also showed they are at the nucleus of Essendon’s future with outstanding games.
As for Melbourne, long-suffering Demons fans could see this coming.
After blitzing GWS in the last quarter a week ago, Melbourne were flat-footed.
Despite a faultless pre-season and the round-one win, Saturday’s scratchy performance fuels their reputation as a flaky team.
“I can absolutely see the Melbourne supporters’ frustration and it often comes off the back of a really good performance so that probably adds to the frustration,” said coach Paul Roos.
“We’d like to think we have come forward and certainly from a coaching point of view, well look at the reasons, but we’ve got to continue down the path we believe is the right path.”
Captain Nathan Jones and Ben Kennedy, who kicked three goals, stood out for the Demons.