Whether it’s the lasting image of Leon Baker’s blind turn in the 1984 Grand Final or the sight of a joyous Cale Hooker celebrating his game-winning goal in 2015, every Essendon fan has a personal memory to savour in the club’s storied history against Hawthorn.

For decades, clashes between the two clubs have been widely regarded as one of the VFL/AFL’s greatest rivalries, stemming back to an era that holds fond memories for supporters of each side.

Leading into the Bombers’ round one clash with the Hawks this Saturday, take a look back on the moments which have shaped an enduring and famous fixture on the football calendar.

1984: Bombers stand their ground


Anyone who attended Essendon’s club function after the 1983 VFL Grand Final will tell you that you could’ve heard a pin drop when Senior Coach Kevin Sheedy took to the microphone.

Hawthorn’s 83-point win over Essendon that day had broken the record for the largest margin of victory in VFL Grand Final history, and the Bombers’ Senior Coach was steadfast in reminding his players how to respond.

Sheedy’s uncompromising speech that night would set the tone for an improved pre-season with the Dons abiding by the mantra ‘stand your ground’, fully aware of the side they’d need to go through to claim a Premiership.

Although the Bombers fell to the Hawks by eight points in the 1984 semi-final, a game that Sheedy later remarked was ‘one of the best he’d ever been involved in’, his side’s ability to run Hawthorn to the final siren provided plenty of confidence for when their Grand Final rematch came.

Fast-forward two weeks and the Bombers are trailing Hawthorn by 23 points at the beginning of the final quarter in the 1984 VFL Grand Final.


At the first centre bounce of the term, a long kick to a contest from midfielder Darren Williams landed in the arms of Leon Baker, whose goal sent the Bombers faithful into a frenzy.

It began an avalanche of nine Essendon goals in the next 30 minutes to rectify their defeat from the year prior and claim a 21-point victory over the Hawks, the 13th Premiership in club history.

Baker would finish with four goals, while defender Bill Duckworth claimed the Norm Smith Medal as best on ground.

1985: Back-to-back


Finishing the home-and-away season on top of the ladder with a 19-3 record, Essendon stormed through the finals, beating the Hawks by 40 points in the semi-final to lock in a third consecutive Grand Final meeting between the two sides.

In a hotly contested first half, the Bombers and Hawks traded blows both on the scoreboard and out on the ground, with a violent melee breaking out on the quarter-time siren.

Leading by 30 points heading into the final change, the Dons once again found their gear late, booting a whopping 11 goals in the final term to charge away to a 78-point victory and claim back-to-back Premierships.


Simon Madden would take home the Norm Smith Medal, with star forward Paul Salmon kicking six goals to cap off a successful return from the knee injury that sidelined him in the 1984 decider.

2001: Preliminary final thriller

Johnson and teammate Paul Barnard embrace after the Dons' thrilling 2001 Preliminary Final victory over Hawthorn. (Photo: AFL)

Coming off a dominant Premiership-winning season in 2000, the Bombers finished 2001’s home-and-away campaign atop the AFL ladder.

While Essendon had already secured their place in the preliminary final that year with a 70-point qualifying final victory over Richmond, sixth-placed Hawthorn caused a major boilover by defeating Port Adelaide on the road in the semi-final to emerge as the surprise packet of the finals series.

In front of more than 86,000 fans at the MCG, the Bombers and Hawks staged a thrilling encounter for a spot in the Grand Final.

The Dons’ big-game experience was on show early, Adam Ramanauskas and Sean Wellman combining for a brilliant goal to see the Bombers up by six goals at the half-time break.


With some tiring bodies on an Essendon side missing its star forward Matthew Lloyd, Hawthorn were beginning to fight back late in the piece, cutting the margin to just two points early into the final term.

When the Bombers were in dire need of breathing room, midfielder Joe Misiti latched onto a Dean Solomon handball on the edge of the 50-metre arc and unleashed arguably the most important goal of his career.


Paul Barnard and Scott Lucas both hit the scoreboard in the final four minutes to sneak the Bombers across the line by nine points, locking in a second consecutive Grand Final appearance in dramatic fashion.

2004: Line in the sand


With the Bombers leading the Hawks by 32 points at the main break of their round 11 clash in 2004, not many would have predicted the scenes to follow.

Spurred on by club champion Dermott Brereton’s half-time plea to ‘draw a line in the sand’, Hawthorn’s players took a more physical approach to the second half that saw sprawling melees appear throughout the third term.

Lines drawn. (Photo: AFL)

The Bombers would respond on the scoreboard, piling on nine of the next 10 goals to stretch out their lead and cruise to a 74-point win.

A busy weekend for the Match Review Panel saw $70,700 in fines dished out, including 26 charges made against 18 players from the game and 16 separate suspensions, Hawks midfielder Richard Vandenberg among them with a six-match ban.

2009: Hurley breaks through

No love lost. (Photo: AFL)

In 2009, similar scenes were sparked as the Dons and Hawks clashed in round 22, where a win for either side that day would guarantee a spot in the finals series the following week, while a loss would signal an early end to the season.

His side down by 22 points at half-time, Essendon skipper Matthew Lloyd opened the third term with a big bump that knocked Hawk Brad Sewell unconscious, igniting a fiery brawl in the middle of the MCG.

During the fighting, the Bombers gritted their way back into the contest to cut the margin to just five points at three-quarter-time.

Michael Hurley celebrates one of his four goals against the Hawks in round 22, 2009. (Photo: AFL)

A then-19-year-old Michael Hurley would announce himself to the competition that day, booting four goals from centre half forward as the Bombers ran away to a 17-point victory.

Despite the contrasting results, the two games served as a call-back to the aggressive matchups of the 1980’s in the eyes of both support bases.

2015: Late, late drama


In round one of the 2015 season, the Bombers fell short of beating Sydney after leading by 34 points at three-quarter-time.

A week later, feelings of déjà vu among Dons fans would’ve been understandable as their 35-point second quarter lead was fading away to a Hawthorn comeback at the MCG.

With the Hawks up by 16 points and time-on fast approaching in the final quarter, the Bombers knew they needed to take a gamble to pinch victory.

After a Jake Carlisle goal trimmed the lead to 10 points, the Dons found themselves charging up the ground at the 24-minute mark from a Cale Hooker intercept mark in defence, setting up Travis Colyer to finish the play with a clutch goal.

Needing a clean play to win, Hooker positioned himself as a deep forward at the next centre bounce, where a ‘chaos ball’ inside the Bombers’ forward 50 landed in his vicinity.

Cale Hooker celebrates his game-winner against the Hawks, 2015. (Photo: AFL)

This time it was Colyer providing the assist, flicking a handball to space for Hooker to gather and snap truly from the forward pocket, at that stage just the ninth goal of his career.

The goal secured a famous Essendon comeback and a career-defining moment for Hooker, a favourite among Bomber fans of the 2010’s.

2017: A return to remember

Shaun McKernan celebrates a big goal in the Bombers' round one win over the Hawks, 2017. (Photo: AFL)

The opening round of 2017 was one to savour for Bomber fans.

After a year away from the game to suspension, six key Bombers including Colyer, Hooker, Hurley, Brent Stanton, former Captain Jobe Watson and skipper Dyson Heppell all made emotional returns to the MCG for the clash with Hawthorn.

The Dons’ crowd were raucous from the get-go, with deafening roars given for both the players’ run-out and Watson’s first clean possession on the wing.


Showing out in front of more than 78,000 on the night, Heppell marked the first game of his captaincy with 34 disposals, three goals and three Brownlow Medal votes to lead the side to a 25-point win.

2023: 'Walla's moment

Not a dry eye in the house. (Photo: AFL)

In Essendon's round one clash with the Hawks in 2023, there was one appearance fans were crying out for.

Making his playing return after initially retiring from the AFL halfway through the 2022 season, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti's activation as the substitute had the MCG rocking in the fourth term.

The crowd's roar for McDonald-Tipungwuti entering the field was loud in itself, but when he had an opportunity to hit the scoreboard in his comeback game, the Dons faithful took it up another notch.


This week, Essendon fans are being urged to ‘Stand Your Ground’ for the round one clash with Hawthorn as the club looks to break the record home-and-away attendance of 78,294 between the two sides.

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