Essendon has flexed its muscles in an impressive 74-point practice match victory over Melbourne at Casey Fields on Friday afternoon.
It was a professional performance from the red and black outfit featuring several new faces but, admittedly, a more experienced line-up than their red and blue counterparts in the 16.10 (106) to 4.8 (32) win.
The Bombers started brightly, quickly piling on the first four goals with stand-in skipper David Zaharakis leading the way.
The experienced leader – celebrating his 30th birthday – opened the scoring with the first two goals of the match before dangerous forwards Orazio Fantasia and Jayden Laverde continued the early onslaught.
Effort in defence.— Essendon FC (@essendonfc) February 21, 2020
Reward in attack. pic.twitter.com/CcEOVbUDj0
Prolific midfielders Andrew McGrath and Zach Merrett racked up the possessions at will throughout the first term as the Demons struggled to break through under Essendon’s unrelenting pressure.
Irish recruit Cian McBride was confident and composed in defence throughout his first competitive quarter of Australian football, while Fantasia and Laverde continued to look threatening in attack.
The Dons entered the first change 23 points clear of the home side, but little changed in what was a dour start to the second quarter.
The Demons eventually booted their first goal of the clash seven minutes into the term and again got on the board to drag the margin back, but the Bombers responded well through a smart snap from VFL-listed Don Dylan Landt to get the side back on track.
Laverde’s positive start continued with his second major midway through the term. The 23-year-old, entering an important sixth season at The Hangar, caused plenty of headaches for Melbourne’s defence, displaying supreme confidence in the air in taking several contested marks and showing sharp speed throughout the opening half.
Coming up trumps again ??— Essendon FC (@essendonfc) February 21, 2020
Laverde's got the appetite. pic.twitter.com/jkOh1Fbjo6
Essendon continued to control the ball for the remainder of the term with McGrath and Merrett maintaining their ball-magnet status, but the side struggled to hit the scoreboard, taking a 17-point buffer into the main change.
The Dons swung a number of changes at half-time, with experienced defender Martin Gleeson and young midfielders Darcy Parish and Dylan Clarke joining the contest as several others wound up their involvement for the day.
New Bomber Tom Cutler got his first goal in the red and black to kick off the third term with a clever mid-air snap before bulked-up second-year Bomber Brayden Ham extended the lead with a classy running goal.
Slicing through the corridor ?? pic.twitter.com/w1TJFjtjiU— Essendon FC (@essendonfc) February 21, 2020
Cutler had no trouble finding the Sherrin at Casey Fields and added another goal shortly after as the Bombers began to make the most of their minor wind advantage.
Another goal to the lively Fantasia strengthened the side’s grip on the game, while staunch red and black defence kept the Demons goalless in the quarter to see Essendon take a comfortable 43-point lead into the last term.
Exciting draftee Harry Jones helped the Bombers click right back into gear with his first goal for the club just 30 seconds after the opening bounce of the final quarter, while the mightily-impressive Laverde added another goal to his haul after raking in a big contested mark and slotting a sweet set shot from the right-hand flank.
Trialling West Australian ruckman Brynn Teakle was rewarded with a goal of his own before Will Snelling, Josh Begley and VFL Bomber Hugh Haysman got in on the action as Essendon’s fitness came to the fore.
Parish and fellow young gun Kyle Langford thrived with plenty of time in the centre as the game played out, while Matt Guelfi and Aaron Francis kept busy behind the ball as the Dons raced away to the impressive victory.
Full-time.— Essendon FC (@essendonfc) February 21, 2020
ESS 16. 10. (106)
MELB 4. 8. (32)
Goals: Laverde, 3, Cutler, Fantasia, Zaharakis, Landt, 2, Jones, Teakle, Snelling, Begley, Haysman.
Foot to the pedal in the last quarter, with Laverde again starring up forward.
Essendon backline coach James Kelly was pleased with the result and said the side will take plenty out of its first competitive contest of 2020.
“I think we got exactly what we wanted out of the game; we wanted to put some kilometres into some of the older guys’ legs and have a look at a few of the younger kids in some different positions, so we got that and we were very happy with it,” Kelly said post-game.
“From last year to this year there has been a change to the coaching structure, but the fundamentals and the basics of the game plan really haven’t changed that much.
“Hopefully we improve a lot this year on the fundamentals we put in place last year, but time will tell.”
Kelly was particularly impressed by McGrath’s efforts on the ball in the opening half, while he was full of praise for Fantasia who was dynamic in showing his recovery from nagging injuries in recent seasons.
“(McGrath played in) just the first half. He looked good, didn’t he? He’s obviously a class player and has had a really, really good pre-season.
“(Fantasia has) been a bit sore and that’s been well publicised. To his credit, he pushed through a lot of discomfort last year.
“He’s had a good pre-season, got everything sorted out and it felt like he moved really well.”
The only sour note to the game was the loss of key defender Patrick Ambrose to an injury sustained in a marking contest in the opening term. The 28-year-old will be sent for scans and essendonfc.com.au will provide an update on the tough backman in due course.
ESSENDON 4.2 6.3 10.6 16.10 (106)
MELBOURNE 0.3 3.4 3.5 4.8 (32)
Essendon: Laverde 3, Zaharakis 2, Cutler 2, Fantasia 2, Landt 2, Jones, Teakle, Snelling, Begley, Haysman