Essendon held firm when it mattered on Sunday, withholding a series of gallant Sydney fightbacks to secure a steadfast wire-to-wire victory that kept its unbeaten start to the season intact.
The Bombers led from the outset at the SCG, but were never able to put the Swans to the sword and were instead made to defend valiantly in the dying stages to secure a nervous six-point victory.
Essendon's 12.7 (79) to 11.7 (73) win continued the two sides' tradition of closely fought encounters, with Darcy Parish's stunning late goal proving the difference and ensuring the visitors would return to Victoria with the spoils.
Zach Merrett (29 disposals, one goal) and Dylan Shiel (22 disposals, eight clearances) were pivotal in the win, with Jake Lloyd (29 disposals, one goal) and Luke Parker (25 disposals, five clearances) the best for the hosts.
In a game in which both sides found momentum swings hard to come by, Essendon opened up three separate leads of 20 points in each of the first, second and third quarters only to never extend its advantage beyond that.
It ensured Sydney – which trailed throughout in a largely frustrating display – to nag at the visitors across the course of the afternoon, ultimately reducing the deficit to just eight points at the final change.
That lead was whittled away to just one point within the final minute of a thrilling clash, before Parish steered home a lovely set shot from the boundary in the final seconds of the game to seemingly seal a crucial four points for the Bombers.
However, the Swans had one last chance to get something from the contest, only for James Rowbottom's late effort to drift agonisingly against the post to condemn the hosts to a disappointing defeat.
Swans, Bombers continue nail-biting tradition
They don't mind playing out a thriller, do they? Essendon's one-point victory on Sunday continued a history of brilliant battles between these two sides. There's been David Myers' shot falling short after the siren in a five-point Swans win in 2019, Gary Rohan's goal after the siren in a one-point Swans win in 2017, Lewis Jetta guiding the Swans home by four points in 2012, Adam Goodes missing a shot after the siren in a one-point Bombers win in 2011, and Jude Bolton sealing a dramatic five-point Swans victory earlier in that same 2011 season. And that's just from the last decade. Sunday's encounter – and Darcy Parish's confident, late match-winning goal – now adds to the fantastic history between these two teams.
Bombers' barometer working up to speed
No player reflects Essendon's fortunes quite like Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. Arguably the side's biggest barometer, the exciting forward helped the visitors build a 20-point lead at the first change when he kicked his second goal from his second disposal in the 11th minute mark of the opening term. However, perhaps still battling the ankle injury that had put him in doubt to make the trip to the SCG, McDonald-Tipungwuti then didn't see the footy again for more than two quarters. Pushed into successive centre bounces in an effort to inject him into the action midway through the third term, he eventually got his third disposal of the game at the 15th minute mark of the quarter. He finished with seven touches and a crucial late clearance, but will improve as his fitness builds.
Big injuries give Swans big opportunities
There were concerns over Sydney's forward line heading into round one, with Lance Franklin (hamstring), Sam Reid (calf) and Ben Ronke (knee) giving coach John Longmire a host of headaches. But the lack of those influential targets actually gave Sydney an air of unpredictability going forward, as the side relied more heavily on smaller options. Isaac Heeney's leap enabled him to play above his height, young duo Nick Blakey and Tom McCartin provided the taller options, while smaller pair Tom Papley and Lewis Taylor ensured Essendon couldn't rebound without pressure. Injury setbacks provided those Swans with an opportunity, and they certainly stepped up on Sunday – the five aforementioned players combining for nine important goals across the afternoon.
SYDNEY 2.0 5.3 9.4 11.7 (73)
ESSENDON 5.2 6.3 10.6 12.7 (79)
Sydney: Taylor 3, Papley 3, Blakey, McCartin, Sinclair, Heeney, Lloyd
Essendon: Stringer 3, McKernan 3, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Smith, Merrett, Langford, Parish
Sydney: Lloyd, Parker, Florent, Rampe, Kennedy, Dawson
Essendon: Merrett, McGrath, Shiel, Langford, Parish, Stringer