Bombers rally to stirring first-up win

Dyson Heppell (left) and Orazio Fantasia of the Bombers react after Fantasia kicked a goal against the Hawks.
Dyson Heppell (left) and Orazio Fantasia of the Bombers react after Fantasia kicked a goal against the Hawks. JULIAN SMITH

ON PAPER, the odds were undoubtedly against Essendon.

A club that had been battered from pillar to post for two years taking on the AFL's modern-day greats in round one - a win seemed unlikely.

But the emotionally-charged Bombers rallied on one of the club's most important nights in its history, defeating Hawthorn by 25 points at the MCG.

And while the six returning players would've been relieved to get through the game unscathed and thrilled to notch a great win, most of them made a massive contribution personally.

For the new Essendon captain, it was like hopping back on a bike as he inspired his side to a memorable victory.

And John Worsfold's decision to swing an All-Australian defender inside forward 50 for 2017 could prove to pay massive dividends, with Cale Hooker hinting that he could finish 2017 with a big goal tally.


Billy Hartung of the Hawks (left) gets boot to ball.
Billy Hartung of the Hawks (left) gets boot to ball. JULIAN SMITH


If you thought Zach Merrett's influence in the middle might plateau given the return of some of the club's on-ball stars, you couldn't have been more wrong.

Instead, the Essendon youngster took his game to another level in his side's crucial victory.

The classy 21-year-old was everywhere in a busy first half, racking up 26 disposals, four clearances and three inside 50s by the main change.

Such was his dominance, Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson would have been contemplating moving more midfield support away from the side's veterans to Merrett instead.

He would finish with a game-high 37 touches to go with five clearances and seven inside 50s, with his impact on the team on show throughout the match.

"We know he had an unbelievable year last year, but he had 12 kicks and 14 handballs in the first half - he's been outstanding," former Adelaide champion Mark Bickley told 3AW Radio.

"I saw Merrett a couple of times last year, but I've been rapt with him tonight."

Merrett had enjoyed a standout 2016 season, clearly winning the side's best and fairest after a campaign in which he averaged 29.9 disposals.

But he wasn't the only player to perform in a star-studded Bombers midfield.

Dyson Heppell (34 disposals), Brendon Goddard (29 disposals) and Jobe Watson (27 disposals) all won plenty of the footy, as Essendon's veterans stood up alongside Merrett.

Topics:  afl essendon bombers hawthorn hawks

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