ESSENDON 4.1 8.5 11.8 15.9 (99)
NORTH MELBOURNE 3.0 5.3 8.5 9.6 (60)
Goals: Essendon: Chapman 4, Goddard 3, Daniher 2, Watson 2, Hardingham 2, Howlett, Ryder. North Melbourne: Thomas 4, Black, Harvey, McKenzie, Dal Santo, Wright.
Best: Essendon: Watson, Chapman, Goddard, Heppell, Hooker, Zaharakis, Myers. North Melbourne: Thomas, Cunnington, Dal Santo, Grima.
Umpires: Dalgleish, Mollison, Mitchell.
Crowd: 42,332 at Etihad Stadium.
After a day when Essendon was consumed once again by the supplements saga it had tried so hard all summer to put behind it, the Bombers relished the opportunity to just play football on Friday night, downing a listless North Melbourne by 39 points.
The Dons put their seemingly endless distractions aside at Etihad Stadium with an assured performance in an impressive 15.9 (99) to 9.6 (60) win against the Roos.
Optimism abounded at Arden St during a positive pre-season and the Kangaroos entered the clash with plenty of expectations, but they again failed to impress in a largely flat performance.
On a big night for Essendon veteran Dustin Fletcher, who surpassed Simon Madden’s club-record mark with his 379th senior appearance, coach Mark Thompson made all the right moves as he took the reins from the suspended James Hird for the first time.
Former Cat Paul Chapman gathered his first possession for his new club within the opening 30 seconds and he quickly endeared himself to Essendon fans, booting two goals and handing off another as the Bombers stormed away with the opening four goals of the game.
Heralded North Melbourne father-son recruit Luke McDonald impressed with his bravery in throwing himself in front of a hard-leading Kyle Hardingham in the hot opening period, but looked on horrified as his clearing kick from defence fell to Chapman who slotted his first of four goals in a brilliant opening to his career in red and black.
The Roos were stunned in the face of the early onslaught, led by Essendon skipper Jobe Watson who made the most of the surprising amount of space given to him with 13 disposals in the first quarter, on his way to 38 touches to just edge out Chapman for best afield honours.
North managed to stem the flow with a scrappy goal to Sam Wright in the 19th minute that appeared to settle Brad Scott’s men, with Lindsay Thomas adding its second after taking a huge grab, and Nick Dal Santo slotting his first goal for his new club to drag the margin back to seven points at the first break.
The ferocious pace of the first quarter eased in the second term, which suited the Kangaroos who took the lead for the first time 12 minutes in after Thomas bagged his second following another spectacular ride on the shoulders of direct opponent Michael Hibberd.
Where the Dons had the better of the opening minutes in the first quarter, the roles were reversed in the second, and this time it was the Bombers who finished with all the momentum, with goals to Brendon Goddard, Joe Daniher and Hardingham giving them a 20-point advantage at half-time.
The Bombers were intent on maintaining possession with short kicks for most of the evening and they did it expertly as evidenced by the hugely lopsided uncontested mark count.
The Kangaroos needed a spark and a Brent Harvey special, a trademark running goal, midway through the third quarter looked to have woken them from their slumber, but just minutes later Goddard’s second major stretched the margin to 28 points.
Another brilliant goal to Thomas, his fourth, kept his side in the contest – 21 points in arrears at three-quarter-time – but a horror turnover from Sam Gibson soon after the restart led to Watson’s second goal.
Daniher delighted Bomber fans with a strong mark and goal, and when Chapman added his fourth the horse had bolted.
Scott will be left to ponder several poor returns from some of his established players, with ruckman Todd Goldstein one of the few to offer an excuse, as he played most of the game hampered by a shoulder injury.