Mixed emotions: Essendon players celebrate after Roo Hamish McIntosh missed an after-siren goal attempt. Photo: Pat Scala
ESSENDON 3.2 9.8 13.14 14.20 (104) NORTH MELBOURNE 4.3 8.5 10.10 15.12 (102)
GOALS - Essendon: Stanton 2, Melksham 2, Hurley 2, Lovett-Murray 2, Heppell, Hille, Watson, Jetta, McVeigh, Ryder. Nth Melb: Harvey 3, Edwards 2, Petrie 2, Adams 2, Thomas 2, Wells, McIntosh, Macmillan, Harper.
BEST - Essendon: Stanton, Watson, Ryder, Heppell, Zaharakis, Myers. Nth Melb: Wells, Swallow, Firrito, Adams, Harvey.
REPORTS Sam Wright (NM) for charging Brent Stanton in the second quarter.
UMPIRES: M Stevic, J Armstrong, J Bannister.
CROWD: 45,818 at Etihad Stadium.
AS HARD to split as Essendon and North Melbourne appeared before last night's season opener at Etihad Stadium, it would have taken a brave pundit to predict the result wouldn't be known until several seconds after the final siren.
That was when Hamish McIntosh missed his chance to be the Kangaroos' hero, a juggled mark moments before the bell giving him that schoolboy dream moment that some take and others are left to mull over for the rest of their lives.
McIntosh was 40 metres out on a 45-ish degree angle, but pushed his kick right. So the Bombers took the points that only a tick over 12 minutes earlier had looked all wrapped up, despite a plague of the kicking yips.
Essendon led by 25 points at that point after Jake Melksham's goal, and visibly relaxed. But there is a price for such profligacy and the Bombers nearly paid it.
First, Brent Harvey, quiet early by his usual standards, popped up to give the Roos life. Aaron Edwards, barely a factor, repeated the dose. Daniel Wells, superb early, rose again late, soccering one off the floor.
Suddenly, it was nine points - then Edwards marked and goaled again and the margin was under a kick. The Dons could barely believe it but only had themselves to blame.
The Bombers had entered their forward 50 on 14 occasions to the Roos' six in that final term, for a return of 1.6 to its opponent's five goals straight. That hurts. And might have hurt a lot more had not the ageless Dustin Fletcher rushed a desperate behind and had McIntosh not pulled the match-winning kick.
But a match this frenetic deserved a suitably hectic finish, and it certainly got one.
The first half was like basketball on speed, attack and rebound, attack and rebound. Beautiful to watch if your go is running, silky skills and plenty of scoring opportunities, but head-in-the hands stuff if you're a fan of the close, tight scrap. But no one could argue that the frenzy of activity made it hard to know where to look.
It wasn't just your run-of-the-mill goals, kicks and handballs. Bomber Heath Hocking copped a ball in the face at close range in the opening salvos, eventually subbed off for Nathan Lovett-Murray.
A boundary umpire went down after being cannoned into by North Melbourne's Lindsay Thomas, and was in real trouble with what looked a serious knee injury.
North got a double-banger goal in the second term after a Brent Harvey snap was followed by Essendon defender Cale Hooker stupidly shoving Drew Petrie, and the 200-gamer cashed in. Moments later came the controversy, when Bomber captain Jobe Watson's snap was about to be signalled a goal before they went to the video and an inconclusive replay was somehow enough to have it overruled.
The actual play was at times breathtaking. Daniel Wells was on fire for the Roos from the first bounce and his 13 possession first term had plenty to do with North's at one stage 17-point lead. It was no coincidence that the reversal of fortunes from then until half-time accompanied his slowing down, Essendon kicking five of the next six goals before half-time.
North had won what contested ball there was early, but the Bombers turned it around by half-time, Watson and Brent Stanton digging in, David Zaharakis showing a grittier side, too.
The Dons picked up their skills with Dyson Heppell and David Myers leading the way with some clinical footwork, though it was Jake Melksham who had ''pass of the night'' honours, slicing the centre square with a brilliant ball, which hit Lovett-Murray so perfectly on the chest that he didn't have to break stride to kick his second goal for the term and give his side the lead again.
Hocking's loss had appeared to be a near-fatal blow early with the North midfield on fire, but such an open, running contest did this become that, perhaps surprisingly, Lovett-Murray provided just as much if not more value.
Both sides wasted chances, Essendon obviously more. But it was probably some superior ball use around the ground, if not in front of the sticks, plus the better performances of the Bomber big men that probably held sway in a structural sense, with ruck pair Paddy Ryder and David Hille taking some timely grabs.
Petrie was valiant as ever for the Roos, but didn't quite get the same level of support as the Bomber talls.
Another Roo veteran, Mick Firrito, was honesty personified against the budding star Michael Hurley and Harvey came good when needed.
But grit, resolve and Wells' early polish weren't enough, although they would have been had McIntosh hit the ball a little further left.
They are line-ball, these two teams and last night, we were all the more entertained for that fact.
UMPIRES MAKE THEIR MARK
Two controversial umpiring decisions were at the centre of an explosive five-minute period midway through the second quarter. The first gave the Roos an extra goal and the second cost the Bombers what they thought was another. The new video review system denied Jobe Watson a goal, which North players claimed was touched. The vision was judged conclusive enough to award a behind. Another review went against the Bombers in the third quarter. Drew Petrie was given a free shot at goal after Cale Hooker pushed him to the turf immediately after a Brent Harvey goal.
HOCKING INJURY MADE IT TOUGHER
When Essendon was forced to substitute Heath Hocking 10 minutes into the match with an apparent concussion, it meant locking down the Roos midfield was more difficult. Hocking copped a ball in the face as he smothered a kick, and left the field shortly after. The Bombers then activated substitute Nathan Lovett-Murray, who kicked two goals.
HARDINGHAM SHOULDERS THE PAIN
Essendon was down to two men on the bench part-way through the second term after Kyle Hardingham was cleaned up in a friendly fire incident with Patrick Ryder. But Hardingham returned with his shoulder heavily strapped.
UMPIRES IN THE THRILLS AND SPILLS
A boundary umpire was taken out of commission for several minutes in the first quarter, injuring his knee after tripping over a fallen Lindsay Thomas. And in the third quarter, Michael Firrito collected a goal umpire as he ran back with the flight to spoil a ball on the goal-line, sending the umpire crashing. - MATT MURNANE