An enthralling contest at GMHBA stadium has seen Geelong triumph over Essendon by seven points.
However, it was the fresh Bomber faces that stole the show down at the Cattery.
11,121 spectators watched a highly entertaining contest between two sides tipped to finish at either end of the table.
Gary Rohan got the hosts off to a perfect start with two quick goals to start proceedings, with the Cats enjoying immediate scoreboard pressure.
Essendon had the run of play midway through the first term with Sam Draper involved in everything, good and bad, the young Bomber ruckman has had his best preseason of his career and took advantage when second-year cat Sam de Koning took his turn in the ruck.
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti produced some dynamic footy to find Devon Smith inside 50 who duly converted for Essendon’s first major after five consecutive points.
Shaun Higgins went at 100 per cent efficiency in the first half which included a brilliant snap at goal from 40 metres out, which was signalled a goal but may have been marked on the line.
Geelong took a 15-point lead into the first break, but the Bombers responded with successive goals at the start of the second quarter.
Jeremy Cameron, after passing a couple off earlier, kicked his first in front of a vocal home crowd and followed it up with a beautiful strike from outside 50 as a taste of what’s to come for Cats fans.
Despite the fire power up forward for Geelong, the Dons’ defence stood up well despite its relative inexperience; Jayden Laverde, Nick Hind, James Stewart and Dyson Heppell successfully kept the Cats at bay when they built momentum prior to half time.
Hind in particular provided the dash that Adam Saad and Conor McKenna provided in recent years, while Stewart’s day finished early as a precaution for hamstring tightness.
At the other end, McDonald-Tipungwuti and newfound defender Tom Atkins provided a great contest whenever the ball entered their vicinity.
Cale Hooker and Peter Wright were forming a dangerous pairing for the cat defence to contend with, the former Sun clunking three contested marks in the first half.
Geelong took an eight-point lead into half time despite having seven less scoring shots.
The third quarter saw Geelong’s imposing backline take control of the match, led by Tom Stewart who read the play better than anyone on the night.
Jye Caldwell endeared himself to the Essendon faithful with some crunching tackles, and Cameron did the same for Geelong with a big rundown tackle in the forward 50.
The Bombers continued their wasteful ways in front of goals, kicking 6.15, to the Cats’ 9.5 at three-quarter-time; Geelong holding an eight point buffer.
A frantic final term ensued with Blicavs goaling to put the home side up 15, before Essendon rattled off three straight goals to take a five point lead midway through the last quarter courtesy of Hooker and Smith.
It was a hot footy as the pressure increased, with the crowd reaching fever pitch as the Cats mounted a final charge.
Jordan Clark capped off a brilliant night for himself with a classy crumbing goal to put the Cats back up by one, before youngster Francis Evans converted one of the tougher set shots of the night to put the game to bed in the dying stages.
Essendon coach Ben Rutten was buoyed by his side’s performance, and echoed speculation that Stewart (hamstring awareness) and Hind (shoulder) were taken off as a precaution.
“Overall it was a pleasing night … Geelong is a fantastic, mature side. We were looking forward to tonight and I think our boys will take a lot of confidence out of it,” he said.
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