ESSENDON remains undefeated after its 39-point win over Greater Western Sydney at Etihad Stadium on Saturday, but the battle between first and last wasn't the walk in the park many predicted for the ladder leaders.
GWS couldn't keep up in the end, but its ability to lead for the entire first half and take a 21-point advantage into the main break shook up what should have been a predictable match.
So good were the Giants in the first half, the 'biggest upset in the history of the game' was being spoken about as a real possibility, with Tom Scully, Jeremy Cameron and Tim Mohr shaping as the underdogs' heroes.
That's where the fairy tale ended, however, as the Bombers slammed on seven goals to one in the third quarter to take control of the game and ensure they didn't head into next Friday night's blockbuster against Geelong with an embarrassing loss to their name.
The Bombers kicked 14.10 to 5.4 after half time to win 17.18 (120) to 12.9 (81) and they should be strengthened against the Cats, with Dustin Fletcher, Michael Hurley, Dyson Heppell and Jake Carlisle all missing on Saturday.
After disappointing first halves, David Zaharakis (27 disposals and nine inside 50s), Brendon Goddard (25), Jobe Watson (21) and Michael Hibberd (29) rebounded to lead the third-quarter revival in the midfield.
Stewart Crameri and Alwyn Davey kicked four goals each.
"We just had to get the game back the way we wanted it, and get our players defending rather than just running past the contest too much," Essendon coach James Hird said.
"Once we were able to do that, we were able to get the game back the way we wanted, rather than emotion coming into it, which is where I think everyone wants to go this year with our team."
Commentators were running sweeps pre-game about what the final margin would be and GWS coach Kevin Sheedy said the Bombers were failing to respect his young team.
It wasn't a four-quarter performance but the first two quarters were something to savour from the Giants, who were harder at the football and more organised defensively than their more experienced opponents.
They won the first clearance, had the first inside 50 and kicked three goals in the first eight minutes with Cameron, who finished with a club-record six goals, and Scully the first-half stars.
Sheedy said it was the best half of football played in the Giants' short history.
"We spoke internally about what our capabilities are and the important mental skill of positiveness when you're not winning games," Sheedy said.
"I think we're really getting better at that … it's a mental game for a young team.
"If we play like this for the whole game next week (against Adelaide at Skoda Stadium), we're a chance."
Heavily scrutinised in his fourth season, Scully was the most influential player on the ground in the first half, winning 14 disposals and kicking two goals, all while keeping Brent Stanton to eight touches.
He faded out of the contest after half-time to finish with 18 possessions, curtailed by Essendon substitute Heath Hocking who replaced Brent Stanton (groin).
Jacob Townsend did a similar job on Brownlow medallist Watson in the first half, keeping the Essendon captain to eight disposals and one clearance.
Taylor Adams and Adam Treloar were others to star as the Giants mounted a challenge that thrilled for an hour or so, but was never destined to last.
Giants forward Jeremy Cameron marks strongly in front of Cale Hooker and Sam Frost. Picture: AFL Media
ESSENDON 1.5 3.8 10.15 17.18 (120)
GWS GIANTS 5.2 7.5 8.9 12.9 (81)
Essendon: Crameri 4, Davey 4, Gumbleton 3, Hardingham, Goddard, Hocking, Bellchambers, Baguley, Hille
GWS Giants: Cameron 6, Scully 2, Adams 2, Treloar, Bruce
Essendon: Zaharakis, Hibberd, Goddard, Davey, Gumbleton, Dempsey, Crameri
GWS Giants: Cameron, Adams, Townsend, Mohr, Scully, Treloar
Essendon: Stanton (groin)
GWS Giants: Nil
Essendon: Heath Hocking replaced Brent Stanton (upper leg) in the third quarter.
GWS Giants: Zac Williams replaced Tomas Bugg at three-quarter time.
Umpires: McBurney, Bannister, Burgess
Official crowd: 30,143 at Etihad Stadium.