Kyle Langford celebrates a goal during round one, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

ESSENDON has claimed bragging rights in one of footy's fiercest rivalries for the second season running, defeating Hawthorn by 24 points at the MCG.

Jake Stringer's presence as a stay-at-home forward bore four important goals as the Bombers kicked away in the final quarter to win 17.5 (107) to the Hawks' 11.17 (83) in the Saturday afternoon sun.

BOMBERS v HAWKS Full match coverage and stats

In Melbourne's early autumn heat, Hawthorn took the game on and challenged Essendon to bring repeat efforts. The Bombers rose to the challenge after an arm wrestle through the middle quarters where the lead changed eight times.


Every time the Hawks landed a blow, the Bombers would almost immediately return fire, keeping the 73,805-strong crowd on edge.

Archie Perkins' work through the middle defensively was impressive, laying a career-best 12 tackles and gathering 24 disposals, his ability to press forward and kick two goals when the game was see-sawing through the third term was important.


Matt Guelfi was tasked with a defensive forward role on Hawthorn captain James Sicily in the first half, doing plenty to effectively get under the latter's skin. The Bombers' first goal came by way of a Guelfi free kick against Sicily, quickly followed up by another shot for McGrath against the Hawks' leader amidst a melee. Minutes later a poor Sicily kick coming out of defence set up Peter Wright's first for the day, and Essendon's second.

It wasn't just Sicily, however, succumbing to the tension of the matchup. It was a game littered with off-the-ball free kicks for lingering contact.

Essendon was focused on aggressive short kicks coming out of the back half. While risky at times, when it worked the home side was able to find dangerous speed through the corridor that proved difficult for the visitors to defend.

Hawthorn also wanted to use the most direct route to goal, utilising the running power of Josh Weddle (20 disposals, six inside 50s) in the process. Weddle regularly gathered multiple possessions in passages of play, burning any opponent trying to trail him. While Dylan Moore overcame glandular fever in the preseason to stand strong inside 50 and kick three goals.


The Hawks were wasteful when they had the run of the play, kicking just 11 goals from 28 scoring shots. With a combination of Moore, Jack Ginnivan, and Nick Watson roaming the attacking 50, the side's forward pressure was important and allowed it to maintain territory control for large portions of the game.

After being trialled in attack during preseason, and even initially named as a forward on Thursday evening, Blake Hardwick played a crucial role on 2023 Essendon leading goalkicker Kyle Langford.

The Bomber had just three disposals midway through the third quarter, needing to roam high up the field to even get near it. It wasn't until the 26-minute mark of the third quarter that Langford was able to take a mark in attack and goal, but small moments were all the Don needed in the second half, kicking another goal in the final quarter to swing momentum back his side's way.


A hamstring concern for Zach Reid was the only sour note for Essendon's day, with the unlucky key defender struggling to get a clean run at the top level since joining the club in four years.

Early tension
Essendon and Hawthorn have a long, well-documented history of mutual dislike, and those feelings have transferred to the players of today. After Matt Guelfi landed the first blow of the game with a goal just two minutes in from a free kick, Sicily was swamped by Bombers. In the midst of the melee, Sicily crudely threw Bombers vice-captain Andy McGrath to the ground, handing the home side another shot on goal from the exact same place. McGrath opted to pass off to a running Mason Redman whose kick was inaccurate, but it was a tough start to 2024 for Sicily.


New faces having an impact
Each side named four new faces for their first game of 2024, and the cohort had a handy impact for their respective teams. Former Pie Jack Ginnivan (two goals, 17 disposals) landed Hawthorn's first goal of the season, while facing his old side Massimo D'Ambrosio (30 disposals, 12 intercept possessions) was clean and reliable on half-back and the wing. Mabior Chol shook off a shaky start to take an outstanding mark in the second quarter, following up with a neat set shot, and No.5 draft pick Nick Watson showed glimpses of what he is capable of as a small forward. For the Bombers, Ben McKay (three contested marks, seven intercept possessions) was a rock deep in defence, as fellow former-Roo Todd Goldstein (41 hitouts, nine disposals) had control at the source. Jade Gresham's aggressive pressure inside 50 added an extra element to Essendon's attacking setup, and Xavier Duursma was handy out on the wing.


Partners reunited
After a year with the Lions, Jack Gunston was back in the brown and gold, and waxing with long-time teammate Luke Breust. The pair's connection was evident throughout the game, only let down by some inaccuracy from both in the opening half. But in the third quarter, it finally paid off, with a forward scramble resulting in a chiselling kick toward goal from Breust. Although it likely would have flown through for a major, Gunston was on the move, taking the mark on the paint, going back and kicking his 453rd career goal, and first back at the Hawks.



ESSENDON       4.2    7.3      12.3    17.5 (107)
HAWTHORN     2.7    5.11    9.14     11.17 (83)

Essendon: Stringer 4, Langford 3, Wright 2, Perkins 2, Guelfi 2, Menzie, Caldwell, Durham, Gresham
Hawthorn: Moore 3, Ginnivan 2, Chol 2, Worpel, Gunston, Amon, Lewis,

Essendon: Perkins, Stringer, Wright, McKay, McGrath, Merrett
Hawthorn: Weddle, Worpel, D'Ambrosio, Ginnivan, Hardwick

Essendon: Reid (left hamstring)
Hawthorn: Nil

Essendon: Elijah Tsatas (replaced Reid at half time)
Hawthorn: Finn Maginness (replaced Chol in the fourth quarter)

Crowd: 73,805 at the MCG