CARLTON youngster Paddy Dow lit up Thursday's practice match win over Essendon in an exciting glimpse of his vast improvement this summer, though the victory was marred by a worrying ankle injury to star forward Harry McKay.

McKay kicked two goals in a promising performance at Ikon Park, but finished the match on the bench with his boot off having appeared to roll his ankle midway through the final quarter of the side's comfortable 14.11 (95) to 11.8 (74) victory.

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The injury is bound to send a scare through Carlton's camp, with the Blues already without fellow key forward options Charlie Curnow (knee), Levi Casboult (knee), Mitch McGovern (hamstring) and Tom De Koning (back) for the 21-point victory.

The win was inspired by Dow's flashes of brilliance, with the 21-year-old starring in the team's first official hitout of the season. He won plenty of the footy in an inside midfield role, before pushing forward to be rewarded with two nice goals.

New recruit Zac Williams was also impressive playing through the midfield, working nicely in tandem with co-captain Patrick Cripps, while fellow fresh face Adam Saad displayed his trademark dash in an exciting performance off half-back.

Adam Saad during the practice match between Carlton and Essendon at Ikon Park on February 25, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

Marc Murphy played as a high half-forward and was creative in his new role, while Zac Fisher was also lively in attack and kicked two goals before setting up David Cuningham for another.

Essendon triallist Alec Waterman was the best for the Bombers, kicking four goals as he pressed a strong case to earn the final spot on the club's list in a commanding performance in attack.

Waterman took a number of strong grabs and finished his opportunities with impressive accuracy, complementing fellow marking options Harrison Jones (two goals) and Peter Wright (two goals) in a new-look Essendon forward line.

Nik Cox was the pick of the side's youngsters, with last year's pick No.8 showcasing plenty of run on a wing and also looking comfortable while drifting to either end of the field to impact.

However, the Bombers also have a worrying injury concern, with key defender Aaron Francis limping from the field in the third quarter with a knee injury and failing to return to the park.

Meanwhile, defender Michael Hurley lifted Bomber spirits when he walked with the aid of crutches around the boundary line at Ikon Park during the game. Hurley has been sidelined for several weeks with a hip infection and has had two stints in hospital. 

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Hobbling Hurley delights Dons with scratch match visit

A recovering Michael Hurley is embraced by his Essendon teammates on the sidelines at Ikon Park

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The standout
It's been a long time coming for Paddy Dow, but the former No.3 pick looks set for an exciting season. After managing just three games in a frustrating 2020 campaign, the youngster looked noticeably bigger after a summer spent improving his upper body strength to win more contested ball. The results were there for all to see on Thursday, as the explosive midfielder won plenty of the footy and pushed forward to kick two goals. His work at stoppages was a particular highlight, with his evasiveness in congested situations reminiscent of his exciting junior form.

Matt Guelfi gives Sam Petrevski-Seton the slip during the practice match between Carlton and Essendon at Ikon Park on February 25, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

Round one bolter
The other big story stemming from Ikon Park revolved around Alec Waterman. Playing as a deep target in attack, the former West Coast player kicked four goals and took his chance in the senior setup. It was a timely performance from Waterman, who is now the only remaining trialist competing for a spot on Essendon's list after Angus Baker and Charlie Byrne were cut earlier this week. He's not yet officially on an AFL list, but could Waterman be the surprise name in Essendon's round one team against Hawthorn on March 20? Watch this space.

New faces
Carlton will be impressed by the glimpses displayed from Zac Williams, who played predominantly through the midfield before resting in the forward line and adding a goal. Adam Saad also displayed his speed from half-back, completing his defensive duties nicely and also breaking the lines a number of times through his dash with the ball. Essendon will be mightily pleased by Jye Caldwell's first game in his new colours, with the young midfielder finding plenty of the ball in the midfield. Peter Wright kicked two goals up forward and competed hard, while speedster Nick Hind was important with his run and carry and composure with the footy throughout the first half.

Young guns
Essendon blooded its first two selections from last year's NAB AFL Draft, with pick No.8 Nik Cox and pick No.9 Archie Perkins both impacting at different stages. The 199cm Cox started on a wing and had an impact in all areas of the field, taking a number of strong marks and showing his composure on either side of the body. A final quarter goal was reward for his efforts. Perkins played across half-forward and had some nice moments, with a classy sidestep to evade an opponent in the first term an indicator of his immense potential.

Injury watch
Carlton will be sweating on the fitness of Harry McKay, who is undoubtedly the side's most important forward target this year. McKay kicked two goals, but limped from the field with an apparent ankle injury in the final quarter and didn't return. However, McKay later walked unassisted to recovery with no ice on the ankle. Essendon defender Aaron Francis appeared to hurt his knee while flying for a marking contest in the third quarter. He shrugged off the attentions of trainers, but eventually limped off and never came back. He later ran some straight lines on the boundary in a promising sign that the injury perhaps isn't as bad as first thought.