CARLTON has upset Essendon's 150th birthday celebrations, defeating the Bombers by 26 points at a soggy MCG.
The Blues are now sitting on nine wins from their 12 matches after the 12.8 (80) to 7.12 (54) result, right in top-four contention with their highest number of victories in a season since 2013.
BOMBERS v BLUES Full match coverage and stats
In the absence of the hamstrung Adam Cerra, George Hewett (28 disposals) and Paddy Cripps (28, one goal) worked tirelessly in the stoppages, while Sam Walsh (29) provided plenty of outside run and Sam Docherty was outstanding in defence with 33 disposals.
Twin towers Harry McKay and Charlie Curnow shared five goals in a night that didn't lend itself to key-forward dominance.
Dylan Shiel worked hard for Essendon to finish with 27 touches, 10 tackles and a booming first-quarter goal, while Sam Draper was good in the first half with two goals and some strong marking.
Harry Jones (two goals) made an immediate impact in his second game of the season after an ankle injury, but just didn't have enough supply, while Zach Merrett (26 touches) and Nick Hind (22) ran hard all night.
After a bright start, Darcy Parish was subbed off with a calf issue in the third quarter and finished with just 10 disposals.
The night began with a stirring pre-game celebration featuring a host of Essendon greats including James Hird, Kevin Sheedy, Michael Long and the Watson and Daniher families, but Carlton wasted no time spoiling the mood.
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Jack Martin kicked the opener for the Blues in the first 70 seconds and the Blues skipping three goals clear before a rare bit of fast Essendon play found Harry Jones for the side's first at the 17th minute.
Draper's shoulder-length mullet may have been dampened by the rain, but his enthusiasm for the contest wasn't. While he handed Cripps a major with an undisciplined free kick in front of Carlton's goal in the second term, the followed up just minutes later with a high snap of his own.
Essendon's endeavour couldn't be faulted, laying 20 tackles to Carlton's 10 in the first quarter, but the Dons' sloppy disposal exiting 50 made life hard, and the Blues were efficient rather than ruthless through the first half.
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But Michael Voss' side dominated the action directly after the main break, pushing out to a 38-point lead early in the third term as the Bombers forlornly trailed their opponents on the rebound.
Essendon managed to stem the bleeding somewhat, but skipper Dyson Heppell's goal from a 50m penalty ended a run of four consecutive Essendon behinds, in a period when the Bombers failed to take its chances.
Bizarrely, that Heppell major 24 minutes into the third quarter was the final goal of the game as both sides played out a last-quarter stalemate.
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Harry McKay – back two weeks early after a knee meniscus injury – looked like he hadn't missed a beat, and worked beautifully with Charlie Curnow to stretch Essendon's defence to breaking point. The pair combined for five goals in wet conditions, and their ability to convert their opportunities set them apart in an often error-strewn game.
A celebration of all things Essendon
It was a who's who of Essendon celebrating the club's 150th year in a pre-match ceremony. Hosted by Briggs, the 16 premiership cups took pride of place in the middle of the ground as Michael Long, Gavin Wanganeen, Scott Lucas, Adam Ramanauskas, Matthew Lloyd joined the Watson, Fletcher and Daniher families on the field. A group of newly signed AFLW players was introduced (complete with a few boos for former Blue Maddy Prespakis), while James Hird received the biggest cheer of the lot. The pageantry was fittingly capped by Kevin Sheedy waving his scarf in the crowd, prompting all Bomber fans to do the same as the team ran out. Skipper Dyson Heppell then pulled the 22 and the past players into a huddle for his pre-game speech.
Welcome back, Caleb
The last time Carlton key back Caleb Marchbank played at AFL level was in a pre-COVID world – round 16, 2019 to be precise. A former first-round selection, Marchbank has suffered a fractured neck, persistent bone bruising in his knee, calf issues and a torn ACL since he last graced an AFL field. He finished with eight disposals and four marks in a welcome return to the top level.
ESSENDON 3.2 5.4 7.8 7.12 (54)
CARLTON 4.1 9.4 12.6 12.8 (80)
Essendon: Jones 2, Draper 2, Shiel, Hobbs, Heppell
Carlton: McKay 3, Curnow 2, Owies 2, Martin, Silvagni, Cripps, Cottrell, Fisher
Essendon: Merrett, Shiel, Hind, Heppell, Caldwell
Carlton: Cripps, Walsh, Docherty, Hewett, McKay, Newman
Essendon: Parish (calf)
Carlton: Cerra (hamstring)
Essendon: Andy McGrath (groin) replaced in selected side by Tom Cutler
Essendon: Alec Waterman (replaced Parish in the third quarter)
Carlton: Matt Cottrell (replaced Cerra in the first quarter)