Andrew McGrath’s best on ground performance in the first half has headlined Essendon’s 74-point win over a second-string Melbourne side at Casey Fields on Friday afternoon.
Played in calm and sunny conditions in Melbourne’s south-east, the practice match was a chance for Essendon to get a crucial game under the belt with their first official Marsh Community Series match against West Coast next Thursday.
Meanwhile for Melbourne, players who weren’t selected for their pre-season clash against Adelaide tomorrow afternoon were given a first competitive hit out for the year.
Playing a strong side against a youthful Melbourne outfit, Essendon’s experience was evident throughout the afternoon at Casey in their 16.10.(106) to 4.8.(32) victory.
Andrew McGrath, Darcy Parish, Zach Merrett, David Zaharakis, Jayden Laverde, Kyle Langford, Aaron Francis and Orazio Fantasia were some of the biggest names who took to the field for Essendon on Friday afternoon.
On the flipside, Melbourne included Josh Wagner, Marty Hore, James Jordon, Austin Bradtke, Toby Bedford, Trent Rivers, Jayden Hunt and Oskar Baker in a team topped up with Casey Demons VFL players.
It proved to be a relatively straight-forward afternoon for Essendon against the less-experienced Melbourne team, as the Bombers set the tone early with four unanswered goals in the first term to take a 23-point lead into quarter time.
But the day belonged to Andrew McGrath, who’s move into the midfield at Essendon looks to be complete.
The 2016 number one draft pick attended a large majority of centre bounces in the first half and looked clean with the ball throughout. With the likes of Dyson Heppell, Devon Smith sitting out the clash, McGrath stepped up before being rested in the second half and looks primed for a big season.
There's concerns for Essendon defender Patrick Ambrose, who will undergo scans on Friday night after going down with a suspected posterior cruciate ligament injury in the first quarter of the clash.
“We will know over the next few days what the result of that (potential injury to Ambrose) is," Essendon backline coach James Kelly said post-match.
“We are probably a little thin (on defenders if he misses) but we feel like we can cover that off."
Melbourne were much improved after quarter time and kicked the first goal of the second term through VFL-listed Tom McCaffrey, who marked and converted the set shot from 40 metres out.
After sitting out the first half, Essendon gave Dylan Clarke, Will Snelling, Darcy Parish and Marty Gleeson a run in the third and fourth quarter, with Parish spending almost all of the half in midfield while Gleeson slotted primarily into his favoured half back role.
Essendon kicked the only five goals of the third term to go into three quarter time with a 42-point lead before sealing a 74-point win in the final term.
All eyes at Casey Fields were on Orazio Fantasia, who made his first appearance since reportedly requestiong a trade away from the club in the off-season before deciding to eventually stay at Tullamarine.
As well as spending time forward, Fantasia spent noticeably more minutes in the middle and on the wing throughout the afternoon, combining well with Kobe Mitch on multiple occasions.
After missing out on selection for the first Marsh Community Series clash following his nine senior matches for Melbourne in 2019, Oskar Baker grew into the contest as he pushes for a recall and was one of his side’s best in the second quarter.
Jayden Hunt was a mainstay for Melbourne last year, playing 21 matches but didn’t do anything to suggest he’s a starter in round one after struggling for Melbourne’s second string outfit on Friday after also missing out on selection for Saturday’s afternoon match against Adelaide.
It looms as a vital season for forward Jayden Laverde and he impressed on Friday afternoon, kicking three goals and taking a number of strong contested marks inside 50 - including one in the second quarter against AFL-listed Josh Wagner.
Attention for both sides now turns towards the rest of pre-season before Essendon take on Fremantle at Marvel Stadium in round one while Melbourne face West Coast at Optus Stadium in the opening round.