ESSENDON has broken the heart of a Sydney side challenging for its first ever AFLW win in the first game of Saturday's Pride Round double header at Ikon Park.
The Swans surged late to get within four points, but the Bombers ultimately took the win 7.6 (48) to 7.2 (44) at Ikon Park.
Early on it seemed that it would be a great opportunity for Essendon to get its controlling, attacking game back after recent losses. The Bombers were spreading well and finding space on the open side of the ground while their opponents were caught ball watching. But after dominating territory in the early minutes and goals from Cat Phillips and Daria Bannister, the Swans showed a bit of their own bite.
After three first-quarter goals through Sofia Hurley, first gamer Zoe Hurrell and Sarah Dargan, Sydney went into the first break just a point behind before breaking away in the second quarter. Two goals to Cynthia Hamilton, who spent more time forward than she has in recent weeks, meant the Swans went into the half time break 10 points up, and equal with their highest ever score.
Sydney's structure and ability to maintain it for most of the game was noticeable. In the past the Swans have been guilty of being drawn to the ball and exposed off the back of that, but against the Bombers they were far more disciplined for longer periods of time. But when they lapsed, Essendon capitalised with experienced players like Phillips and Sophie Van De Heuvel identifying the space and, most importantly, hit up by their teammates.
BOMBERS v SWANS Full match coverage and stats
Sydney midfielder Bridie Kennedy spent the first half running with former Carlton teammate Maddy Prespakis before Paige Sheppard was handed a tagging role on the Essendon star, while former Melbourne players Cat Phillips and Aliesha Newman also went head-to-head.
Each side enjoyed three multiple goal kickers, while Prespakis led starred in the middle with 22 disposals and eight clearances, and emerging talent Amber Clarke registered 417 metres gained from her 10 disposals.
Sydney now remains winless eight games into its AFLW life, but will be buoyed by its strongest performance yet, meanwhile Essendon sits just one game outside of the top eight with a healthy percentage of 103.1.
It's raining first goals
In the opening term, Sydney kicked three goals through three different players. Sarah Dargan kicked her first in the red and while, while both Sofia Hurley and Zoe Hurrell enjoyed the first of their careers. Hurrell's was particularly special, given it was her debut and 21st birthday. Cynthia Hamilton was also moved back to the forward line after spending recent weeks largely playing on the ball and provided a valuable target ahead of play for the Swans and kicked two important goals in the second quarter. Thanks to their array of early goalkickers, the Swans surged to their equal-highest score in just the first half.
What a third quarter
After being significantly challenged in the first half, Essendon co-captain Bonnie Toogood came out on a mission in the third quarter. As her Bombers used the ball with speed and clarity out of the middle, Toogood was the clearest target in attack. The way she competed in the air, and then continued that at ground level allowed Essendon to rediscover its front half control and ultimately put the side back in front, a lead that they did not lose again.
Essendon has one of the toughest challenges in AFLW next Sunday, set to face Melbourne at Casey Fields, while Sydney will return home to Henson Park to host Fremantle on Saturday afternoon.
ESSENDON 3.1 3.3 6.6 7.6 (48)
SYDNEY 3.0 5.1 5.2 7.2 (44)
Essendon: Bannister 2, Phillips 2, Alexander 2, Toogood
Sydney: Dargan 2, C.Hamilton 2, Hurley 2, Hurrell
Essendon: Clarke, Toogood, Alexander, Prespakis
Sydney: Hurley, C.Hamilton, Dargan, Szigeti
Essendon: Georgia Gee (illness) replaced in selected side by Jordan Zanchetta