'Walla' thrills Bombers in big opening win over Hawks
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti's AFL comeback has capped the best-possible start for Essendon under new coach Brad Scott.
After a tumultuous off-season, the Bombers mauled arch-rivals Hawthorn on Sunday at the MCG for a 59-point win.
The two biggest cheers in the 19.10 (124) to 9.11 (65) win came when cult figure McDonald-Tipungwuti was subbed on in the last quarter, and soon after when he kicked a goal.
It was the small forward's first senior game since late in the 2021 season after he retired briefly last year, before being convinced to re-join the Bombers.
"It was a great moment for Essendon fans and our club. We've had some tough times over the last little period there," Scott said of McDonald-Tipungwuti, nicknamed "Walla".
"While perspective is important - we have a long way to go - we should celebrate the little moments too."
Hawthorn had won their past five round one matches and used this season-opener to honour the 1983 premiership team, who mauled Essendon in that year's grand final.
But the Bombers showed a far better sense of occasion, producing a solid win to give the club a badly needed morale boost
As late as two days ago, Essendon's off-season hell persisted when reigning club best-and-fairest champion Peter Wright dislocated his shoulder at training.
It happened barely a couple of hours after the Bombers had announced a four-year contract for Wright, who will miss most of the season.
Despite also being without fellow star forward Jake Stringer, who is nursing a hamstring injury, the Bombers blitzed Hawthorn.
"It's a really good first step in what we think is going to be a long journey for us," Scott said.
The turning point came midway through the second quarter, when Hawthorn's Changkuoth Jiath kicked an outstanding goal on the run.
That gave Hawthorn the lead after several minutes of ping-pong football, in which both teams repeatedly turned the ball over.
But it was the Bombers who stepped up a gear, first blunting Hawthorn then kicking the next nine goals to kill off the match.
"It was about keeping composure and sticking out what we were trying to do," Scott said.
"For the large majority of the game, we did that."
Adding to a solid day, father-son recruit Alwyn Davey also kicked a goal on debut and Jordan Ridley had his first AFL goal in his 69th game.
Highly-rated youngster Archie Perkins showcased his talent, kicking three goals and taking seven marks, while on-baller Darcy Parish had a game-high 37 possessions.
Hawks coach Sam Mitchell was left lamenting a loss that, for all their rebuilding, was a worrying start to the season.
"We're all disappointed with how it panned out and how quickly the scoreboard got out of hand," he said.
"Today was a long way from what we expected."
In his 200th game, Essendon on-baller Dylan Shiel went off in the last term, but was cleared of injury.
Hawks veteran Chad Wingard also left the ground in the final quarter and Mitchell is hopeful that it was nothing more serious than a cramped calf.