While midfield superstar Maddy Prespakis inspired on the field with her ball-winning ability, her Bombers teammate Ellyse Gamble inspired just by her presence.
Essendon got the better of fellow expansion club Hawthorn, winning 7.7 (49) to 4.6 (30) at Kinetic Stadium.
Analysis, local footy and the biggest moments, Seven and 7plus are the home of footy shows for every fan. Stream them all for free on 7plus >>
But before the game there were lumps in throats as Essendon coach Natalie Wood paid tribute to Gamble (watch in the video above) in her pre-game address.
Gamble had kitted up for the game just two days after her father, Ron Gamble, had tragically passed away.
“Let’s take a moment,” Wood said before the game.
“A lot of stuff has to happen for us to get here for Round 1 every year. Sometimes it’s some good journeys and sometimes it’s tough.
“You’ve all had some tough moments … and ‘Gambs’ we’re here with you tonight, yeah.
“Outstanding that you’re here … and you’ve spoken about this group being a really important part of your family.
“And we’re right here with you tonight … with you every step of the way.
“We’re really proud of you, OK? Step out there, be fierce, enjoy the moment, and know you stand up with every single one of us propping you up tonight … really well done.”
FULL MATCH COVERAGE: All the stats from the Bombers’ solid win
7NEWS sports reporter Laura Spurway said the pre-game address was “emotional” and explained that was why the players were wearing black armbands.
“It is because Ron Gamble – the father of Bomber Ellyse Gamble – passed away just two days ago. Obviously they are extremely grateful, I suppose, and impressed that she has turned up to play tonight,” Spurway said.
“That shows her dedication, it shows her courage, and the team just wanted to pay tribute to her and her family in that special way.”
Fellow Seven commentator Jo Wotton said: “It is a wonderful effort for her to be here tonight.”
There was another moment of drama when an injury scare to Prespakis sent a shudder through the Essendon camp.
Prespakis was crucial for Essendon, delivering a masterclass performance which included 31 disposals, seven clearances and 20 handballs.
But the midfield star looked certain to be ruled out of the game after sustaining a heavy hit to her ribs while contesting a groundball in the third quarter. She returned to the fray, however, six minutes later.
“I definitely feel a little bit winded,” Prespakis said after the game.
“As my parents say, ‘You just got to get up and keep going’.
“I love being out there. I was always going to come back out.”
Hawthorn failed to take advantage of their one-point lead at half-time, despite completing a game-high 101 tackles compared to the Bombers’ 56
Essendon’s co-captain Bonnie Toogood (two goals, 23 disposals) and Amber Clarke (one, 12) converted the hard-earned Sherrin to break away when the Hawks looked capable of taking the win in the third quarter.
Former Hockeyroo Georgia Nanscawen (21 disposals, 13 handballs, six clearances) dominated at stoppages in her club debut, marking a successful return from the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury that prevented her from playing in the Bombers’ inaugural season.
Work at stoppages was an area of concern for Essendon last season, with the Bombers one of only two teams to average fewer than 22 clearances per game.
“(Nanscawen) has just taken the reins a little bit and it’s freed me up,” Prespakis said.
“We’ve hit the ground running this pre-season and it showed tonight.”
Also returning from an ACL injury, Tamara Luke starred for the Hawks with a game-high 42 hitouts.
Hawthorn were unable to capitalise on Luke’s hard work, with only four of those 42 proving advantageous to the hosts.
New recruit and former Brisbane Lions premiership player Emily Bates led the way in the midfield for the Hawks with 19 disposals and 16 tackles but was unable to turn the tide.
Her former Brisbane teammate Greta Bodey also struggled to have an impact, with only seven disposals and zero clearances.
A goal by Daria Bannister followed by another from Amelia Radford in the final quarter sealed the win for the Bombers.
Aileen Gilroy kicked the Hawks’ final consolation goal, with two behinds by Sarah Perkins closing the margin to 19 points.
With only three wins in their AFLW existence, Hawthorn will search for their fourth when they face the Western Bulldogs next weekend, while Essendon will take on St Kilda at Windy Hill.
– With AAP