Carlton – Collingwood, Essendon – Hawthorn, Adelaide – Port Adelaide, Hawthorn – Geelong, West Coast – Fremantle, North Melbourne – Essendon.
While the rivalry between North Melbourne and Essendon doesn’t garner the attention that the league’s biggest grudge-matches do there can be no doubt these two clubs hate each other as much as any two clubs in the AFL.
As such supporters of both clubs would struggle to think of a better way to start the season than a victory over the other on Friday night.
With Essendon having being a Protestant club and North Melbourne a Catholic one, the rivalry was inevitable when they established themselves a mere 6 kilometres from each other in Melbourne’s Northern suburbs.
The foundations of the rivalry were set when the Dons landed the first major blow of the rivalry by poaching the legendary John Coleman from North’s fingertips when the forward joined the Bombers despite being from the Kangaroos’ recruiting zone.
Furthermore upon finally reaching their first VFL Grand Final in 1950 North Melbourne ran into their neighbours and Essendon walked away celebrating its 10th VFL Premiership. The two had an unquestionable disdain for one another yet the rivalry needed one great chapter for that disdain to become full blown hatred.
That chapter came in the mid 1990s.
Coming off the back of a Premiership nobody tipped them to win the ‘baby bombers’ as they were dubbed looked set to establish one of the great dynasties in football history.
The Kangaroos just down the road had other ideas.
They had assembled a list consisting of names such as Glenn Archer, Brent Harvey, Adam Simpson and skipper Wayne Carey – still considered by many to be the best who ever played – with Denis Pagan at the helm.
Pagan and incumbent Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy had their own rivalry. Sheedy took Pagan under his wing in 1992 and it seemed Pagan was the heir apparent to Sheedy when he won a reserves premiership in 1992 until North came knocking and the two were squaring off against one another as peers in ’93.
North asserted their dominance over the rest of the competition physically and verbally, often bruising and bullying opposition teams into submission.
North Melbourne won the right to call themselves the best team of the 90s with flags in ’96 and ’99. However, the football world was robbed of a Grand Final between the two when Carlton topped a much-fancied Essendon in the ’99 Preliminary final by the smallest of margins.
Determined to have their revenge the Bombers of 2000 were licking their lips when – after losing just one game in the regular season – they came up against North in a Qualifying final.
Against a rampaging Essendon side the ageing bodies of North never stood a chance. Matthew Lloyd kicked his 100th goal for the season early on and Essendon continued their journey to a 16th premiership with a 125 point win. A win the Essendon players and fans enjoyed as much as any.
The conclusion to one of the greatest and underrated chapters in the history of AFL rivalries came in round 16, 2001. It remains known to this day as the greatest comeback in VFL/AFL history. From 69 points down early in the second quarter and seemingly dead and buried, Essendon rallied to win by 12 points – keeping themselves on top of the ladder and keeping North out of the top 8.
No conclusion to a chapter in football history had the drama that the end to the North/Essendon period from 1995-2001 did. The victory will never be forgotten by the victorious fans and players and they will never let North Melbourne fans live it down.
Since the conclusion of a great chapter in each club’s history book the two have played in some lowly affairs, the most notable of which being a dramatic round 1 encounter in 2012. Hamish McIntosh missed a chance to win the game for North after the siren after the ‘Roos stormed home.
The hate between the two remains as strong as ever. This fact is proven by North fans joining supporters of Essendon’s other big rivals Hawthorn, Carlton and Collingwood revelling in the ASADA investigation threatening to set Essendon back decades in building a Premiership contender.
You can rest assured knowing Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson will have spent time reminding Essendon players of the history between the two clubs in the lead-up to their season opener tonight. And who knows, with both clubs on the upswing, tonight’s could mark the beginning of a new chapter in one of football’s greatest rivalries.