Bombers beat main challenger in front of massive MCG crowd.
by Damien Berry
16 years ago, the Essendon Football Club was a far cry from the struggling side of 2016.
The 2000 season became the most successful in terms of wins in VFL/AFL history, with the Bombers winning 21 of 22 home and away matches, and all three finals on the way to claiming their 16th premiership.
So it was that the Round 20 clash between the Bombers and traditional rivals Carlton was an event that many fans wanted to see.
Essendon was sitting four games clear at the head of the ladder with 19 wins in as many games and a massive percentage of 166.7. However, despite being four games back in second place on the table, Carlton was proving to be a major challenger for the Bombers claims at the premiership.
After just two wins in the first five rounds, Carlton strung together 13 straight wins, their winning run coming to an end in Round 19 at the hands of the Western Bulldogs who recorded an upset three-point win over the Blues (with the help of a 26-9 free kick count, but I digress).
As the events of Round 21 would later prove, this result wouldn't be the first time the Bulldogs under the coaching of Terry Wallace would bring to an end a large winning sequence in season 2000.
So, on a cool July Friday night at the MCG, more than 91,000 fans, a record in home and away clashes between these two sides - so far clearly the two best teams of the season, would battle in what many believed would be a grand final dress rehearsal.
The Bombers got the better of the start kicking the first three goals, on their way to taking a handy 13-point lead at the first change. However, from a Blues perspective, this was overshadowed by the knee injury to Anthony Koutoufides early in the match.
This misfortune, followed by a hamstring strain suffered by Carlton skipper Craig Bradley was a major setback to not just winning this match, but the Blues overall premiership chances.
Despite the losses to two of their stars, the Blues bravely fought back to trail the Dons by just one-point at the long break.
The third term was goal for goal, and it seemed that the match would go down to the wire, with the Bombers holding just a two-point buffer at three quarter time.
Perhaps though, the injuries suffered by two of Carlton's best players affected the Blues more in the end, and Essendon would stroll away with a seven-goal final quarter to claim a 26-point win and take their remarkable unbeaten streak to 20.
For the winners, Justin Blumfield kicked three goals and collected 23 disposals, earning him the three Brownlow votes. Jason Johnson would also poll one vote for his 22 touch, two goal effort as well. While Carlton's Scott Camporeale received two votes from the umpires for his 29 disposal game.
Ultimately, Essendon's unbeaten streak would come to an end just one week later, despite holding a seemingly safe 15-point lead over the Bulldogs at three quarter time, falling by 11 points.
Meanwhile Carlton's promising year would peter out with finals losses to Melbourne in the Qualifying Final and Essendon again in the Preliminary Final, ending what would be an unfulfilled season for the men in navy blue.
The Bombers would recover from their blip against the Dogs, with a 125-point thumping of reigning premiers North Melbourne in their first final, before a ten goal triumph over the Demons in the 2000 AFL Grand Final ended a truly stunning season for coach Kevin Sheedy, captain James Hird and the record-setting Bombers.
Essendon 4.4 6.6 9.9 16.13 (109)
Carlton 2.3 6.5 9.7 12.11 (83)
Essendon: Blumfield 3, Mercuri 3, J.Johnson 2, Misiti 2, Alessio, Barnes, Hird, Lloyd, Long, Solomon
Carlton: Whitnall 3, Silvagni 2, Porter 2, Brown, Culpitt, Houlihan, Lappin, Ratten
Essendon: Blumfield, J. Johnson, M. Johnson, Hardwick, Rioli, Robran, Ramanauskas
Carlton: Camporeale, Ratten, Silvagni, McKay, Manton, Houlihan
91,571 at the MCG.
Follow Damien on Twitter: @Strauchanside