It is this writer’s opinion that if there is an AFL club that North Melbourne could call a true “rival” it is Essendon. The story of Essendon and North goes back as far as the early days of the VFL. When VFA clubs decided to break away and form the VFL in 1896, North was not included. It is thought that this was partly due to Essendon, a close geographical neighbour, believing that North would take players from its recruiting areas. North were rejected from joining the VFL again in 1907, this time as an amalgamated club with West Melbourne. For their trouble, both clubs were expelled from the VFA for disloyalty. North returned the following year, while West Melbourne were never seen again.
Upon rejoining the Association, North stamped their authority on the competition, winning the Premiership in 1910, 1914, 1915 and 1918. By 1921, the club was ready for another attempt at joining the League. This time the plan was to amalgamate with Essendon’s VFL side (Essendon also had a VFA side at the time) who had found themselves without a home ground. Essendon had played home games at East Melbourne, adjacent to the MCG, but that land was earmarked for an extension of the Jolimont rail yards. This left Essendon looking for a new homegorund, eventually deciding on North Melbourne Recreational Reserve in Arden Street.
North welcomed the idea of Essendon taking their home ground, as it meant they could form an alliance which would see them finally join the VFL. The club decided to disband halfway through the 1922 season, knowing that the Association would expel them anyway due to them seeking an amalgamation with a League side. What followed was a political furore that went as high as the State Government. The end result was Essendon’s League side moving to Windy Hill, Essendon’s Association side being disbanded and North rejoining the VFA without many of their best players. North Melbourne’s Premiership captain, Syd Barker, wound up at Essendon and was captain-coach of their Premierships in 1923 and 1924.
Of course North Melbourne did join the VFL in 1925, alongside Hawthorn and Footscray. It took some 25 years for them to reach a Grand Final, though. It was the 1950 decider against Essendon. Having narrowly lost to Essendon in the Second Semi-Final two weeks earlier, North would've given themselves some sort of chance, but it was not to be. Essendon had only lost one game for the whole year and a young player by the name of John Coleman had kicked over a 100 goals for the second consecutive season. Coleman proved the difference, kicking four goals and leading his side to a six-goal win.
North Melbourne 19.15.129 d Essendon 13.13.91
In 1993 North Melbourne and Essendon were both young teams taking all before them. At the end of the season the so-called "Baby Bombers" were premiers, but it was North that were victors this night. It was 1st vs 3rd on the ladder. Essendon had won seven of their last eight games, while North had won nine of their first 11 games before two close losses in Rounds 13 and 14. What resulted was a master class from North Melbournes forward line with John Longmire, Adrain McAdam and Wayne Carey combining to kick 16 goals between them. The game was close until three quarter time before the Roos put on 8.8 to 1.2 in the last quarter to storm home.
North Melbourne 11.16.82 d Essendon 8.12.60
In a clash that will be forever known as "The Marshmallow Game," the Roos took their first step towards playing their second Grand Final in three years. North had narrowly beaten Western Bulldogs the week before to finish in top spot, while Essendon scraped into the top eight on percentage. In what one can only assume was an attempt to play mind games with North, Channel Seven commentator, Tim Watson, suggested that their players considered the Bombers to be "soft." This led Essendon coach, Kevin Sheedy, to label certain North Melbourne administrators "marshmallows." A war or words ensued during the week climaxing at the end of the game with the North supporters pelting the ground with marshmallows, aimed mainly at Sheedy.
The game itself contained one of many great Finals performances from Wayne Carey, who kicked 5.6, as well as a brilliant 35-disposal game from Peter Bell.
Essendon 24.14.158 d North Melbourne 20.12.132
Essendon got one back on North in 1999. They won comfortably when they met in Round 2 and when they met again in Round 17 they were ahead of North by percentage only at the top of the ladder. Both teams went into the game with 13 wins and four losses, and it was a shootout from the first siren. North kicked eight goals to Essendon's seven in the first quarter, but couldn't go with them for the next three. Despite the Roos going down by 26 points, this game ranks as one the finest played by Wayne Carey. "The King" kicked an amazing 10.5, one of only two times he kicked 10 or more goals, while at the other end Matthew Lloyd bagged seven. Essendon would go on to finish on top of the ladder in 1999, but North had the last laugh. Round 17 was their last loss for the season, which would result in the club's fourth VFL/AFL Premiership.
Essendon 27.9.171 d North Melbourne 25.9.159
"The Comeback Game." A game that sends shudders down the spines of North supporters to this day. To set the scene, Essendon went into the game having won 37 of their last 40 games and were reigning Premiers. North had started the season terribly but had managed to win seven of their last nine games. Despite this, they were outside the top eight on percentage and started this game without three of their most experienced players, Wayne Carey, Anthony Stevens and Mick Martyn. All signs pointed to a fairly easy Bombers win. What happened, though, was a blistering start by the Roos, who kicked 12.1 to Essendon's 2.3 in the first quarter, leaving the Bombers and everyone watching completely stunned. The Roos added another two at the start of the second quarter, increasing their lead to 69 points. Enter James Hird, Jason Johnson and Matthew Lloyd. They led a resurgence as Essendon answered back with 10 goals in the second quarter, going into half time trailing by just 21. Bit by bit the Bombers worked their way back into the game, kicking seven goals to six in the third quarter, eventually running over the top of North to win by 12 points. To this day, it is the biggest comeback in a VFL/AFL match (81 points) and featured the most goals kicked in a VFL/AFL match (52). It seemed to take a toll on both teams, too. North lost another shootout the following week, this time against Brisbane, and won only one more game for the year. They missed the finals for the first time since 1993. Essendon also lost the next week in a close one against Port Adelaide, one of three losses in their next six games. They would eventually lose the Grand Final to Brisbane.
North Melbourne 14.9.93 d Essendon 12.9.81
Last year's Elimination Final is the latest chapter in this great rivalry. Essendon beat North easily in their previous clash, five months earlier in Round 1, but North had a marginally better season. All in all, both sides were fairly evenly matched, but it was the Bombers that got the better of the Roos in the first half. Both teams kicked only two goals apiece in the first quarter but the second quarter saw Essendon kick 4.3 to 0.1. North were down by 33 points when Sam Wright intercepted a David Myers kick on the back flank. From that point there was no stopping North as they tore Essendon to ribbons. They kicked the next five goals and two late goals to Drew Petrie cemented a famous two goals win.