GEELONG'S crushing 87-point win over Essendon at Deakin Reserve in Shepparton has come at a serious cost, with young defender Jackson Thurlow suffering a serious knee injury.
The defender was stretchered from the field in the third quarter after his right knee buckled when he attempted to nudge former teammate Mitch Brown off the ball in a marking contest.
Thurlow's injury is a major blow for the Cats, as the 21-year-old is regarded as the best kick in Geelong's team and a lock at the rebounding defender spot.
The Cats will also be sweating on the fitness of fellow defenders Tom Lonergan (ankle) and Lachie Henderson, who was seen applying ice to his left knee in the final term.
The injuries took the gloss off a thumping 0.17.9 (111) to 0.3.6 (24) Geelong win in front of 5488 fans in northern Victoria.
The Cats did as they pleased for much of the contest, with strong midfield contributions from Patrick Dangerfield (24 disposals and seven tackles), Mitch Duncan (15 and five inside 50s) and Cameron Guthrie (18 and five clearances).
Key forwards Nathan Vardy (four goals) and Tom Hawkins (two goals and eight marks) had a steady supply from a dominant Geelong midfield, and the differences between the sides could not have been more glaring.
With an already under-strength side on the park, the pre-game withdrawals of David Zaharakis, Zach Merrett and James Gwilt did not bode well for the inexperienced Bombers.
The Bombers gave a glimpse of what shapes as a difficult season ahead by kicking just three goals for the match after a goalless first half.
Essendon's lack of pressure around the ball was telling and Geelong had little problem sparking its transition game.
"Collingwood kicked something like 200 goals against us last week, so defensively it was a little bit better and that was the main focus going into the game," Geelong assistant coach James Rahilly said after the match.
"We transitioned a little bit better. Especially in the first half I thought it was quite good and that was the main part of the game that we were pleased with."
The Bombers constantly bombed the ball forward to Geelong's numbers stationed behind the football, and Jake Kolodjashnij (16 touches) and rookie Tom Ruggles (15) benefited greatly.
Essendon had its own injury problems with second-year forward Jayden Laverde leaving the field in the third term with a left ankle injury.
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti's tackling pressure was one of few highlights for the Bombers, while Adam Cooney – in his first game for the season – and Jonathan Simpkin collected 15 disposals apiece.
Essendon coach John Worsfold took a pragmatic approach to the scoreline.
"It was hard for us to score and it was disappointing that we couldn't get the ball inside our 50 too many times," Worsfold said.
"Geelong were always going to be a bit sharper and use the ball better than us but we created a lot more opportunities in the second half and we put the Cats under a lot more pressure."
Sam Grimley, Jake Long and Courtenay Demspey were the Bombers to hit the scoreboard.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Essendon: Granted Brendon Goddard, Zach Merrett, David Zaharkis and Darcy Parish sat this one out, but the Bombers are going to be very ordinary this season. The club knows that and Bombers fans will have to be satisfied with tracking the development of promising youngsters including Jayden Laverde, Kyle Langford and Orazio Fantasia.
Geelong: The strength of the opposition aside, Geelong demonstrated why many believe it will be pushing for a top-four spot this season. The Cats' depth is vastly improved on past seasons and they have plenty of variations they can rely on through the midfield. Geelong is going to be fun to watch this season.
Essendon: Veteran top-up ruckman Mark Jamar struggled to assert himself on the contest in his first game for the Bombers. Former Tiger Matt Dea was lively at times and showed his raking left boot will put to good use at Bomberland in 2016. Draftee Alex Morgan did not win a whole lot of the football, but his pace away from the contest was apparent.
Geelong: Rookie Tom Ruggles was the only new player playing his first game for Geelong and the nuggety defender was quite impressive. He is super-tough and put his head over the ball on a number of occasions. Dangerfield was again best afield for the Cats, while Henderson looked more comfortable in defence in his second game in Cats colours before coming off with an apparent knee injury in the second half.
Both teams are set to travel to the west, with Geelong to face off against Fremantle next Saturday at Domain Stadium. The Bombers will welcome James Kelly and Mathew Stokes into the team for their clash with West Coast next Sunday.
ESSENDON 0.0.1 0.0.3 0.1.4 0.3.6 (24)
GEELONG 0.3.2 0.10.3 0.13.4 0.17.9 (111)
Essendon: Grimley, Long, Dempsey
Geelong: Vardy 4, Hawkins 2, Caddy 2, Kersten, Stanley, Guthrie, Dangerfield, Lang, Smith, Gregson, Cockatoo
Essendon: McDonald-Tipungwuti, Cooney, Simpkin
Geelong: Dangerfield, Duncan, Guthrie, Hawkins, Kolodjashnij, Vardy, Caddy, Ruggles
Essendon: Bird (corked quad), McKernan (right ankle), Laverde (left ankle)
Geelong: Lonergan (ankle), Thurlow (right knee)
Official crowd: 5488 at Deakin Reserve