Paige Scott stole the show as Essendon clung on desperately for a 4.13 (37) to 5.5 (35) victory over Casey at the NEC Hangar on Sunday.
Scott, who was taken with pick eight in the 2022 national draft, played a decisive hand finishing with 20 disposals and three goals from six scoring shots.
The win is the reigning premiers first of 2023, following a shaky start to their premiership defence accentuated by 54-point drubbing at the hands of Carlton last week.
Despite the game’s nail-biting conclusion, Essendon would lead from start to finish, but it was the first quarter where their dominance was felt most, skipping away to a 2.6 (18) to 0.0 (0) lead at the first break.
The Dons owned the first quarter’s territory battle, with the ball rarely entering Casey’s half, yet they struggled to translate it to scoreboard dominance.
That inaccuracy would threaten to haunt them for the contest’s remainder.
Just six minutes into the opening term, Essendon had already kicked 0.5. And it was none other than Paige Scott that would eventually break the Bombers’ major drought off the back of some impressive bodywork.
A sharp snap from Joanne Doonan minutes later extended the margin to a healthy 18 points.
The second quarter began as the first had, on Essendon’s terms, yet soon enough Casey found their feet. And six minutes later they were on the board via a running snap from Claire Keohane.
From there, Casey wrestled the momentum and some dynamic Ciara Burke crumbing work at the goalmouth put them within seven points.
That margin would carry through to the end of the half with both side’s exchanging goals.
It was a far cry from the scoreless Casey that had been on display for the opening term and then some.
The arm wrestle continued into the second-half, with neither side giving an inch. Tayla Hart-Aluni, who was one of the Bombers’ main targets up forward, had chances but couldn’t convert, finishing with four marks and three behinds.
It was Paige Scott who nailed her third, and the only goal of the quarter, to give Essendon a 13-point lead heading into the final term.
But the contest was far from finished, with the Demons rallying late to give the Bombers an almighty fright.
Belinda Woodcock executed a brilliant fend off and wheeled onto her right, sending the Sherrin bouncing through the vacant sqaure from 40 metres out.
Minutes later Megan Fitzsimon put Casey within two, and having not lead all day, the Demons had a last hoorah to clutch victory from defeat’s imminent jaws.
Casey won the next centre clearance and the footy was sent tumbling into their forward 50, but the Bombers held their nerve, forcing stoppage after stoppage in their defensive 50 to wind down the clock and hang on for a deserved triumph.
The best performers for Casey included Alyssa Bannan for her 20-disposal, 9-clearance, 7-tackle showing, as well as Megan Fitzsimon (23 disposals, 5 clearances, one goal) and Amber Kinnane (13 disposals, 10 tackles).
Aside from Paige Scott, Amelia Radford (18 disposals), Joanne Doonan (16 disposals, 5 clearances, one goal) and Grace Dicker (14 disposals, 10 tackles) were among Essenon’s best.
The Bombers will look to capitalise on their newfound momentum when they take on Collingwood at Victoria Park on Saturday in round five, while Casey will do battle with the Southern Saints on Sunday morning.