'Pies And 'Dons Enter Twilight Zone

Image courtesy of heraldsun.com.au/Michael Klein
Two of the AFL's greatest rivals face off on Sunday. Image courtesy of heraldsun.com.au/Michael Klein
Last Five Matches

Round 5, 2013 – Essendon 121 d Collingwood 75 at MCG
Round 23, 2012 – Collingwood 104 d Essendon 72 at MCG
Round 5, 2012 – Collingwood 80 d Essendon 79 at MCG
Round 19, 2011 – Collingwood 166 d Essendon 92 at MCG
Round 5, 2011 – Collingwood 162 d Essendon 64 at MCG


Form

     Rd 14       Rd 15       Rd 16       Rd 17       Rd 18        
Collingwood    L  W  W  L  W  
Essendon   W  W  W  W  L  

The Essendon footy club has handled the drugs saga brilliantly on the field this season, but given the revelations from former high performance manager Dean Robinson this week about the club’s supplement program, the heat has been turned up well and truly. Some cracks started to appear in the final three quarters against frontrunner Hawthorn last Friday night as Essendon went down by 56 points . You can’t knock their current form, though, as the club had won six straight prior to that loss.

Essendon has been a model of consistency this year, whereas arch rival Collingwood has mixed the brilliant with the bad. After going down to Gold Coast by seven points , the Giants threatened a boilover last week before the Magpies kicked away in the final quarter. The ‘Pies haven’t led at quarter time in their past five matches, so a better start is crucial.

The Bombers have received a major boost with Jobe Watson making an earlier than expected return from a collarbone injury, while veteran Dustin Fletcher is also back in the side. Key forward Michael Hurley will miss the match with an ankle injury, though. Collingwood hard nut Luke Ball comes back in to the Magpies’ line-up.


Key Men

(Magpies) Dane Swan – The game’s best ball-magnet was suspiciously quiet throughout the first half of the season, but in an ominous sign for Collingwood’s finals rivals, Dane Swan has lifted two or three gears since the mid-year break. He has had 30-plus disposals in seven of his past eight games and he was again dominant against GWS piling up 39 touches, nine marks and three goals. Despite picking up 30 touches against the ‘Dons earlier this season, he had a limited impact on the Anzac Day clash.

(Bombers) David Zaharakis – Some players thrive against certain opposition, and David Zaharakis seems to love playing Collingwood. In 2009 he booted the game winner against the ‘Pies on Anzac Day and backed that up this year by winning the Anzac Medal with a superb performance where he racked up 34 touches and four goals. He has been hampered by a back problem of late and had quiet games against the Bulldogs and Hawks. James Hird will need all hands on deck in the middle this week and the job of Zaharakis has probably been made easier with Watson’s return.


Prediction

Prior to Essendon’s 46-point win earlier this year, Collingwood had won seven straight against the Bombers. It’s a stat that shouldn’t be sneezed at, even if the Magpies aren’t playing anywhere near the level they have achieved in previous seasons. Everything happening at Windy Hill must surely be taking its toll on the playing and coaching staff. With a full team and no off-field distractions, you’d pick Essendon in a heartbeat given Collingwood’s patchy recent form, but this is no ordinary match. A couple of the ‘Pies guns seem to be hitting form at the right time of the season, but Nathan Buckley just needs them all firing at the same time. Collingwood by 15 points .

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