With only six rounds left in the home-and-away season, Friday night’s clash at Adelaide Oval between two genuine finals contenders takes on special significance.
Adelaide and Essendon are on nine wins each and are separated only by percentage, with the Crows in seventh and the Bombers in eighth.
The home side have won their last four games against the Dons and will be hoping to make it five, but overall the two clubs have a matching win-loss ratio against each other of 19 wins.
Adelaide appear likely to be without Tom Lynch and Cameron Ellis-Yolmen. Essendon will be hoping to have Dyson Heppell back from injury but will be missing Michael Hurley for the remainder of the season.
Last week the Crows smashed the disappointing Suns to such an extent Eddie Betts scored six goals to bring up 300 goals for Adelaide, while new boy Tyson Stengle got three goals in his first outing for the club.
Former Ballarat boy Matt Crouch will play his 104th game for the club, joining two former stars who left to seek fame and fortune elsewhere after making their names as AFL footballers at the Crows. One of them is Kane Johnson, who played in two premierships at the club but then left to join Richmond, where he won the best and fairest and captained the Tigers. Kurt Tippett is the other, and he left in controversial circumstances after winning Adelaide’s goal-kicking award to move to Sydney, where he was the Swans’ leading goalscorer in 2013 but never reached the heights expected.
Essendon’s Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti was the club’s leading goalscorer last week against North Melbourne, scoring four goals to propel himself up the Essendon goal-kickers list from equal 92nd to equal 83rd, passing six players – Clarrie Hearn, Jack McKenzie, Dean Rioli, Percy Ogden, Mark Johnson and Fred Baring – who between them won seven premierships, six best and fairest, one Anzac Medal, one Stawell Gift and played cricket for Victoria. He now sits level with Andrew Lovett. McDonald-Tipungwuti is a crowd favourite because of his speed, and he will need to repeat last week’s heroics if the Bombers are going to win.
If Heppell is fit to play, he will match the game tally of Les Gardiner, who played in three Essendon premierships in the 1940s and 1950s but died on Boxing Day in 2012.
The Crows will be chock-full of confidence after scoring 23 goals last week but need to be aware that the Bombers have won four of their past five games and are playing an exciting brand of footy that is more than capable of causing an upset against higher-ranked teams. However, without an adequate replacement for Michael Hurley they will struggle to maintain the chaos for four quarters.