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Anzac Day at the MCG: Who will rise first to become a premiership contender?

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Roar Guru
19th April, 2021
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Regardless of whether Essendon and Collingwood continue to have a monopoly on playing Anzac Day, as they have since 1995, there is always some excitement for many of us Essendon fans when we play Collingwood given the history of these two successful clubs playing each other since 1897.

While there are many other clubs with such a long and proud history, Collingwood and Essendon have long had a large fan-base as two of the most successful clubs in AFL.

Even before Melbourne’s AFL matches were confined to playing at the MCG and Docklands in recent decades, Essendon and Collingwood were among the most popular clubs playing away from the MCG at Windy Hill and Victoria Park, along with Carlton at Princess Park.

Of course, given a monopoly on Anzac Day matches since 1995 as corporate football took over, Essendon and Collingwood matches played at the MCG now represent 11 of the 20 largest ever home-and-away crowds.

In the 240 matches between Essendon and Collingwood from 1897 to 2020, Collingwood has won 132, Essendon 104, with four draws, albeit Essendon has won 16 premierships and Collingwood 15.

As a teenager, I never attended a victory against Collingwood at Victoria Park or Windy Hill, a time when I regularly attended the VFL most weeks. From 1974 to 1979, Essendon won only twice, Collingwood ten times.

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However, to be in the crowd at Windy Hill and Victoria Park in the late 1970s as a young teenager, when up to 34,600 would pack in at times to see Essendon play Collingwood play in grounds with little seating, is an experience you can never forget.

The crowd was rougher, tougher, and at times even dangerous, given some of the unfortunate and regular violence that occurred in that era.

In the 1980s, the tide turned somewhat, with Essendon winning 14 of 20 matches.

During the 1990s, it was even with Essendon winning nine of 21 (one draw), albeit losing two finals in 1990 (including the grand final).

During the 2000s, Essendon won 13 of 20.

Since 2010, however, Essendon has only won six of the last 20. But, as of 2021, both teams are indeed struggling.

Nathan Buckley, coach of the Magpies, looks dejected

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The last time both teams came into a Round 6 clash with just one win each (or worse) was 1976, when Collingwood won the wooden spoon and Essendon finished 10th of 12 teams.

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Of the five such poor starts for Essendon since 1970 where they lost four of the first five games, only the 1981 side recovered to make the finals that same year.

Of the nine such starts (or worse) for Collingwood since 1970, they have never made the finals.

This brings to me to picking the winner for this week’s Anzac Day clash.

I hope Essendon can win.

With Collingwood now losing Jordan de Goey and Jeremy Howe due to injury last week in Perth, adding to Taylor Adams and Jamie Elliott being out for a further 8-10 weeks, Essendon also lost key defender Jordan Ridley because of concussion from last Saturday.

While Essendon destroyed St Kilda at Docklands and had narrow losses to Hawthorn and Sydney, its young side will still have to overcome a physically tougher Collingwood outfit, even if the latter is without many of its star players.

Brisbane clearly outmuscled Essendon last week.

Joe Daniher of the Lions celebrates a goal

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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Assessing whether Essendon or Collingwood will recover first to again be a premiership contender in coming seasons is also difficult.

Like all AFL clubs, success will depend on luck with injuries, and fortune in terms of trading and recruiting the right blend of players.

It will also depend on developing the best possible club culture with the right staff to develop the best possible side in terms of team spirit and physical conditioning.

However, both teams, after experiencing a similar a poor start for the second time within the last six seasons with just one win from five matches (Essendon 2016 and Collingwood 2017), have shown that a quick rebound is possible. Collingwood made the finals in 2018 (grand final), 2019 and 2020, and Essendon also made the finals in 2017 and 2019 before early exits.

While I don’t really care for attacking either club in terms of bagging coaches or key players, within my own observation that achieving and maintaining success in any sport is an extremely difficult task, I do see a brighter future for Essendon than Collingwood based on current player lists.

Going off the club lists prior to the 2021 season, Collingwood’s squad is slightly older on average at 24.3 compared to Essendon’s 23.9 years.

The Collingwood list is also more experienced at an average 65.6 games (11th in AFL) compared to Essendon’s average 54.9 games (17th in AFL).

In terms of older established players, 28 years or older based on what age they turn in 2021, I feel Collingwood is more likely to suffer most in coming years from the loss of such players, albeit it remains to be seen which players can be lucky with avoiding injuries and maintaining the necessary level of elite AFL fitness.

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At Essendon, there are five players who will be 30 during 2021: Michael Hurley (31), David Zaharakis (31), Cale Hooker (33), Patrick Ambrose (30) and Andrew Phillips (30).

Collingwood, however, has many more players over 30 whose exit would leave a much bigger hole given most are ranked as top AFL players in recent years.

They include Scott Pendlebury (33), Chris Mayne (33), Levi Greenwood (32), Steele Sidebottom (30), Jordan Roughead (31), Jeremy Howe (31), Mason Cox (30) and Josh Thomas (30).

Mason Cox.

Mason Cox (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Of those slightly younger (28-29), the teams are more evenly matched in terms of players who can play an important role for a few seasons yet before age may also catch up with them, albeit a few of them are currently overcoming major injuries.

Essendon has Dylan Shiel (28), Dyson Heppell (29), and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (28).

Collingwood has Jamie Elliott (29), Brody Mihocek (28), Jack Madgen (28) and Will Hoskin-Elliott (28).

Yet, because Collingwood has many more older players over 30, it will be that club that will have to call on its younger experienced players most, say those aged 24-27 years, who could be expected to play another 5-8 year in their prime.

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Here, Collingwood does appear to have the better players with a number of AFL star players, albeit Essendon has a greater number of such players of that age.

Collingwood has Jordan de Goey (25), Brodie Grundy (27), Darcy Moore (25), Taylor Adams (28), Darcy Cameron (26), Jack Crisp (28), Brayden Sier (24) and Brayden Maynard (25).

At Essendon, there is Jake Stringer (27), Zach Merrett (26), Aaron Francis (24), Devon Smith (28), Martin Gleeson (27), Jayden Laverde (25), James Stewart (27), Nick Hind (27), Peter Wright (25), Kyle Langford (25), Matt Guelfi (24), Will Snelling (24), Tom Cutler (26), Darcy Parish (24) and Mason Redman (24).

In terms of young talent, Essendon does appear to have more young players on the way up in terms of already showing good potential but it remains to be see how many will achieve and maintain a high standard over time.

They include Andrew McGrath (23), Nik Cox (19), Jordan Ridley (23), Zac Reid (19), Archie Perkins (19), Sam Draper (23), Brayden Ham (22), Jye Caldwell (21), Irving Mosquito (21), Harrison Jones (20), Ned Cahill (20) and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher (23).

At Collingwood, there is Tyler Brown (22), Isaac Quaynor (21), Josh Daicos (23), John Noble (24), Callum Brown (23), Trey Ruscoe (20), Finlay Macrae (19) and Beau McCreery (20).

It remains to be seen in coming years whether Essendon or Collingwood make the right choices with player recruitment in this era where clubs are subject to salary caps and player drafts.

With regard to the salary cap, this year limited to around $13 million, it appears that Essendon is much better placed in coming years due to the space created by Joe Daniher, Adam Saad and Orazio Fantasia leaving, while Collingwood remains relatively restricted despite the recent exit of Adam Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson and Tom Phillips.

However, it remains to be seen whether Essendon or Collingwood rebounds first to again be a major force, but at this stage I favour Essendon, assuming that many of their younger talented players do the required work to make their bodies stronger, as is needed give out the kind of mauling inflicted by Brisbane last week in the physical contests.

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It may well be that neither or both succeed in this tough AFL competition of 18 clubs having the very same goals.

Of course, I merely offer an opinion and look forward to comments from The Roar’s Essendon, Collingwood and AFL fans.

But, for this week’s Anzac Day match, I shout go Bombers!

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