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Bombers and Pies primed for biggest Anzac Day clash in years

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24th April, 2023

One of the biggest events on the footy calendar takes centre stage on Tuesday at the MCG as the Pies and the Bombers prepare to battle on Anzac Day in front of an expected sold-out crowd.

Incredibly, for the first time in 23 years, Collingwood and Essendon are consolidated in the top four, making this contest even more fascinating considering the great form the pair have displayed thus far. 

Along with Carlton, these two sides are the fiercest of rivals, and no love has been lost between them.

Essendon has only managed to win the past eight out of 26 head-to-head matches against the Pies since 2009, outlining a clear pattern of dominance that has seen Collingwood reach three Grand Finals, along with winning a flag in that time, while their Anzac Day opponents are yet even to win a finals game during that span.

Of course, the infamous drugs scandal surrounding the Bombers for the best part of a decade now has not helped salvage the competitiveness of this duel, as the club were forced to start from scratch and build their way back up with inexperience and manoeuvre their way out of the darkest time in the club’s 152-year history.

In and amongst the midst of all that darkness, perhaps, albeit early days, signs of light at the end of the tunnel for one of the most prestigious clubs in the game may well be on the cusp of emerging. 

Tuesday’s much-anticipated encounter has all the makings of producing the best Anzac Day clash since David Zaharakis’ heroics 15 years ago. In that season, Collingwood and Essendon finished fourth and eighth respectively, the last real time that both sides were competing with the best at a high level.


The pair couldn’t come into it in much better form, both earning 4-1 records to start the campaign and are beginning to assert themselves as genuine threats to the rest of the competition.

Before the season commenced, quite a few teams were clouded in uncertainty as to how they would perform and Collingwood and Essendon were understandably a part of that discussion.

Craig McRae did a phenomenal job with his players last year by installing in his group to apply pressure and play an expansive and fast brand of footy with intensity, providing the pathway for the Magpies’ new identity post-Nathan Buckley era.

A preliminary final appearance well and truly exceeded expectations, but the question was could they replicate or even better that form or would it just be a case of a one-season hit? So far, the signs have pointed to the former, to the point where they are now premiership favourites.

Nick Daicos consoles Jack Ginnivan

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

The opposite can be said for the Bombers, who have suffered an identity crisis for as long as supporters can remember. How many times has Essendon shown up in big games in the past but faltered when least expected? That lack of consistency ultimately comes down to a lack of identity.

Ben Rutten was viewed in the board’s eyes as the next man to coach the Dons back to their glory days by discovering an attractive brand of footy to catch up to the rest of the competition. Instead, poor planning and a poor sense of direction and communication led to the undoing of Rutten, with some arguing very harshly.


Criticism and anger soon followed as the board knew that they could not afford to get their next coaching appointment wrong as the pressure mounted significantly.

In came former North Melbourne coach Brad Scott, who was convinced he could see potential waiting to be flourished and tapped. Again, it’s important to stress that it’s early days, but there’s evidence to suggest that they’ve finally found a formula for an identity.

Similar to the model of the Pies, their main strengths so far have been applying defensive pressure and punishing the opposition from turnovers, from which they created 10 goals in the upset win over the Dees last week.

In recent years, Essendon has always demonstrated glimpses of brilliance when going forward, but they’ve been too easy to score against. That’s the area in which Scott has undoubtedly improved this team the most, getting players such as Jordan Ridley, Andrew McGrath, and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher to plug the holes inside their own 50 and as a result turn defence into attack.

What also sticks out in analysing this match-up is both midfields possessing the ability to control a game, with the likes of Nick Daicos and Darcy Parish failing to notch fewer than 30 disposals so far this season.

Darcy Parish

Darcy Parish (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The unfortunate suspensions of Taylor Adams and captain Zach Merrett along with injuries sustained to Mason Cox and Darcy Cameron will be a slight blow to the spectacle, but McRae and Scott’s men are not built on one sole individual, as the intensity and pressure begin and ends as a team unit, making this contest so intriguing from the outset. 


Last week we witnessed a resilient Collingwood outfit that managed to grit their teeth and edge over the line against the Saints despite the number of absentees, proving a testament to their character. In saying that, can Phillips and Draper cause havoc and exploit the Pies’ weakness in the ruck to obtain the upper hand in the clearances just as Oscar McInerney did for the Lions?

In the meantime, Collingwood and Essendon are back near the top together which is where they belong. Whether you’re a supporter of either or a neutral, you have to admit – it’s great for the AFL.

As a result, it sets up the prospect of one of the best Anzac Day matches in recent memory.

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