Mutally Assured Destruction seemed to be the theme of Friday night AFL at a packed MCG as Collingwood and Essendon tuned up for the finals with a tough match that was costly for both teams.
In the end the Pies won by 11 points in front of 84,405 fans giving themselves a chance of finishing in the top four if either West Coast or Richmond lose their games this round.
The first half saw some big injuries, with Collingwood’s Darcy Moore going down with a hamstring and Josh Thomas with a knee, while Essendon’s Michael Hurley sitting out the game after injuring his shoulder.
The Magpies also lost fellow defender Matt Scharenberg to concussion after a friendly-fire collision with Levi Greenwood in the opening term.
Essendon came out fighting in the first quarter with Cale Hooker having withdrawn from the team before the game. The Bombers were also without stars Dyson Heppell, Orazio Fantasia, Jake Stringer and David Zaharakis as they looked to shake off niggling injuries.
The Bombers led the PIes at quarter time, but the casualties started to mount.
Essendon defender Aaron Francis hury his leg in the second term, returning for the third term, but spent the final quarter on the bench.
Capping a busy night for the two teams’ medical staffs, Collingwood small forward Josh Thomas left the field late in the last quarter with a sore knee.
It was tight all night as Collingwood peppered the goals and the Essendon made occasionaly breaks through the middle, with Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti making the most of every opportunity up forward.
Trailing by only one point at the main break, the scores were level at three-quarter time.
The PIes kicked 2.5 in the last quarter, with small forward Jamie Elliott continued his return to form with three goals for the game and Brody Mihocek kicked four.
Elliott said it was a tough game and he was looking forward to the week’s rest befre the finals.
“I am absolutely rooted,” Elliott told Channel Seven. “Essendon play fast ball, they want to slingshot it and they tested our forwards. We chased them all day. We stuck through and they came out hot in the first quarter and we wrestled our way back.
“It was an arm wrestle all night. Good to get the win. It will take about two weeks to recover.”
Collingwood skipper Scott Pendlebury said it was a good hit out ahead of the finals.
I think the momentum was important, because it is good one we can pour the next, so to get four wins in a row, hopefully we can take that into the final.”
Essendon’s Zach Merrett acknowledged that the loss had an upside for the Bombers, given they had rested several players and still matched the Pies.
It was a weird game. Top three team so to take it up to them, with boys watching from the sidelines was pleasing,” Merrett told Channel Seven.
“It will be nice to get Dyson (Heppell) and a few others back. It will be good for the boys to freshen up and get ready to go.
The Bombers will have to wait for the results of other matches to know who they wil play in the first week of the finals.
“It’s a funny one, we have a bit riding on a couple of the games,” Merrett said. “It’s nice to know we are going into September again to put a show on for our fans.”