Can it really be less than a year since Brent Stanton was jeered by his club's supporters when subbed out of a game injured?

Can it really be less than a year since Brent Stanton was jeered by his club's supporters when subbed out of a game injured? Photo: Mal Fairclough

MUCH has been made over the past week about the strain on Essendon and Collingwood having to back up for a second game within five days.

But as big an ask of the Bombers and Magpies as Wednesday's Anzac Day clash will inevitably be, one player is arguably more entitled to tackling the task with confidence than any of the 44 involved.

Brent Stanton did it five years ago - in 2007 when Anzac Day last fell on a Wednesday - and did it well, earning a Brownlow Medal vote for a lead role in Essendon's Saturday win over St Kilda, then one of the Bombers' best against the Pies, with 30 disposals in a narrow loss.

That should give him plenty of confidence to tackle Pendlebury, Swan and co - but not as much as the place he now occupies in the roll-call of AFL midfield stars.

Can it really be less than a year since the now nine-year Bomber veteran was jeered by his club's supporters when subbed out of a game injured? It was only round seven of 2011 but now the perceptions of the often irritable red-and-black hordes could hardly be any more different.

And, really, they've been left with no choice.

Stanton's consistency since that ugly episode has been quite remarkable, shrugging off a slowish start to 2011 with a superb finish that saw him only narrowly pipped for the Bombers' best and fairest. And that form has spilled over into 2012, with Stanton brilliant again on Saturday against Carlton and now offering skipper Jobe Watson the sort of midfield support he's so frequently lacked over the past few years. The three consistent knocks on the Essendon running machine have been his decision-making, his disposal and his propensity to be tagged out of a contest.

He's worked his butt off to address all those areas and the results are obvious.

After four rounds, Stanton is not only one of the AFL's leading handful of kick winners but is among its most efficient users, long and direct into the forward 50 now a trademark of his game every bit as much as that career-long capacity to run, run and run some more.

It's made the consistent ball-winning ability he's always had even more damaging and opponents' work to shut down his impact that much harder.

Less obvious to the public eye has been the manner in which he has embraced a leadership role, not always a natural fit for one not as extroverted as many of his teammates.

Insiders at Essendon had shaken their heads for some time about the flak their midfield gun copped. They don't need to worry any more. And if it's Pies fans giving it to Stanton on Wednesday, that will be a good sign indeed.