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Tigers dream of Bombers' crash landing

Rohan Connolly previews some mouth-watering match ups with Richmond against Essendon, and 2011 grand finallists Colllingwood and Geelong.

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''We can't make up for anything that's happened in the past. That doesn't get you anywhere.''

Nathan Buckley, Pies coach

EIGHT months ago on the biggest stage the game offers, two young men hit flashpoints.

The battle between Magpie Ben Reid and Geelong's Tom Hawkins will be a key one tonight.

The battle between Magpie Ben Reid and Geelong's Tom Hawkins will be a key one tonight. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

One stepped up and made his name. Even if he stopped playing tomorrow, the sight of Geelong's monolith Tom Hawkins rag-dolling Collingwood defenders is etched in the annals.

The other's contorted face would become one of the images of the grand final. Ben Reid had seen the other side of the coin the year before, when he played superbly in a famous grand final. He'd been involved in the last flurry of activity in the St Kilda goal mouth in the drawn grand final, the moments that saved Collingwood's bacon. He'd broken a leg and won a premiership medal, the stuff of legend. But in 2011 he was carrying a groin injury and unable to hold back the tumult of Hawkins. It presents a powerful contrast.

Tonight they meet again as two of the best key-position players in Australian football. As the modern game demands, they might move around a little, separate for a while. Geelong also has James Podsiadly for Collingwood to mind; the Magpies have a newer option, Lachlan Keeffe, to consider as well.

But with Chris Tarrant in the VFL and Nathan Brown injured again, Collingwood's options are slightly more limited. Coach Nathan Buckley was not hiding the fact yesterday that Ben Reid, the All-Australian centre half-back, was the obvious candidate to take Hawkins, one of the best centre half-forwards in the country.

It is but one of the sub-plots of the so-called grand final rematch at the MCG.

Collingwood's veteran director of football, Geoff Walsh, has a saying about footy that has been mentioned around the club this week: ''The rear-view mirror is smaller than the windscreen,'' he says, and it is symbolic of the way clubs think.

The last thing Buckley wants is his players looking back to the grand final; nor does he want Reid dwelling on what was one failure in an excellent - albeit short - career. Buckley was adamant yesterday that he was not drawing on the experience of last September.

''We're just entirely focused on what we face now, that's the Geelong Football Club of 2012 and what they've been able to do in the last four weeks in particular,'' he said.

Buckley is also smart enough to know that Reid will never forget that day. What he wants is for him to move on quickly. ''Any competitor wants to right a wrong,'' he told The Age. ''Every individual would know his record on certain players. Reidy's going to find himself on Podsiadly at times and Hawkins at times. We've got quite a malleable back six; Nick Maxwell, Heath Shaw can play on talls, Alan Toovey at a pinch. But ultimately Reidy's going to be on one of those two blokes for the majority of the match.

''The easy connection is to go back to that [grand final] match. But in round eight [last year], he [Reid] had a very good performance against Hawkins, and he spent some time against Podsiadly in round 24, which didn't go really well for us.''

Reid's 2012 form has not been up to 2011 standards, largely because he broke down with a thigh injury in round three and missed a fortnight. When he returned in round six, Buckley used him as a forward, reprising his early days as a Collingwood player. Last weekend against the Brisbane Lions, he went back to defence.

''He's damaging for us off the back,'' said Buckley. ''He wins his one-on-ones and uses the ball long, and clearly we're better when he can find time and space to find those targets through the midfield.''

As for Hawkins, the projections have largely come true. Having taken what seemed an eternity to become anything resembling the barnstorming tall forward he promised to be at 18, the son of ''Jumping'' Jack Hawkins has his curve pointing upward.

His six-goal haul at the Gabba, submerged in round five, was one of the individual performances of the year; he has played four games in which he has kicked at least three goals and he is also kicking straight. It was a quirk of his groundbreaking performance on Reid in the grand final that he had a meltdown in front of goals (''You kick it, Stevie,'' he uttered to Steve Johnson moments before handing the Sherrin off to him for one of the pivotal goals of the match).

He represents a potential problem for Collingwood tonight, and for Reid. Buckley says his defender needs to confront the here-and-now. ''If you haven't moved on from it now, you're in strife. If you can't handle the fact that people are going to put a spotlight on that now, because of the connection, then you've lost already. But Reidy's been fantastic. We rate him as a footballer. We've got every faith he can do whatever role we use him in.''