YOU only had to glance at The Age's tipping panel on Friday morning or the betting markets to get an idea what people expected to happen in yesterday's MCG Carlton-Essendon clash. In the paper, 23 out of 24 tipsters had backed the Blues, the only exception the satirical ''Village Idiot''. At TAB Sportsbet, meanwhile, you could get a lucrative $8 on the Bombers.
But not for the first time in this clash of traditional rivals, logic and form ended up counting for little. It was Essendon, which even though unbeaten had failed to seriously impress this season, that instead ended up doing a number on Carlton.
The Blues had shot to flag favouritism after dismissing Collingwood last week. But they looked flat from the outset yesterday, struggled to cope with the loss of midfielder Andrew Carrazzo, who damaged his shoulder six minutes into the match, and gradually succumbed under the weight of Essendon scoring opportunities.
For the Bombers it was a particularly sweet victory, having been drummed out of last year's finals by the Blues, and struggling to keep a competitive 22 on the field with at least half-a-dozen players missing with soft-tissue injuries.
Carlton suddenly has a fair challenge on its hands next Friday night against Fremantle in Perth. But so does Essendon, which must back up for the big Anzac Day blockbuster against Collingwood on Wednesday with only three days to prepare, and almost certainly without key forward Michael Hurley, who left the ground with hamstring soreness just before half-time and was subbed out of the game eight minutes into the third quarter.
Indeed, the eagerly awaited annual clash between the Magpies and Bombers could be missing several key players, with Collingwood also feeling the injury toll, the latest casualties Dale Thomas and Heath Shaw, neither of whom lined up against Port Adelaide and who won't be fronting up to the MCG in just over 72 hours.
It is the sort of quick turnaround not seen since the days in the 1970s and '80s when league footballers would play on Saturday before fronting up again for the old night series at Waverley on a Tuesday night. In a game these days far more taxing on body and mind, it's a far bigger ask. That said, Wednesday is also a blockbuster which now at least will boast two teams with confidence on the rise, the Magpies back on the winners' list, and Essendon basking in the glow of beating an old foe.