Essendon last week turned in its most complete performance of the season, a grinding, defensive-minded effort against Port Adelaide. On Sunday at the MCG, the Bombers upped the ante.
The 64-point demolition of Collingwood has major ramifications for both sides - the Dons not only climbing into the top eight for the first time since round four, but up to seventh spot, leapfrogging on percentage the Pies, who are now in serious danger of missing finals action for the first time since 2005.
After what appears a badly needed break, the Magpies will play both South Australian sides, then West Coast in Perth in their next three games, assignments that will almost certainly determine their fate.
Essendon, meanwhile, after coughing and spluttering through much of the season, is suddenly well placed indeed. The Bombers’ clash with Sydney in three weeks is the only one of their final six games against a team currently in the eight.
Coach Mark Thompson’s faith that form good enough for finals would be found the longer the season ran appears not to have been misplaced. And Sunday's effort came without three of the Dons’ biggest keys in Jobe Watson, Brendon Goddard and Michael Hibberd.
What has sparked Essendon into life? For starters, a monster performance from Jake Carlisle in attack, while excellent games from Patrick Ambrose and Paul Chapman certainly gave the forward set-up a different complexion and offered badly needed assistance to Joe Daniher.
Dyson Heppell and Brent Stanton stood up again in the midfield, supported by David Myers and runners such as Zach Merrett. And without huge fanfare, Paddy Ryder has put together a good season in the ruck, the sort of consistency for which Essendon has been waiting for years.
Hibberd’s injury, perversely, has in the past two weeks also paid dividends in the shift of Jason Winderlich to half-back, where his football smarts and cool head have been invaluable. It is more evidence that the odd positional tweak and the return to form of just a couple of players can make an enormous difference to a team’s performance.
Essendon’s task now is to win the games its new-found form dictates it should, starting with the Bulldogs. And that in recent seasons has proved a major issue. But belief is a wonderful thing. The Bombers have theirs back. And the race for the bottom of the eight has taken another wicked turn as a result.
Rohan Connolly, a senior football writer for The Age and radio broadcaster with sports radio station 1116 SEN, has been covering the game since 1983. A multi-AFL Media Association award-winner known for his passion and love of the game, he analyses the AFL for the newspaper and contributes a blog and weekly video, "Footy Fix", for The Age's football website, Real Footy.
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