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by Kim Densham for AFANA in Melbourne

Dawn’s early light emerged slowly through the cold damp mist which hung low and heavy over Melbourne, in a somber tribute to that April morning in 1915 when the ANZACS landed on the desolate shores of Gallipoli. The haunting refrain of the "Last Post" echoed through every Australian suburb, as the morning ceremonies were conducted to honor and remember the fallen.

The cool breeze caressed the fans in the outer and as the mist burned off, the MCG basked in brilliant autumn sunshine but the air somehow held its chill. The expected crowd of 90,000 filed into the stadium, their team colors paraded in a sea of red, black and white, a curious sense of togetherness veiled the “us and them” rivalry of the upcoming match. Pre-game formalities included the parade of surviving war veterans and armed force personnel who fought in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the Gulf.

Both teams assembled in front of a joint banner and in a final act of camaraderie the two captains shook hands and led their charges through the banner. Standing face to face waiting for the formalities to conclude and the battle of another kind to begin.Representatives from each arm of the Defense Force slow marched in guard of honor formation as the half-mast flag flapped laconically in the breeze. The poem of remembrance was read. The minute’s silence was followed by the Last Post and the crowd's roar of anticipation.

Collingwood Captain Nick Maxwell won the toss and chose to kick to the Punt Road end. The Magpies won the first hit out from the ruck and the momentum built, slowly at first and then more rapidly in favor of the Pies. The first quarter was full of Magpie run and carry, the Bombers seemed overawed by the occasion. Essendon’s typical defensive press and quick movement forward had evaporated like the morning mist, leaving in its place ineptitude, indecision and inaccuracy. By contrast from the opening goal to the end of the quarter Collingwood attacked relentlessly and scored four goals to nil. The Bomber plan to use the big men of David Hille, Paddy Ryder and Michael Hurley had not yielded a single mark inside 50 for Essendon, who had scored just three points, the Magpies leading by 20 at the break.

Essendon started the second term more positively, whatever Coach James Hird said during the quarter time break worked. The run through the center was back and the Dons midfield engine fired somewhat, scoring three goals from eleven inside 50 forays, and adding five more behinds. The Pies just maintained pace and added three more majors for the quarter. An Essendon forward press by Dyson Heppell, Stewart Crameri and Jake Melksham stopped the Magpie run out of defense and fed the attack of Michael Hurley. Collingwood’s defender and Captain Maxwell was well held in the contest and Bombers Kyle Hardingham and Dustin Fletcher were on task. However in a display of effortless nonchalance the Magpie midfield changed gears and lifted the intensity another notch. Luke Ball was ferocious and Dale Thomas tripped the light fantastic on both wings with ball skills, flair and pace. Commanding the central zone was Scott Pendlebury, his languid running style providing run through the midfield with Dane Swan providing superb service for the likes of Chris Dawes, Dane Beams, Travis Cloke and Alan Didak.  Leon Davis was back in this week's team and started in defense. He slowly worked his way forward during the game and was in stellar form. Collingwood led the marks 39 to 31, otherwise the teams were fairly even going into the half time break, except on the scoreboard where it was Collingwood by 19 points.

In the third quarter a different Essendon team took the field, and scored immediately. The  pressure from Heppell, Cale Hooker and Ben Howlett had improved in the midfield. The youngsters in Leroy Jetta and Melksham stood their ground, going in hard, head over the ball and providing defensive tackling. Suddenly the Pies looked vulnerable and under pressure. As the scores edged closer, they fumbled more, missing passes and goals. Essendon came to within a kick but weren’t able to capitalize. By midway through the third quarter Mick Malthouse was coaching from the bench and talking directly to the players as they came off the ground. Collingwood led by 14 points at the change.

The final term was played in two halves, the first 12 minutes was a Bomber blitz. Essendon kicked two quick goals and then the teams traded blows as the margin narrowed to two points. Alan Toovey was relentless in Collingwood’s backline, uncompromising and focused. In one clash he went off the field with a bloody nose. During his time on the bench, the Dons mounted several attacks and again got to within two points. Toovey returned and, with his face strapped to stop the nose bleed,  stemmed the tide, forced a turnover and mounted the counter attack. This effort was the straw that broke the back of the Bombers attack. In the final half of the quarter, Didak scored from an impossible angle, Dawes added to the tally and when Travis Cloke took two big grabs and added two goals in as many minutes the score line was out to 30 points the Pies were home and hosed. In the end Collingwood had 48 more kicks, 38 more marks, fewer errors and more accurate goal kicking.

Scott Pendlebury was judged best on ground and added a second Anzac Day medal to the one he received in 2010. The final score belied the closeness of the action though in the end it just proved that Collingwood are still the team to beat.

For pictures of the Anzac Day game go to:

Collingwood  16.11 (107)

Essendon     11.11  (77)

Article last changed on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - 8:46 AM EDT

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