IN-FORM Essendon will enter the finals on a three-match winning streak and full of confidence following a 38-point victory over arch-rival Collingwood at the MCG on Sunday afternoon.
St Kilda's win over Fremantle earlier on Sunday meant the Bombers' cut-throat finals fixture against the Western Bulldogs was already confirmed, but they ensured they will enter the knockout clash on a high courtesy of the 16.6 (102) to 9.10 (64) triumph.
A six-goal-to-one second quarter allowed Essendon to set up a 34-point advantage at half-time and the second half was a mere formality as Ben Rutten's side cruised to their 11th victory of the season and cemented eighth place on the ladder.
BOMBERS v MAGPIES Full match coverage and stats
Born-again big man Peter Wright booted four goals to continue his recent rich vein of form, while former Eagle Alec Waterman bobbed up with a career high four goals of his own.
With Brownlow Medal fancy Darcy Parish quiet by his lofty standards and held to just 21 disposals by Collingwood youngster Jay Rantall, it was left to Zach Merrett (27 touches), Tom Cutler (24), Jake Stringer (24) and Devon Smith (23) to fill the void.
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Smith's best game of the season was complemented by two classy goals and 10 score involvements and his welcome return to form at the right time of the season is a timely boost for the Bombers on the eve of the finals.
The Pies tried hard throughout and even looked the better side at times, but were ultimately outclassed by their more experienced opponents as they slumped to a 16th loss for the season.
Midfield duo Taylor Adams (31 disposals and 10 clearances) and Jordan De Goey (23 touches) won plenty of the ball, while goal-sneak Jamie Elliott played a lone hand up forward with four goals.
Could the streak end next week?
It's been 17 years or 6,196 days since Essendon most recently won a final, but the Bombers get a great chance to put an end to years of misery when they face the Bulldogs in a cut-throat elimination final next week. And on current form you would have to give the Dons a great chance of victory, with Ben Rutten's men having disposed of the Dogs in style at Marvel Stadium just a fortnight ago. Essendon has stumbled badly on the big stage in recent times, but the 2021-version of the Bombers look made of sterner stuff and should not be underestimated.
Pies can rebound quickly
The last 12 months haven't been great for the Magpie Army, but there are enough positive signs coming out of the Holden Centre to think a rapid rise up the ladder won't be too far away. The nucleus of Brodie Grundy, Taylor Adams, Darcy Moore, Jordan De Goey and Jack Crisp are still in their prime, while teenagers Jack Ginnivan, Jay Rantall, Oliver Henry and Finlay Macrae have shown enough this season to prove they will be around for some time. Throw another talented Daicos into the mix and Nathan Buckley's successor has plenty to work with in 2022 and beyond.
Jake no Dusty, but 'The Package' is delivering
While Jake Stringer has got a long way to go to be able to match Dustin Martin's career heroics, the Essendon veteran is starting to put together a nice little resume of his own. Stringer was once again among the Bombers' best on Sunday, with the 27-year-old's game of 24 disposals, two goals and six clearances a stat sheet that Dusty would be proud of.
ESSENDON 5.2 11.2 13.5 16.6 (102)
COLLINGWOOD 4.2 5.4 7.8 9.10 (64)
Essendon: Wright 4, Waterman 4, Stringer 2, Smith 2, Redman 2, Perkins, Snelling
Collingwood: Elliott 4, Cameron, Daicos, De Goey, Thomas, Hoskin-Elliott
Essendon: Smith, Stringer, Wright, Redman, Merrett, Cutler
Collingwood: Adams, Elliott, De Goey, Howe, Crisp, Daicos
Collingwood: Henry (shoulder)
Essendon: Cox (unused)
Collingwood: McCreery (replaced Henry)