IF COLLINGWOOD'S hard-fought 11-point victory over Essendon at the MCG on Friday night is an entree to the upcoming finals series, then bring on September.
The stakes were high for both sides and the blockbuster clash between traditional rivals didn't disappoint as the Magpies gave themselves an outside chance of a top-four finish with the 10.16 (76) to 10.5 (65) triumph in front of more than 85,000 fans.
They didn't have it all their own way though, as the injury-plagued Bombers - missing a host of key players and having to adjust to the loss of key defender Michael Hurley to a shoulder issue during the second term - took it right up to their more fancied opponent.
The Bombers led by 19 points at quarter-time and showed glimpses of their best football right up until the final break, before weight of numbers eventually told and the Brodie Grundy-led Magpies flexed their muscle to win a fourth match on the trot and jump up to third place on the ladder.
Grundy was a class above anyone else on the ground as the ruckman and Brownlow fancy tied his career-high disposals count with 33, while also contributing 35 hitouts in a tremendous individual performance matched up against Bombers' counterpart Tom Bellchambers.
PIES ON THE PRIZE Full match coverage and stats
Key midfielder Adam Treloar (35 touches) and skipper Scott Pendlebury (33) also won plenty of the ball for the Pies, while forward duo Brody Mihocek (four goals) and Jamie Elliott (three) showed some good signs ahead of the impending return of Jaidyn Stephenson for next month's finals series.
While the Magpies moved to third with the victory, they still need plenty to go right for them if they want to earn a double chance.
If West Coast defeats Hawthorn on Saturday and Richmond can beat Brisbane on Sunday then the Magpies will drop back to fifth place and another matchup against the Bombers in the first week of the finals is a huge possibility.
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The Dons currently sit in seventh place, but a Bulldogs' win over the Crows on Sunday will move John Worsfold's side down to eighth and leave them to face the fifth-placed finisher in a cut-throat final.
Just whether Hurley will be fit for that match in a fortnight remains to be seen after the veteran defender hurt his right shoulder during one of many hard-fought marking contests.
The good news for Hurley is that the shoulder he hurt wasn't the one he had surgery on last month, but Essendon won't want to lose his experience down back for the finals.
DON IN DOUBT Injury puts key defender's finals campaign in doubt
Hurley was actually one of the Bombers best until he was injured, with Conor McKenna (35 disposals), Andrew McGrath (28) and Zach Merrett (26) among his teammates able to pick up the slack until the closing stages of an enthralling contest.
While there are still plenty of permutations that may arise over the next couple of days that can change the composition of the top eight, one thing we can be assured of is a high standard of football during the finals if Friday night's match is anything to go by.
ONE MOORE TIME Pies to sweat on yet another hamstring injury
And if the marbles fall the way to make it Collingwood and Essendon at the MCG again in a fortnight, then another pulsating clash should again be on the cards.
Collingwood: Injury-plagued defender Matthew Scharenberg was felled by teammate Levi Greenwood in a marking contest midway through the opening term and failed to return to the field due to concussion. Returning key defender Darcy Moore left the match in the last quarter and had ice on his left hamstring in the rooms after the match.
Essendon: Experienced defender Michael Hurley hurt his shoulder during the second quarter and was a forlorn figure on the bench after half-time. Aaron Francis copped a knock on his ankle just before the main break, but returned to the field in the second half.
The Magpies will head into the finals in good form, but will have to wait until Sunday afternoon to see if they are lucky enough to finish with a double chance. The Bombers know they will finish in seventh or eighth and will have to wait until the Bulldogs clash with Adelaide on Sunday to learn their fate.
COLLINGWOOD 3.1 6.7 8.9 10.16 (76)
ESSENDON 6.2 7.2 9.3 10.5 (65)
Collingwood: Mihocek 4, Elliott 3, Thomas, Roughead, Adams
Essendon: Laverde 2, Ham 2, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, McKernan 2, Brown, Langford
Collingwood: Grundy, Mihocek, Elliott, Pendlebury, Roughead, Treloar, Mayne
Essendon: McDonald-Tipungwuti, McGrath, McKernan, Merrett, Parish
Fans' Best on Ground, in partnership with Google: Brodie Grundy
Collingwood: Scharenberg (concussion), Moore (hamstring)
Essendon: Hooker (illness) replaced in selected side by Hartley, Hurley (shoulder)
Umpires: Donlon, Hosking, Chamberlain
Official crowd: 85,405 at the MCG