COLLINGWOOD insists defender James Aish could still face Essendon on Anzac Day despite training very little on Tuesday as he recovers from concussion.
In the Magpies' big win over Brisbane at the Gabba on Thursday night, Aish copped a knee to the back of the head from Lions forward Lincoln McCarthy in a marking contest in the second quarter and sat out the second half.
The 23-year-old hit the training track with his teammates on Tuesday and only completed the warm-up before walking off the Olympic Park Oval, seemingly counting him out of the selection equation just two days from the blockbuster.
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However, Pies coach Nathan Buckley refused to rule out Aish, who has appeared in each of the club's past 12 games.
"He was on light duties today and we'll see. We just didn't want him in contact (drills) today so we'll see how he pulls up from the run he had and make the right decision this afternoon," Buckley told reporters after training.
Asked if Aish was still a chance, the Magpie coach replied: "Yep."
While spring-heeled forward Will Hoskin-Elliott will return from a knee problem in the VFL on Saturday, and will be joined by father-son draftee Will Kelly for his first game for the club after overcoming a long-term ankle injury, Buckley said the potential replacements for Aish would include stopper/defender Levi Greenwood, swingman Ben Reid, midfielder Rupert Wills and top draftee Isaac Quaynor.
Second-year backman Flynn Appleby would have been a strong candidate had he not injured an ankle in the VFL.
Buckley is wary of the challenge presented by an improved Essendon – which has joined Collingwood and an 11-club logjam on three wins – observing that the Bombers are "playing as exciting football as any (team) in the comp".
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"They're true to their brand at the moment – they're playing fast, attacking football, high-pressure footy, really strong around the ball, (Tom) Bellchambers is standing up and giving them first access often enough, and (they have) a really solid defence. (Cale) Hooker back in the side solidifies them," he said.
"We know they've got a lot of run and dash there but their pressure is underrated …
"They've got a lot of speed in their side but we believe we've got a fair bit of speed as well."
The most explosive Magpie, reigning club leading goalkicker Jordan De Goey, has been pivotal in recent weeks with his inside midfield work in second halves, while still kicking multiple goals, creating ongoing discussion about his optimum balance of forward and midfield time.
"It's going to change depending on the balance of our squad, depending on the balance of our players," Buckley explained.
"He's looking pretty good forward of the ball and he's doing a bit of damage for us when he goes inside, so at the moment it looks like we've got the balance right and Jordy looks like he's enjoying his football – he's up and about.
"If we need a bit of grunt inside we know we've got him there to go to, (and) if we need a bit of firepower up forward we know he can help us there. It's a good problem to have."
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Another speedy Pies forward, second-year sensation Jaidyn Stephenson, returned to his best against the Lions after reprising his 2018 role as a deeper forward. Buckley said the Pies were still searching for the best forward structure to exploit the talents of Stephenson, De Goey and Jamie Elliott, each of whom are comfortable playing one-out in the goalsquare.
"That forward mix has continued to shift and evolve, and we're looking for what that best mix is. 'Stevo', we know he does a lot of damage in the front half but we need to continue to develop him as a footballer and not leave him be one-dimensional. We want to give him time up the field and he has had (that) – the same for Jordy and for Billy (Elliott)," he said.
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The 2018 Grand Finalists are fresh from producing perhaps their best four-quarter performance of the season in their 62-point win in Brisbane, but Buckley wants to see more consistency as they adapt to the challenge of being a hunted opponent.
Veteran midfielder Daniel Wells has enjoyed two solid outings in the VFL but wasn't on the track on Tuesday, with Buckley saying he was on light duties with his VFL teammates after Saturday's game.
Meanwhile, young onballer Brayden Sier has sustained a torn foot tendon and will miss another VFL game.
"We don't think it's a major thing but it just adds to a few little hiccups that he's had over the last couple of months," Buckley said.