ESSENDON has snapped a three-game Anzac Day losing streak to defeat Collingwood by 18 points, returning to form after a tough fortnight with an impressive performance at the MCG.
Both teams enjoyed dominant patches in the first three quarters of Tuesday's game, which was largely played in dry conditions after an extremely wet Melbourne morning.
After taking a nine-point lead into the final term, the Bombers effectively killed the contest when they kicked three unanswered goals in the opening nine minutes to take a 26-point lead.
From there the Dons were never seriously challenged as they ran out the game strongly to record a stirring 15.10 (100) to 11.16 (82) victory.
Joe Daniher was outstanding for Essendon, both in attack and especially when he regularly roamed up the ground, and was a popular winner of the Anzac Day Medal as best afield.
Daniher kicked 3.4 from 16 possessions, and also had three goal assists, eight marks (including four inside 50) and a team-high six inside 50s.
The Bombers' win break the club's two-game losing streak, improving their record to 3-2 after five rounds.
The crowd of 87,685 people helped post the second-highest attended round in VFL/AFL history, with 391,980 fans watching the nine games, just short of the 400,401 record set in round one this season.
Zach Merrett (33 possessions and six clearances), Dyson Heppell (26 and seven) and Darcy Parish (25 and five) ensured the Bombers' midfield took the points over their highly vaunted Magpie counterparts, but they were ably supported by veterans Jobe Watson (28 possessions) and Brendon Goddard (a team-high nine clearances).
Orazio Fantasia (four goals) and Josh Green (three) were lively in attack, while the defensive pressure of fellow small forward Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (seven tackles) had the Magpies' defenders nervously looking over their shoulders all day.
Essendon coach John Worsfold was pleased with his team's performance but stressed there were still "massive areas for improvement".
"(It was) frustrating at times when you think you're out going forward and someone tries to bounce the ball and it doesn't quite come back up to them and the next thing it's back inside their forward line," Worsfold said.
"We're still coughing up too many opportunities to get the ball forward in our front half or in our (forward) 50 and it's going back inside their (forward) 50.
"(It's) still a big area for improvement for us and we understand that and we've already addressed that as a group.
"Where we're defending really well in our back 50 (and) we're scoring really well when we get it forward, (it's) just that transition of not getting pinned in our back 50 for those extended periods each quarter."
Collingwood's loss continued its disappointing start to the season. With just one win after five rounds, the Magpies sit 13th on the ladder and now face a tough assignment to make the finals for the first time since 2012.
Adam Treloar (a game-high 39 possessions) worked tirelessly for the Pies, Jeremy Howe (30 possessions and two contested marks, including a trademark speccy in the final term) gave plenty of rebound across half-back, while Daniel Wells (24 possessions and two goals) recovered from a slow start to make a classy club debut.
But Jamie Elliott (three goals) largely played a lone hand in Collingwood's forward 50 as spearhead Darcy Moore was well held.
Pies coach Nathan Buckley said his team's failure to adapt to the conditions at the start of the game had proved costly, and also lamented his leaders' lack of influence.
"We overused the ball early, knowing the conditions were going to be slippery, we just got handball happy. I think we were one (handball) for one (kick) and we just did not take opportunities and gave them opportunities early," Buckley said.
"And the margin at quarter-time was the margin at the end of the game, so that is significant.
"We weren't able to hold sway through the middle of the field as we normally do. We rely really heavily on our leaders – 'Pendles' (captain Scott Pendlebury), Tay Adams and Steele (Sidebottom) – and they were relatively quiet today.
"When we came out of the shed at half-time (and) that five or 10 minutes at the start of the last quarter, we will have a real close look at that because we just didn't bring the energy that we needed to having righted the ship in the second quarter."
The omens weren't good for Collingwood at the start of the game, with the Dons' opening goal coming after Henry Schade somehow allowed Daniher to get well free 30m from goal, allowing McDonald-Tipungwuti to hit him with a relatively easy short pass.
Aaron Francis, playing his first game of the season, kicked another goal for the Bombers four minutes later before Elliott opened the Pies' account shortly after to cut the Dons' lead to six points.
With Heppell, Parish and Merrett giving Essendon the ascendancy in the midfield – the Dons led the clearance count in the first term 12-7 – Essendon added another two majors through Cale Hooker and Fantasia to stretch its lead to 19 points at the first break.
The Magpies worked their way back into the game in the second term, with Treloar (13 disposals for the quarter), Sidebottom (12) and Wells (nine) prolific through the midfield.
The teams kicked two goals apiece over the quarter's opening 20 minutes before an opportunistic Alex Fasolo soccer goal, which was confirmed after a score review, kickstarted a dominant Pies run that saw them record the next six scores.
Unfortunately for coach Nathan Buckley and his men, the first five shots registered behinds, with Treloar finally splitting the big sticks with a drawing snap that cut Collingwood's deficit to three points.
And that was the margin at the main break after Fantasia put a set shot out on the full as the half-time siren sounded.
Essendon: Jobe Watson left the ground early in the game under the blood rule after suffering a cut to the head, but returned soon after and played out the game.
Collingwood: Brodie Grundy copped a knock to the calf in the first quarter and did not appear to move freely for about 15 minutes afterwards. However, the ruckman seemed to regain his usual mobility after that and finished the game strongly. The club suspected Tim Broomhead was clear of a jaw break but would know for certain whether there was any damage in the next 48 hours.
Both teams face a five-day break ahead of round six, with the Bombers hosting Melbourne at Etihad Stadium in Sunday's early game and the Magpies meeting the unbeaten Cats at the MCG later that day. Essendon and the Demons have not played at Etihad since round 12, 2009, with the Bombers winning three of the teams' four games at the Docklands venue. Collingwood has won five of its seven clashes with Geelong since the 2011 Grand Final, all of them at the MCG.
ESSENDON 4.3 6.6 11.9 15.10 (100)
COLLINGWOOD 1.2 5.9 9.12 11.16 (82)
Essendon: Fantasia 4, Green 3, Daniher 3, Hooker 3, Francis, Heppell
Collingwood: Elliott 3, Moore 2, Wells 2, Sidebottom, Fasolo, Treloar, Crisp
Essendon: Daniher, Merrett, Parish, Hurley, Watson, Fantasia, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Kelly
Collingwood: Howe, Wells, Treloar, Sidebottom, Elliott
Essendon: Jobe Watson (cut head)
Collingwood: Tim Broomhead (jaw), Brodie Grundy (corked calf)
Umpires: Margetts, Nicholls, Kamolins
Official crowd: 87,685 at the MCG
ANZAC DAY MEDAL VOTING
8 Joe Daniher, Essendon
5 Michael Hurley, Essendon
2 Zach Merrett, Essendon
1 Dyson Heppell, Essendon
1 Orazio Fantasia, Essendon
1 Adam Treloar, Collingwood
Brad Sewell, ABC, chairman
Mark Robinson, Herald Sun
Jake Niall, Fox Sports
The packed MCG pauses to reflect during the Last Post. Picture: AFL Photos