ESSENDON was challenged and challenged again on Sunday, but in another Anzac Day thriller, the Bombers delivered what was perhaps the strongest sign of progress under Ben Rutten yet.
Responding to both a nightmare start and a nerve-racking final-quarter push from Collingwood, the club produced its bravest and most courageous performance of the season in a memorable 24-point victory.
Inspired by the tireless work ethic of its budding group of youngsters, the dominance of its midfield brigade and a five-goal haul from Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, the Bombers eased to a 16.13 (109) to 13.7 (85) win in front of a raucous crowd.
Darcy Parish was at the heart of everything Essendon did, deservedly claiming the Anzac Day Medal for an indefatigable performance that yielded 42 disposals, nine clearances, two goals and nine score involvements.
But he had exceptional support from Zach Merrett (34 disposals, seven clearances) in the midfield and McDonald-Tipungwuti (10 disposals, five goals) up forward, as a well-rounded display was celebrated by the year's most satisfying victory.
Collingwood battled and, aside from a painful final 15 minutes, was constantly in the contest. But while Scott Pendlebury (30 disposals, five clearances) again stood tall, it becomes hard to overlook the ominous position the club now finds itself in.
MAGPIES v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats
With a horror 1-5 record, the Pies will find positives hard to come by. Having raced out of the blocks on Sunday, the manner and the speed in which the tables were turned was alarming.
Darcy Cameron snapped the game's first goal within 20 seconds. Barely 90 seconds had passed before Callum Brown made it two. Five minutes later, Beau McCreery had added a third and Essendon was hanging by a thread.
But after the dream start, reality struck for the Pies. A series of silly skill errors were capitalised upon by the Bombers, who stood defiant amid the early pressure and quickly had growing control over the contest.
Parish, Andrew McGrath and Merrett were prolific in the midfield and had their fingerprints stamped all over the contest, as Essendon claimed the lead by quarter-time and looked to press ahead after the main break.
But, to its credit, Collingwood stuck fat. With its backs to the wall for much of the third quarter, the Pies continued to rally. Cameron's third and McCreery's second slashed the margin to just five points at the final interval, as another Anzac Day thriller loomed.
When Brody Mihocek helped Collingwood reclaim the lead with a calm set-shot just a minute into the final quarter, the momentum seemed to be going one way. But, just as they had early in the contest, Essendon found strength in adversity.
McDonald-Tipungwuti snapped through his fifth, Jake Stringer and Peter Wright added two more, and Parish's stunning second put the icing on the cake for both he and the Bombers as just a second Anzac Day win in eight matches was settled.
Anzac Day Medal voting
9 – Darcy Parish, Essendon - 333
5 – Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Essendon - 221
3 – Zach Merrett, Essendon - 21
1 – Jack Crisp, Collingwood - 1
Jake Niall, The Age (Chair) – D Parish 3, A McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Z Merrett 1
Jobe Watson, Channel 7 – D Parish 3, Z Merrett 2, A McDonald-Tipungwuti 1
Justin Leppitsch, SEN – D Parish 3, A McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, J Crisp 1
The midfield star the Bombers were desperate for
Ben Rutten's decision to play Darcy Parish purely through the midfield has been fully vindicated. The diminutive onballer was simply sensational on Sunday, deservedly claiming the prestigious Anzac Medal for his bullish and relentless work out of the centre. Parish combined his prolific ball-winning abilities with polish, kicking two sensational goals to go with 42 disposals, nine clearances, six marks, two goal assists and nine score involvements. While you can question why he wasn't moved into the midfield sooner, the 23-year-old's development in his natural role this year will give the club plenty of reasons to be optimistic about its future.
Pies still weighing up best Moore fit
The debate around where Collingwood should best use versatile star Darcy Moore is bound to grow this week. After a three-goal display when trialled forward against West Coast, Moore was again pushed into attack to start Sunday's contest. But after finishing the first half with just four disposals, one mark and one goal, he went back into his customary position in the backline to start the second half. It was a strange move, given Essendon lacked height in the backline after Aaron Francis limped off injured, while Moore was unable to influence the game in his natural position as he would like. An All-Australian centre-half back last year, it's hard to think of where Moore will be lining up in round seven.
More boundary line chaos on Anzac Day
Jamie Elliott perfected the controversial Anzac Day goal when his beauty from just inside the boundary (or outside, depending on your perspective) sailed through in 2015. On Sunday, it was Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti's turn. He collected deep inside the pocket before snapping his third major for the afternoon midway through the second term. While it seemed a classy and legal goal, replays flashing on the MCG had Collingwood fans thinking otherwise. They vented their frustrations as they watched the ball flirt with the line. However, with no conclusive evidence to suggest the ball went over, you could hardly argue with the boundary umpire for allowing the memorable finish.
COLLINGWOOD 4.1 8.1 11.5 13.7 (85)
ESSENDON 4.4 8.7 11.10 16.13 (109)
Collingwood: Cameron 3, McCreery 3, C.Brown, Moore, Grundy, Hoskin-Elliott, Crisp, Ruscoe, Mihocek
Essendon: McDonald-Tipungwuti 5, Wright 2, Parish 2, Snelling 2, Phillips, Smith, Laverde, Redman, Stringer
Collingwood: Crisp, Cameron, Pendlebury, Grundy, Quaynor, Daicos
Essendon: Parish, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Merrett, Heppell, Wright, Laverde, McGrath
Essendon: Francis (ankle)
Collingwood: T.Brown (unused)
Essendon: Zaharakis (replaced Francis)
Crowd: 78,113 at the MCG