Perhaps it is time for the AFL to simply re-name the Anzac Day Medal as the James Hird Medal after the Essendon skipper continued his incredible dominance of the biggest day on the home and away calendar on Sunday.

Hird inspired the Bombers to a 33 point win – 17.10 (112) to 11.13 (79) over Collingwood in the AFL’s annual battle at the MCG and by game’s end his 26 possession, nine mark effort had again been rewarded with the Anzac Day Medal for best afield.

Incredibly it was Hird’s third Anzac Day Medal since the award was first instituted just five years ago, to go with his inaugural win in 2000 and last year’s triumph when he capped his game with five goals.

While this time Hird only finished with three goals, it was another breathtaking performance from the Essendon champion, who continually won the all-important loose balls and on a day when both sides made comical errors at times – he hardly wasted a possession.

Hird’s dominant performance inspired the Bombers to their third successive win of the season, since losing to Port Adelaide and St Kilda in the first two rounds, as Kevin Sheedy’s side begin laying the foundations for yet another September assault.

But for Collingwood – which battled valiantly in the second and third quarters on Sunday despite again being without their two best players in Nathan Buckley and Chris Tarrant – this defeat could well spell the beginning of the end of their period as premiership contenders.

The Magpies, runners-up in the past two grand finals after a period of eight years in the wilderness, are already facing an uphill battle to remain in touch with the leading teams in 2004.

The Pies now have just one win from five matches and have to face Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium, the improving Carlton and unbeaten St Kilda in the next three rounds with Mick Malthouse’s team in danger of being out of finals contention by the end of May.

Despite their brave effort in the middle quarters, the Magpies – who were magnificently served all day by their own previous Anzac Day Medalist in 2002 hero Mark McGough - had no answer to Hird’s dominance.

And as is the mark of champion players, Hird had his biggest impact when the game was at its tightest.

The Bombers, who have now won five Anzac Day clashes to Collingwood’s four, looked set for a huge win when they dominated the opening quarter with five goals to one.

But as the rain began to fall early in the second term, the Bombers began overusing the ball as the Pies kicked the first five goals of the quarter to briefly snatch the lead.

However a Hird mark and classy banana goal two minutes later regained the lead for the Bombers and they would not relinquish it again.

And then in the third term Hird produced a great snap over his shoulder to steady the Bombers after the Pies had closed to within five points while he goaled again at the 29 minute mark to give his side a handy buffer going into the final term.

"He’s just a marvelous player," said a delighted Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy of Hird after the match. "He's a strong willed person who does not want to let himself, or his family down in the way he has carried himself throughout his career.

However while Hird dominated it was not a one-man show for the Bombers with Scott Lucas kicking four goals, Matthew Lloyd chipping in with three and Ted Richards two in the second half.

Adam McPhee again stamped himself as one of the most improved players in the AFL with another classy performance, capping off a fine game with a great running goal in the final quarter, while Damien Peverill and David Hille were also fine performers for the Bombers.

The Magpies were best served by McGough, who played almost as well as he did in this game in 2002, and based on his 29 possession effort it seems inconceivable the prolific ball-winning teenager could only manage eight senior appearances last year.

And while Collingwood fans headed home downcast, they at least left the 2004 Anzac Day clash with one fantastic memory thanks to goalsneak Alan Didak.

Didak’s incredible mark over Andrew Welsh late in the third term – when he was virtually spread-eagled across the Essendon defender’s shoulders – was one of the marks of the year but the undermanned Magpies just could not maintain their momentum in the final quarter.

Collingwood coach Michael Malthouse said he thought ‘there was a couple of good signs’ despite the defeat.

“We know there’s a lot of room for improvement, but we think – and we’re not cutting our wrists – we can still see there’s light and we’ll just keep working towards it – all the positives,” Malthouse said.

“If you focus too heavily on the negatives, you end up being a negative club that players haven’t got any confidence at all in one another and in our case, I think it was a stepping stone.

“It was a very good opponent. Essendon, (was) touted by you blokes as one of the finalists, so if that’s the case, we’re five and a half goals off them and that’s what we’ve got to improve between now and the next time we play them on this ground.”

COLLINGWOOD: 1.2, 6.5, 10.9, 11.13 (79)
ESSENDON: 5.3, 8.6, 13.7, 17.10 (112)
Goals: Collingwood: Didak 3, Rocca 2, McGough 2,Woewodin, Burns, Fraser, Lokan
Essendon: Lucas 4, Hird 3, Lloyd 3, Richards 2, Hille, Bolton, Stanton, Lovett-Murray, McPhee
Best: Collingwood: McGough, Didak, Woewodin, Burns, Rocca
Essendon: Hird, McPhee, Rioli, Lucas, Peverill, Hille.
Injuries: Nil
Umpires: Vozzo, James, Rowe
Crowd: 57,294 at MCG