The performance-depleting effect appears to have finally kicked in for Essendon.
After showing fierce AFL on-field resolve through six months of an anti-doping investigation, the cracks are showing just as they’re learning its findings.
The Bombers were belted 20.13 (133) to 7.12 (54) by a fired-up Collingwood at the MCG on Sunday, the same day they took possession of ASADA’s interim report into last year’s supplements saga.
The 79-point loss was their biggest of the season, surpassing last weekend’s 56-point whipping from top-placed Hawthorn.
Those defeats, which followed just three in the Bombers’ first 16 games, suggest the dam might have burst.
The AFL could yet eliminate Essendon from the upcoming finals series by stripping them of premiership points, depending on what’s in the ASADA report.
But, on current form, Essendon won’t last long regardless.
They conceded the first six goals, were never competitive and have slipped to fifth spot.
Collingwood, who climbed to sixth, a fraction of a percentage point above Richmond, have just about locked in a finals berth.
Essendon coach James Hird denied his players were starting to weaken under the enormous strain of the doping saga.
“Obviously there’ll be suggestions of that but we are very confident our boys are in a pretty good head space and they’ll keep playing good football,” Hird said.
Eighth-placed Port Adelaide greatly enhanced their chances, moving two wins clear of Carlton (ninth) with their thrilling 17.5 (107) to 15.13 (103) triumph over Adelaide at AAMI Stadium.
The Power came from 20 points down in time-on in the last term, young gun Chad Wingard clinching victory with his fifth goal 30 seconds from fulltime.
Sydney climbed to second spot, two premiership points behind Hawthorn, with a hard-fought 21.8 (134) to 15.9 (99) defeat of the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium.
Ex-Crow Kurt Tippett kicked six goals, his best return in Swans colours.
North Melbourne finally claimed the big scalp they’ve been threatening to all season, upsetting Geelong 15.6 (96) to 13.8 (86) on Friday night.
Richmond belted top-placed Hawthorn 16.11 (107) to 9.12 (66) at the MCG on Saturday, keeping the Hawks to their lowest score this season as the Tigers all but confirmed their first finals appearance in 12 years.
Greater Western Sydney posted their first win of the season, a 19.10 (124) to 12.15 (87) victory over hapless Melbourne.
West Coast’s Josh Kennedy kicked five goals to lead the AFL season tally by that number and help the Eagles down Gold Coast 20.10 (130) to 17.11 (113) on Saturday night.
Brisbane beat St Kilda 16.12 (108) to 11.11 (77) at the Gabba but lost captain Jonathan Brown to a foot injury which is likely to end his season and perhaps his career.
Fremantle beat Carlton 17.14 (116) to 12.8 (80) at Etihad Stadium replace the Bombers in the four and to badly dent the Blues’ finals aspirations.Posted on