Collingwood defender Nathan Brown will play his first AFL match since the Magpies’ 2010 premiership win in today’s Anzac Day clash with Essendon.
Brown missed all of last season with two knee injuries, but has tuned up with three VFL games and coach Nathan Buckley declared him certain to make his AFL comeback against the Bombers at the MCG.
Half-forward Alan Didak is also being considered, having found fitness in the VFL after a pre-season adductor injury.
Originally from Ballarat Swans and North Ballarat Rebels, Brown was a star of Collingwood’s 2010 grand final win, playing a key role on St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt in both the initial drawn grand final and the replay.
Buckley said his return thrilled teammates.
“Browny personifies everything we love about the club,” the Magpies coach said yesterday. “He’s a hard worker, he’s disciplined, he’s selfless, he’s a great team man and his teammates are rapt to see him back on the MCG and he’s looking forward to it.”
Buckley said the Magpies had not rushed Brown’s return at all because they are missing other key defenders through injury, or because the club is coming off a four-day break.
“No, he’s ready to go. He couldn’t tick another box. We couldn’t create another box for him to tick. He’s flying,” Buckley said.
Willing spirits will more than compensate for tired bodies in today’s Anzac Day clash.
Buckley said despite both sides entering today’s match after just a four-day break, there would be no excuse for any late drop-off.
“You’re going to have to find something when you haven’t got it,” will be Buckley’s demand to his troops.
“Once you’re tired, you’re tired, it becomes a mental challenge,” he said yesterday.
“There’s not going to be any excuses for lack of performance or lack of workrate.
“It is what it is and our players are ready to go.”
Similarly, Bombers counterpart James Hird, a winner of three Anzac Medals as a player, said the combatants’ desire to excel in the blockbuster annual fixture would trump the fatigue factor.
“There’s no doubt it’s not going to be a normal game, in terms of a seven-day break,” Hird said.
“But you listen to both sets of players talk in the media over the past couple of days and they would have played the day after, they would have played on Sunday if they had to.
“It’s such an important game for both clubs and such a privilege to play in it.”
The Magpies have won five of the past six Anzac Day clashes, including turning a two-point lead early in the last term into a five-goal win last year. But they entered that round-five game unbeaten.
This time, it is the Bombers unbeaten and in superior form, coming off their upset win over Carlton, who thrashed Collingwood a week earlier.
“It was an exceptional performance and exceptional win for them, so we know that we’ve got some work to do,” Buckley said of the Bombers.
A win today would lift Essendon three games clear of the Magpies, with Buckley saying their respective standings was enough to give the game “massive significance”, only enhanced by the anticipated huge crowd and solemn occasion.
Collingwood forward Alan Didak has only been named among the emergencies, despite having returned successfully from a pre-season adductor injury through the VFL.
Small forward Kirk Ugle will make his senior debut.
The Bombers have lost key forward Michael Hurley, Hird confirming a hamstring strain will rule him out of both today’s match and their meeting with Brisbane 10 days later.
He was replaced by Jake Carlisle in the only change to the Bombers team that upset Carlton last weekend.
Buckley said the short break between games would not alter his selection policy, while Hird said he wanted to reward the players who performed so well against the Blues.
But the Essendon coach said lingering concerns over how a few players had recovered from Saturday’s Blues clash could lead to one or two late changes today from the selected 22.