Take a look at our comprehensive preview of Essendon's Powercor Country Festival clash with Geelong on Sunday.
GEELONG v ESSENDON
Sunday, September 6
Live on Channel 7
Games played - 218
Won – 115
Lost – 98
Drawn - 5
1. Burgeoning tradition continues
Essendon and Geelong will unite for the fifth annual Powercor Country Festival clash on Sunday. Aimed at supporting and celebrating regional communities, the festival will look different but have added significance given Victoria's recent bushfire crisis and the effects of COVID-19 on regional producers. You can show your support by shopping at the Virtual Farmers' Market, which includes an amazing variety of Victoria’s finest-sourced local produce that can be delivered straight to your door.
2. Contrasting fortunes at the Gabba
Both sides will take to the Gabba for the third time this season. Essendon fell short against St Kilda and West Coast in its two games there, while Geelong easily accounted for North Melbourne and St Kilda. It's proven to be a happy hunting ground for the Cats, whose one-point loss to the Lions last season has been their only blemish in their last six games at the venue.
3. Cats craving control
The Cats are the masters at denying their opponents possession. Ranked first for the time in possession differential, they strive for control and know how to keep it when they get it. The Bombers faced a similar challenge last week against the possession-based West Coast, but outnumbered the Eagles for disposals (325-283) and inside 50s (42-31) in encouraging signs.
4. Cats' drastic change
Known for their slow, controlled ball movement in recent seasons, there's been an urgency about Geelong's game style in 2020. Ranked last for mark play-on percentage (18 per cent) in their defensive 50 last season, the Cats have made quick ball movement out of defence a focus this season, and have caught their opponents off-guard as a result. The Bombers will need to dial up the pressure in their forward half to deny Geelong its switches and opportunities to play on.
5. Bombers in search of aerial dominance
Essendon (18th) and Geelong (17th) sit in the bottom two for contested marks per game, but we've seen the Cats add aerial supremacy to their arsenal recently. They've averaged 12 contested marks in their past four games, ranked third in the competition during that period. The Bombers will be without aerial threat Joe Daniher (five contested marks in two games), and were comprehensively beaten 17-5 in contested marks against the Eagles last week.
LAST TIME WE MET
Round seven, 2019: Geelong 13.8 (86) defeated Essendon 7.12 (54) at the MCG
It's been 489 days since Essendon last faced Geelong, with the Cats proving too strong in last year's Powercor Country Festival clash.
Restricted to just 54 points, the Bombers had a tough time cracking the Cats' miserly defence on a flat afternoon at the MCG.
Despite Essendon having three inside 50s, it could only manage eight marks inside 50s to Geelong's 17, with Cats defender Tom Stewart (nine intercepts) a constant nuisance.
Jake Stringer made the most of his opportunities, booting three of the Bombers' seven goals.
Country boys Zach Merrett (29 disposals) and Darcy Parish (25) stepped up for the occasion as the Bombers got on top in the clearances (38-32).
Round 13: Defeated Adelaide 9.11 (65) to 5.7 (37) at Adelaide Oval
Round 14: Defeated Western Bulldogs 10.12 (72) to 9.7 (61) at Metricon Stadium
Round 15: Bye
Launching into the top four on the back of six wins from their past seven games, the Cats are a clear force this season.
They haven't had it easy recently, however, struggling to put themselves out of reach of the then-winless Crows in round 13.
They were stunned early against the Dogs last week, trailing by 36 points at quarter-time before clawing their way back to victory.
A round 15 bye means a freshened-up Geelong enters Sunday's clash off a nine-day break.
Round 13: Lost to Richmond 10.1 (61) to 10.13 (73) at TIO Stadium
Round 14: Defeated Hawthorn 13.9 (87) to 10.11 (71) at Adelaide Oval
Round 15: Lost to West Coast 6.9 (45) to 9.6 (60) at the Gabba
Despite having just one win to show, the Bombers have shown clear improvement in their past three games.
They kept challenging against a high-flying Richmond in Darwin, completely outplayed Hawthorn in a scintillating second half and were within 10 points of premiership fancy West Coast in the dying stages.
Inefficiency inside 50 has been a problem, with All Australians Jake Stringer and Joe Daniher only recently returning to a forward line that has been largely unsettled this season due to player availability.
The challenge for the Bombers will be how they back up off another short break, with Sunday's match marking their third in 11 days.
Backs: Jake Kolodjashnij, Lachie Henderson, Harry Taylor
Half-backs: Jack Henry, Mark Blicavs, Tom Stewart
Centre: Mitch Duncan, Patrick Dangerfield, Sam Menegola
Half-forwards: Luke Dahlhaus, Gary Rohan, Tom Atkins
Forwards: Brad Close, Tom Hawkins, Gryan Miers
Followers: Rhys Stanley, Cameron Guthrie, Lachie Fogarty
Interchange: Jed Bews, Mark O'Connor, Brandan Parfitt, Zach Tuohy
Emergencies: Cooper Stephens, Josh Jenkins, Jordan Clark, Zach Guthrie
Out: Steven (injured)
Milestone: Zach Tuohy - 200 AFL games
Backs: Martin Gleeson, Michael Hurley, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher
Half-backs: Matt Guelfi, Jordan Ridley, Adam Saad
Centre: Kyle Langford, Dyson Heppell, Zach Merrett
Half-forwards: Will Snelling, Cale Hooker, Irving Mosquito
Forwards: Jake Stringer, James Stewart, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti
Followers: Sam Draper, Dylan Shiel, Darcy Parish
Interchange: Devon Smith, Mason Redman, Dylan Clarke, Jacob Townsend
Emergencies: Brayden Ham, Tom Cutler, Andrew Phillips, Josh Begley
In: Townsend, Redman
Out: Daniher (managed), McGrath (syndesmosis)
BOMBER TO WATCH
Kyle Langford enjoyed a coming of age against the Eagles, tallying a career-high 29 disposals to go with eight marks, five clearances and five score involvements.
It was the exclamation mark on an impressive season for the the sixth-year midfielder, who has shown marked improvement to cement a position in the Bombers' best 22.
With young gun Andrew McGrath (syndesmosis) sidelined for the rest of the season, expect to see more of Langford in the engine room.
Geelong has the best offensive one-on-one contest win percentage in the League, and owes a lot of that to Tom Hawkins.
The big Cat, who is destined for triple All-Australian honours, has been a marking machine in his side's past four games, winning 12 of his 20 contests.
He's also booted 16 goals in that period to sit atop the Coleman Medal leaderboard on 35 majors, seven ahead of second-placed Josh Kennedy.
Hawkins loves playing against the Bombers, averaging three goals in the sides' past three encounters.