‘Dons face big AFL test against Lions

Essendon coach James Hird has welcomed signs of the slick ball movement that marked their encouraging start to the AFL season.

The Bombers badly need to maintain that improvement when they host Brisbane on Sunday at Etihad Stadium.

While Essendon will start favourites, the Lions are coming off an outstanding fortnight.

After plunging Carlton deeper into crisis with their first win of the season, Brisbane pulled off a massive upset last weekend at the expense of premiership hopefuls Port Adelaide.

Essendon’s narrow round-one loss to Sydney, followed by wins over Hawthorn and Carlton, buoyed the club after their interrupted pre-season.

But Collingwood squeezed the life out of them on Anzac Day, heavily restricting their ball movement.

They have since escaped with a tight win over St Kilda and lost to Fremantle and North Melbourne.

But Hird was pleased with some aspects of the Kangaroos match.

“We moved the ball relatively well early in the season,” he said.

“We had a couple of weeks where I didn’t think we had the confidence in our ball movement and probably didn’t take the opportunities in front of us.

“But last week, it was a good step forward … the guys were aggressive with the ball movement.”

Essendon are last in the league for clearances and must lift in that area against a Brisbane midfield that features Dayne Beans in red-hot form.

If Essendon can win more than they lose through the midfield, they have an attack that could stretch the Lions.

Jake Carlisle, Paul Chapman and Adam Cooney return this week to bolster the Bombers’ forward line.

“They have a midfield that is deep and very experienced and (has) quality,” Hird said of Brisbane.

“Our forward line, their back line (are) young and it will be really interesting to see some of the matchups of the talls, especially.”

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