Essendon’s Sam Lonergan tackles Carlton’s Marc Murphy when the teams met in round four this year.SAM Lonergan is tough enough to handle any attempts at retribution, says Essendon coach James Hird, and Carlton has promised to play a more physical brand of football than the day Andrew Carrazzo’s shoulder blade was fractured in a Lonergan drive tackle that enraged the Blues.
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Carrazzo’s teammate, Marc Murphy, set the scene for an explosive sequel to the round-four match between Essendon and Carlton when the day after Carrazzo’s injury he said: ”I’m looking forward to playing Essendon next time.”

Now that the moment has arrived, there is even more at stake – Carlton’s finals hopes depend on it and an Essendon loss would seriously imperil the Bombers’ hopes of remaining in the top eight.

While the Blues contend the importance of this afternoon’s MCG clash to its season overshadows any ill-feeling from the Lonergan incident, the Bombers are prepared for a backlash.

”It’s up to them whether they want to put fireworks on the table,” Hird said. ”We want to go out and play the game and play some really good football.

”We think we’ve got some good, hard footballers and if they want to take on Sam Lonergan, then good luck to them. He’s as tough as there is on the football field. He can certainly look after himself.”

Carlton did not lodge an official complaint about the Lonergan tackle and he was not cited by the match review panel.

”There’s a lot of water gone under the bridge since round four. We have been in an elimination situation for a couple of weeks and this is another one against arch rivals,” Carlton assistant coach Mark Riley said yesterday. ”They played a certain way last time and good on them and we think we should be a bit better than that.”

Pressed on whether the Blues would be carrying any lingering resentment, Riley said: ”We’re about looking forward and they played a physical brand of football and we didn’t, and our game is physical.”

Essendon has four important players back, with the midfield set to benefit from the return of Brent Stanton and David Zaharakis. The Bombers also regain ruckman and forward Paddy Ryder for the first time since round 15 and defender Cale Hooker.

The Blues have a decent ”in” of their own, as captain Chris Judd has completed his four-match suspension for his chicken-wing tackle. They need to win their last three games to have a hope of finals, and have studied the tactical reasons, as well as the physical ones, for Essendon’s five-goal win in round four.

”They took us up the ground and left a lot of space behind and we fell for that and they did crowd our end,” Riley said. ”That has happened a few times to us and we think we have adapted reasonably well on occasions to that style of football against us.”

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