Cloke stars as Magpies seal AFL top four
Sam Lienert
23:36 AEST Sat Sep 1 2012

Collingwood star forward Travis Cloke tuned up for the AFL finals with the equal most marks of his career as the Magpies survived an Essendon scare to sew up a double chance.

Collingwood will play top-placed Hawthorn next weekend for the right to host a preliminary final after beating the Bombers 14.20 (104) to 10.12 (72) at the MCG on Saturday night.

Midfielders Dane Swan (42 disposals, one goal) and Dayne Beams (33 disposals, one goal) enhanced their Brownlow Medal chances, while Essendon skipper Jobe Watson (28 disposals, one goal) capped an excellent season.

But Essendon's loss meant they finished their year with seven straight defeats.

Cloke, who had gone goal-less in the previous two rounds, stood up in the absence of dropped fellow marking target Chris Dawes to kick 5.4.

He had three goals and 10 marks in the first half.

The move of Michael Hurley from attack onto Cloke late in the second term slowed his momentum slightly, with the hulking Magpies forward failing to add a goal in the third quarter.

But Cloke snuffed out the threat of an Essendon comeback with the Magpies' first two goals of the last term and finished with 16 marks, equalling the career-high he set against the Bombers in 2010.

Essendon had earlier threatened a major upset, kicking three of the first four goals of the match.

While Collingwood weathered that storm to build an eight-point quarter-time lead, the Bombers continued to fight.

Still trailing by eight points at halftime, they closed to within two early in the third term thanks to a Jobe Watson major and a string of nine consecutive behinds from the Magpies.

But a run of three Collingwood goals in six minutes late in the quarter, including a 65m Swan bomb and a goal to comeback forward Andrew Krakouer, pushed the margin out to 22 points.

Krakouer's goal prompted teammates to run from all parts of the field to congratulate him, in what was his first AFL game since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in February.

Collingwood, who had lost their previous two games, to North Melbourne and West Coast, face a tough task against the in-form Hawks, who have beaten them twice already this season.

Collingwood's most recent win over Hawthorn was a dramatic three-point game in a preliminary final last year.

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said coming fourth was as valuable as being in the top two, given the Magpies face another Melbourne-based side and don't have to travel.

Poor kicking aside, he said there were some good signs.

"Our contested ball and our hunt around the contest was excellent tonight," Buckley said.

"Our defence and willingness to press up in our front half was a lot better.

"We didn't use the ball particularly well and we'll have to sharpen up in that area, but if I was to list the priorities, I'd take the first two."

Essendon coach James Hird said the Bombers had clearly tailed off badly in the last part of the season, but would again train hard in the pre-season with the aim of building a more durable side.

"We're trying to build a footy club that can play 22 games a year and three or four finals a year and that's going to take a while," he said.

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