This year's Anzac Day clash between Collingwood and Essendon looms as an almighty stinker

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SOME BLOCKBUSTERS are bigger than others, and you'd have to be kidding yourself to pretend that this year's version of the Collingwood-Essendon Anzac Day clash doesn't fit squarely in the latter category.

Even the calendar has conspired against the Magpies and Bombers in 2021.

A stand-alone mid-week clash between the two invariably draws the eyeballs of a nation. This year, though, it's on a Sunday, squeezed in the mid-afternoon slot between two other games, and as an appetising football contest, dwarfed by the more recent construction of the Anzac Day eve Melbourne-Richmond clash.

The Demons are undefeated and sit second on the ladder, while the Tigers are fifth, having won three of the past four premierships. Collingwood and Essendon, meanwhile, are both 1-4 and sit 14th and 16th, respectively.

To top it off, on Monday, the Pies and Dons unveiled their special Anzac Day strips, which appeared to have been designed without one club talking to the other, both guernseys predominantly black and the prospect of a horrific and confusing jumper clash seemingly inevitable.

That's the least of the current issues for both Collingwood and Essendon, however. And while they've met on Anzac Day before with both teams struggling on the field, it's doubtful there's been another such clash played out with either club simultaneously as troubled off the field as well.

Collingwood is in a mess, hard to believe as it is of a club which only two-and-a-half years ago was within a kick of a premiership.

Since that fateful set shot by West Coast's Dom Sheed sunk a premiership dream in 2018, the Pies' performance on the field has subsided, slowly at first, but now, a slight downturn has become an irreversible slide, at least with this group of senior players.

Coach Nathan Buckley is in the final year of a contract, with speculation about his future certain to become a crescendo should Collingwood continue to lose.

On "AFL 360" on Monday night, Buckley was pragmatic about his future. But you couldn't miss the implications of his comments about the obstacles the club has had to counter in recent times, and the obvious impact they've had on his capacity to coach unimpeded.

The salary cap bungle which cost the Magpies the services of Adam Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson and Tom Phillips looks a bigger disaster with each game that trio plays for their new clubs.

Treloar is having a more damaging impact with the Western Bulldogs than he did for the Pies, particularly on the scoreboard. Phillips has been more than serviceable in a losing Hawthorn side. And Stephenson a rare bright light for North Melbourne.

Worse, the Pies are being exposed in exactly the areas those players performed, short of pace on the outside, down significantly on their usual high disposal numbers and one-dimensional in attack without Stephenson's spark.

Eddie McGuire's implosion as Collingwood president, thanks to the bombshell "Do Better" report into systemic racism at the club, has led to an unsatisfactory sharing of power between acting joint presidents Mark Korda and Peter Murphy, now themselves reportedly locked in a power struggle.

That makes it pretty difficult to undertake any serious long-term planning, particularly with a new football manager in Graham Wright at the helm.

And Collingwood needs that badly for its immediate on-field future as well, given the declining influence of stalwarts like Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom, and the lack of depth injuries to the likes of Taylor Adams and Jordan de Goey now routinely exposes.

Essendon's situation, though, isn't all that different.

The Bombers have had some decent public relations mileage this year out of the blooding and decent performances of the likes of Nik Cox, Archie Perkins, Harry Jones and now Zach Reid. But there remain problems on the horizon surrounding their senior core, only one of which is Zach Merrett's looming free agency.

Skipper Dyson Heppell is palpably struggling to have much of an influence on games, persistent injuries having slowed down further a player never noted for pace of incisive disposal.

Loud questions are being asked about the wisdom, or otherwise, of having recruited both Dylan Shiel and Devon Smith. Merrett appears to have become a high possession accumulator who often doesn't have anything like the impact his amount of ball won should. And even an obvious future leader in Andy McGrath isn't currently near his best.

As a group, the Bomber midfield is far bigger on reputation than is the reality of its output. Up forward, meanwhile, an ageing warrior in Cale Hooker is having to bear more responsibility than he should. And in defence, the Dons are undermanned and undersized.

Off the field? It mightn't have drawn the attention Collingwood's woes has, but for all the noise last year about club reviews, not a lot at The Hangar has changed regardless of the names.

President Paul Brasher is new-ish to the job but hasn't rocked too many boats on the administrative front. Chief executive Xavier Campbell still looms large over the running of the club and with an iron first over a board that has rarely challenged him.

There's a degree of angst internally over the inertia which set in between the firing of Dan Richardson as football manager late last year and the appointment of Josh Mahoney in his place, one casualty the VFL program, late in focussing on the task of 2021, the Dons losing a number of players and the reserves side's results to date not encouraging.

The jury might be out for a while on the performance of new (in his own right) senior coach Ben Rutten. But whatever the verdict, there remain significant cultural issues at Essendon which a few exciting new players in the line-up won't fix on their own.

Collingwood and Essendon are currently two clubs for whom even a positive showing on Anzac Day will be only a band-aid for issues both on and off the field that will take far more than a few wins to fix.

And in 2021, they don't even get the ego massage of a massive Anzac Day clash which makes them the envy of the AFL.

Indeed, right now, given the sorts of issues faced by both these big but struggling clubs, it's hard to think of too many rivals who'd be that interested in swapping places with either.

*You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY