Coach James Hird revealed his admiration for his players and the club's fans after Essendon overcame unrelenting scrutiny triggered by an Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority probe with encouraging performances in last night's NAB Cup.
The Bombers put the spectre of a drugs scandal behind them to beat the Western Bulldogs by 26 points in their first hit-out for 2013, then lost a thriller to Collingwood by two points in the last minute in front of 26,921 fans at Etihad Stadium.
Hird said his players had been tested mentally in the past fortnight and he was delighted at how they responded.
"I've been so proud of the players of the Essendon Football Club for the last 10 days," Hird said.
"They have just shown a strength of character that not many people have. They have been resilient.
"They have been focused on their footy when I can imagine they would have liked to have just been focused on themselves. Tonight's performance, with everything that is going on in the background, I thought was terrific."
Essendon could have emerged unbeaten but Jake Carlisle conceded a free kick which allowed Travis Cloke to put Collingwood in front with less than a minute to play.
Bomber Luke Davis failed to make the distance with a set shot from outside 50m after the siren.
Star recruit Brendon Goddard led the way for Essendon in an encouraging sign.
The Bombers were well supported by their fans in the wake of the drugs investigation and Hird said that showed the fabric of the club.
"The Essendon Football Club is 140 years old, (has) 16 premierships (and is) the equal most successful football club in the AFL," he said.
"It is a great club and has got so many great supporters. I knew there would be a lot of those supporters out there.
"This has got a long way to go but I wasn't apprehensive at all at how we were going to be received.
"They love the Essendon Football Club and they'll stick with it through thick and thin."
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said his team had done well to fight back in the dying stages to prevail after earlier disposing of the Bulldogs by 16 points.
Former West Coast premiership star Quinten Lynch, ex-Hawk Clinton Young and Carlton recruit Jordan Russell all contributed, while crack midfielders Dane Swan, Dayne Beams and Scott Pendlebury were busy.
"I don't think we could have asked for more from our mature recruits," Buckley said.
Former Fremantle on-baller Nick Lower had plenty of the ball for the Bulldogs in both their games.
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"They have just shown a strength of character that not many people have." "Essendon coach *James Hird *