It might not be a final but the reviews will be telling when the Magpies face the Cats at the MCG in the headline match of the final round of the season. Be sure to join us from 7:30pm tonight for live scores and blog of Collingwood vs Geelong.
Tonight sees the ultimate dress rehearsal as premiership heavyweights Collingwood and Geelong put their credentials on the line.
The Pies are humming along nicely; tonight they collect their 19th minor premiership, while the second-placed Cats try to regain composure after a shock loss to Sydney last weekend had many questioning their premiership credentials.
Tonight’s result might not decide the season of Collingwood or Geelong but it will give fans a preview of the upcoming finals series.
The Pies are short favourites to win back to back flags but their only loss this season comes at the hands of tonight’s opponents. But there were some mitigating circumstances in that defeat to the Cats.
The Pies went down by only three points, playing the week after the bye (at a time when that was a severe disadvantage) and had a decision go against them in the dying seconds when the advantage rule was used to deny Collingwood a goal.
But take nothing away from the Cats.
Geelong boasts an 18-3 winning record in 2011. A win tonight would seal a top-two finish for the Cats for a fifth consecutive home and away season. But a loss gives Hawthorn a chance of stealing second place – it would go down to percentage should the Hawks dispose of Gold Coast.
A loss will have their critics crowing. Geelong was undefeated until July. But in their last eight matches, games have been dropped against finals
participants Essendon, West Coast and Sydney.
Those defeats have many questioning the mettle of the once impregnable Cats.
In a telling move, coach Chris Scott has omitted retiring forward Cameron Mooney from the side tonight. It was expected that he would come into the 22, most likely at the expense of Tom Hawkins, and play a key forward post for the team from Corio Bay.
But his absence means the ‘Big Hairy Cat’ might have played his last game of AFL football.
Other surprises at the Geelong selection table are the omission of key defender Tom Lonergan with a quad contusion.
Harry Taylor, who was subbed with concussion last week, has been named at centre-half back when it seemed certain that he would miss tonight’s match.
Joel Corey, as expected, has failed to shake a groin problem.
Collingwood are equally troubled by selection headaches. Having already been forced to play without captain Nick Maxwell and running back Heath Shaw, the Pies could ill-afford to lose any other stars.
Maxwell hinted at a round 24 return (when a preliminary finals appearance seemed the best possible result) earlier in the week but that has failed to eventuate.
Joining the skipper on the sidelines is star midfielder Dale Thomas, who was suspended for two matches, and certain All-Australian selection Leon Davis who succumbs to a hamstring injury. The loss of Davis is bad news for a team carrying plenty of injury concerns.
Only last week did Chris Dawes return after a two month injury layoff and Sharod Wellingham returns to the side after playing just once since the start of July.
The Pies will be better for the hit-out. And with plenty of stars on the sidelines, their kids will have a lot to prove because there could be up to three places available in the Collingwood side that will take on West Coast.
Geelong have struggled with the Collingwood press in recent times, but a tweaked game plan under Scott gives Cats fans hope in that regard.
Geelong will focus on both maintaining possession when running out of defence and stopping easy Collingwood goals when the ball is worked over the Cats zone.
For the Pies, there will be plenty of emphasis on keeping Geelong’s ball retention down at the Pies half-forward line.
Collingwood are also fully aware that if James Podsiadly can be well contained, a lot of pressure will be on Tom Hawkins, Steve Johnson and Paul Chapman to kick the bulk of the Cats’ score.
Ben Reid will almost certainly be given the job on ‘Pods’. If the Pies win that battle it could go a long way to winning the match.
Tonight I’m going to tip an upset Geelong win. The Cats have performed brilliantly in adverse situations on many occasions over the last five years.
In fact, on the way to their 2007 and 2009 premierships, Geelong faltered in the latter part of the home and away season, dropping games they were expected to win, before picking up their bundle in September.
The Pies are missing plenty of guns and there are few who are still either under-done or not match-fit.
The Hawks may well be the team making a late charge but the Cats are still the second-best bet for the flag. Geelong will re-announce themselves as premiership contenders with a 9-point win tonight.
LAST TIME: Geelong 8.17 (65) d Collingwood 9.8 (62), Rnd 8, 2011, MCG
PAST FIVE: Collingwood 2 Geelong 3
RECORD OVERALL: Collingwood 126 Geelong 93
AT THIS GROUND: Collingwood 16 Geelong 20
SINCE 2000: Collingwood 7 Geelong 10
BETTING: Collingwood $1.30 Geelong $3.45