Collingwood’s war-time history on their side
Battle for the top four rages in the AFL rages - will Collingwood finish on top? (SLattery Images)
As the curtains are drawn for another fantastic season of AFL footy, the anticipation of the coming four weeks is something this writer has certainly not experienced in his lifetime.
There are at least five teams with legitimate flag credentials and probably another two outside that who would not look out of place on the last Saturday in September.
The amount of discussion and general hype out there at the moment speculating on who will be the last two groups of combatants striding onto the MCG for 2012 is fascinating and has kept this writer intrigued for the last eight weeks.
Rather than simply say what has already been said about the Hawks, Swans, Crows, Eagles and the Cats (and let’s not forget the Dockers and Roos) this has turned his thoughts (as he is prone to do) to the Collingwood Magpies.
Collingwood were one of five or six teams to be touted as a flag favourite at various points during what has been a fantastic season for not only the evenness of the top half of the competition, but also the promising development of young gun expansion sides the Giants and the Suns.
Unfortunately for the Pies, they appear to be hitting somewhat of a form slump. This is the kind that seems to resemble last season’s slump, culminating in a 90 plus point hiding from the Cats who went on to make it three flags in five years and secure (rightfully) their collective ticket to a “greatest team of all time” T-shirt.
The inevitable question occurred to me during one of my musings about eight weeks ago – have the Pies ever won a flag, stumbled the next year and then returned to glory again the following year?
Keeping it within this writer’s lifetime, 1991 saw the Hawks take the flag from an Eagles side that only lost three games during that season, and the Pies booked in the first possible flights to Mad Monday Island that year, having finished as the highest place team that would not play finals.
Incredibly, and with an eerie premonition (perhaps) of how the 2012 finals series will transpire, the ‘Pies finished equal first in 1992 along with the Cats, Bulldogs and the Eagles. The “rebound” glory would not be forthcoming, the team bundled out by the Saints in week one of the finals with big Plugger having a field day with five goals.
A scan of the history books and a few discussions with those football historians much more learned than I revealed that Collingwood have achieved this “rebound” glory only once before – when my dear grandmother was the tender age of one, and the guns on the Western Front had been silent for roughly 12 months after four years of pulverising the European landscape following World War I.
It was 1917 when the Pies finished as minor premiers of the six-team VFL competition with 10 wins from 15 games, a game clear of arch-rivals Carlton.
However, it was the rivals of the Fitzroy-kind who lost to the Pies in front of 25,000 people at the MCG on Grand Final day. No doubt the Great War had a terrible impact on all and sundry associated with the VFL and, in fact, South Melbourne and Geelong had refused to compete on “patriotic grounds” in 1916, but returned to the competition in 1917.
As the 1918 season drew to a close, so too did the Great War inch towards a ceasefire. The Pies had a chance to go back-to-back that year but yielded to a relentless South Melbourne side who only dropped one game that year to take the minor and, ultimately, the major premiership. The Pies had gone from glory to tears, as it were.
1919 rolled around, with Collingwood taking the minor premiership ahead of 8 other teams with Melbourne joining the VFL that year, and St Kilda and Essendon doing the same the year before.
To achieve the “rebound” glory, they had to beat a determined Richmond side – which was achieved by five goals in front of 45,000 people at the MCG on Grand Final day. And my point crystallises: the Pies have history on their side (well, sort of).
2010 saw what many thought to be a changing of the guard from Geelong as the Collingwood “forward press” seemed to strangle most sides and/or flay them with vicious and relentless turnover scoring.
On preliminary final night that year, who could argue that the Collingwood machine had rolled into town, crushed the broken down Cat wagon, and looked set to stay a while? Yes, the Saints were worthy adversaries. Highly worthy adversaries. Nevertheless, history will list the ‘Pies as 2010 premiers.
2011 was a strange season which saw the Collingwood machine “press” on and crush teams one at a time. All teams except, that is – Geelong. Come Grand Final day, this writer could not shake from his head that Geelong had beaten the Pies on both occasions that year. Once by a kick (albeit a controversial kick), but the second time was a spanking.
Almost (and this writer is loathe to say it) inevitably, the Pies were overrun by a deserving and admirable Geelong side.
2012. It remains to be seen whether Collingwood can “do a 1919” rather than “a 1992”. Deliciously, they face similar (and certainly no less daunting) circumstances than they did in 1992. Time, as they say, will reveal all.