Whether it was the dreaded prospect of being only the second team in the history of the current finals system to be bundled out after two straight defeats, or the tragic loss of a former teammmate, the Collingwood of old returned last night.
There was the wizardry of Scott Pendlebury and a perfect sprinkling of Dale Thomas magic, but for the most part it did what it had to do to stay alive and that was play ugly.
The last thing Nathan Buckley wanted to hear on the eve of a game whose result could have ended his season and cast doubts upon his future, was news that his champion playmaker Pendlebury has coaching aspirations of his own.
A meticulous note taker and dossier keeper, Pendlebury commented: “I always think in my head what I would do and see if Bucks thought the same things”.
As I suspected he would, Buckley encouraged the game Malthouse devised for his midfield-laden team. Collingwood began to play the style that brought them a premiership during the last quarter of the Hawthorn game: applying fierce pressure and chipping the ball around the midfield.
At times, they resembled the side that decimated Geelong in the 2010 Premliminary Final, swarming over and around the opposition. The pressure applied to the Eagles’ midfielders led to poor delivery into the forward line. Darling kicked two goals but Collingwood defenders Reid, Shaw, and Tarrant dominated their taller opponents.
In a masterstroke Buckley started with Alan Didak who is a superb exponent of the short stab pass. He dominated when Collingwood were getting back into the contest after West Coast’s brilliant opening salvo when they booted four straight goals.
The Pies were fearless in their movements, with defenders often entering the forward line. While O’Brien kicked a goal, Shaw and Tarrant were also seen delivering the ball deep into the foward zone. Cloke who didn’t need to kick a goal did some useful work up the ground.
The contests were brutal and the execution of skills was often poor. Collingwood had more tackles, possessions and clearances (despite the ruck dominance of Naitanui) but were unable to convert this advantage into dominance on the scoreboard.
The Eagles, who are used to doing more with less of the ball, were equally ferocious and
courageous but appeared to tire earlier than Collingwood. Danel Kerr and Jacob Brennan were forced to play on pain killing injections after sustaining injuries.
West Coast didn’t deserve to win, but the six day turn around must have had some effect, as it clearly did on Fremantle on Friday night. It’s time that all finalists are granted the same period of time between matches.
It was an emotional game for many reasons for the Pies, of course. Andrew Krakouer’s amazing survival during a difficult journey that has included prison, personal issues and a knee reconstruction was fiercely celebrated after he kicked his team’s first goal (disallowed after a video referral).
The passing of John McCarthy clearly affected some of the players. Despite the exuberance following each goal – hard earned and rare- the mood in the changerooms was sombre.
History was with the Pies last night.
With the exception of West Coast five years ago, the qualifying final losers have always recovered to win the following week. Unfortunately they usually don’t make it past the preliminary final.
Next Friday we’ll find out if last night was their grand final.