Thomas bounces back from tough season
In the most steaming of AFL finals pressure cookers, Collingwood’s Dale Thomas has bubbled to the top.
His match-turning three third-quarter goals guided the Magpies to a 13-point win over West Coast an epic semi-final, and Collingwood to a fourth successive preliminary final.
A player of different class enduring an indifferent season, Thomas had struggled in the first half of a final of the highest quality and pressure.
But the 25-year-old’s untimely run of injuries in 2012 was replaced by the most timely run of impact to open the third term.
With his side trailing by 11 points despite winning almost all first half indicators, Thomas booted two quick goals, then earned a free-kick and goalled again to turn the match Collingwood’s way.
Thomas said there had been no halftime panic from Collingwood – convinced they would eventually grind down the Eagles if they kept on top statistically.
“If you win those indicators and you’re not in front, it’s only a matter of time if you keep chipping away,” Thomas said.
“We knew if we kept applying ourselves to the contest, it would swing.”
Last year then-St Kilda coach Ross Lyon rated Thomas the best player in the competition midway through a spectacular 2011 season.
He had barely been a factor this year.
Yet his Saturday night contribution may prove one of the AFL season’s most important.
As Thomas and Scott Pendlebury lifted, West Coast paid for their lack of polish on key occasions.
The most critical was a fourth quarter turnover from Eagles veteran Andrew Embley after his side had fought back to lead by two points with two early goals in the term.
The ball found its way to Collingwood forward Tyson Goldsack, who made the Eagles pay with a goal before Dane Swan’s sealer soon after.
There were heroes galore for the Magpies – ruckman Darren Jolly outpointing Nic Naitanui and Dean Cox and defender Ben Reid also important.
But in a match which needed the best players to provide the point of difference, it was Thomas who did so most tellingly.
And it could be a turning point for his team, as the Magpies chase a third successive grand final appearance if they can beat Sydney in next weekend’s preliminary final.© AAP 2013