Collingwood lost the preliminary final to Greater Western Sydney by just four points, after a furious comeback – coming 51 weeks after losing the 2018 grand final to West Coast by five points.
To Victorian fans and media, the two victorious clubs are perhaps innocuous – just as some of Collingwood’s other famous historical reversals have been to such cultural irrelevancies as Melbourne, St Kilda, North Melbourne and Brisbane.
Grand finals linked in the consciousness often more by which club lost than by who won.
First of all, my caveat: the Pies’ 27 lost grand finals often came from overachievement rather than underachievement. Collingwood grand final teams in contemporary accounts are almost always listed as being teams of battlers, up against indomitable skill.
Though near the top of the all-time premiership tree, the club does not have a single individual in the AFL’s 1996 Team of the Century – Jack Regan beaten out by contemporary hunk Stephen Silvagni.
Perhaps some premierships would have given a guernsey to Nathan Buckley, but his career of individual drive matched one of the club’s worst, most irrelevant eras.
Perhaps the Pies’ only true superstar-laden, world-beater teams have been 1970 – who lost anyway – and 2010-11.
Many of their grand final losses in this sense are ‘maybe’ cases, where they had ‘done well to get there’ – overachieving to reach the big dance, rather than underachieving by not winning it.
They have pressed for a premiership in several years of questionable to dire home-and-away seasons of late: 2002 (a decider loss to a star-laden Brisbane by nine), 2007 (preliminary final loss by five to a Geelong team that spread its wings in the years to come) and 2018 (well, you know).
It was frustrating to see it break again this year, as West Coast bombed at the last minute and the Pies then received the great boon of playing the sputtering Geelong.
I am looking for justice in the wrong places, but I appreciate teams who win championships because they have worked out a method of playing well and deserve to win, not ones who scrape in randomly and get the breaks.
But sometimes, the cream just rises to the top – even on soggy, 12-degree Melbourne twilights.
It is strange that Collingwood – a self-proclaimed leviathan of the league – can do inspiring underdog exploits but cannot do favouritism.
Despite my ‘the Magpies never have stars’ argument, there are moments in which they are expected to win.
One was this week. Another was the no-show of 2003, where class won out in an unexpected, brutal decider.
And one was the drawn grand final against St Kilda, where the unthinkable took a while to show, but slowly took over the match in a sinking sensation that took hours.
But Collingwood were playing the one team more cursed than them, and won the premiership because the replay was a mere football match, with all grand final-ness taken out of it: an October match, no parade, no Brownlow, in the week between no reminder that a second grand final was taking place in the consciousness at all.
There was nothing to be afraid of now, the premiership was not being played in anyone’s heads now, it was merely a question of who could physically win the ball and score most. Collingwood won by nine goals.
So Collingwood have two identities: the rugged teams of honest players that pushed Melbourne, Carlton, Brisbane and West Coast to their limits in historical grand finals.
And the one who, despite their money and power and identity – and I can’t believe this statistic – have won only two premierships in 60 years.