Back in 2017 I wrote a piece entitled 'Stop baffling me, Buckley!', which focused on the simple fact that I was finding it very…
One of the AFL’s marquee fixtures returns to the MCG this Monday, with Collingwood taking on Melbourne in the annual Queen’s Birthday clash, which will be preceded by the eighth edition of the Big Freeze.
The match returns to its rightful venue after the 2020 match was not held due to the suspension of the season due to COVID-19, while last year’s match was played at the SCG after Melbourne went into a snap lockdown early in June.
Last year Collingwood caused a major upset, defeating the premiership-bound Dees in what was Nathan Buckley’s final match as coach, the former Pies captain having announced that he would step down in the lead-up.
They ended up being the only club Melbourne would fail to beat for the calendar year.
This Monday, back at the MCG, the Pies will fancy their chances of upsetting Simon Goodwin’s men once again, especially after coming off a heartstopping four-point win over Hawthorn which has them sitting in the eight with seven wins from 12 matches.
It was their third straight win, a streak which also includes wins over top-four fancies Fremantle (in the west) and Carlton, the latter coming in front of over 80,000 fans at the MCG.
It has been an impressive start to Craig McRae’s coaching career, with many having forecast that the club would suffer its worst season since 1999, during the pre-season.
Even more impressive is the fact they’ve been without ruckman Brodie Grundy since Round 6, when he suffered a serious knee injury in the Anzac Day win over Essendon. This has seen the much-maligned Mason Cox step up not just in the ruck, but also in the forward line.
The Pies have also unearthed exciting young gun Jack Ginnivan, who won the Anzac Day Medal as best on ground but has also attracted his fair share of controversy, not least when he attended a pub to drink in the immediate aftermath of their win against the Bombers in April.
He was also on the wrong end of a chicken tackle from Fremantle’s Sam Switkowski, who was sent straight to the judiciary and suspended for two weeks.
Meanwhile, just when many thought that Melbourne would to another premiership, suddenly their flag defence has hit turbulence, losing their past two matches against interstate opposition in Fremantle and the Sydney Swans at the MCG.
In both of those matches, the Dees threw away sizable leads; against the Dockers, they led by 25 points at halftime but could only muster one major thereafter, and they coughed up the final ten in succession to crash to a 38-point loss.
Last week, against the Swans, they kicked six of the first seven goals and appeared headed for a regulation win, only for the visitors to peg them back and eventually kick away to a two-goal win.
Steven May’s absence to concussion proved telling in both matches, but it must also be said that the Swans were without suspended superstar Lance Franklin, which stripped the Dees vs Swans match of its blockbuster status.
They failed to limit the influence of Sam Reid and Logan McDonald, who both stepped up in Buddy’s absence for the Sydneysiders.
May will not return against the Pies after being suspended by the club for one match for drinking while under concussion protocols, while Tom McDonald has been ruled out for up to six weeks due to a lisfranc injury, the same injury suffered by ex-Demon Mitch Clark a decade ago.
Not only have the Dees started to slip up on the field, their recent crowd figures have also been of concern, with a cumulative crowd total of only 62,525 attending both of those matches, despite no other matches in Victoria on those days.
Despite their recent poor form, Simon Goodwin’s men still sit atop the ladder and are favourites to defend their flag, though they have the Brisbane Lions, who have lost two of their past three, furiously chasing.
A crowd of at least 70,000 is expected on Monday afternoon, which will be a Collingwood home game, with the hosting rights having been shared since 2019.
The Pies have won 13 of these 21 matches, with one draw in their premiership season of 2010.
Melbourne’s most recent win was in 2017, when Jack Watts kicked a goal on the run to give his side a four-point victory, though they did beat the Pies by 56 points at the Gabba in 2020 when nine of the ten Victorian clubs (except Hawthorn) were forced to relocate to Queensland.
Beforehand, retired tennis legend Ashleigh Barty, Neale Daniher’s brother Terry, Winter Olympic Gold Medallist Jakara Anthony and former goalsneak Eddie Betts will be among those to slide down into a pool of icy water for a good cause in the eighth Big Freeze.
The March to the G, expected to be led by Neale Daniher, also returns for the first time since 2019.