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The Collingwood lament: If only...

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Roar Guru
25th September, 2022
1509 Reads

The Collingwood juggernaut rocks on.

Unfortunately, it’s the Collingwood hype juggernaut.

Within a single quarter of the grand final being played, people began texting me that it would’ve been a better grand final had Tom Papley been penalised for a push in the back against Darcy Moore in the Sydney-Collingwood preliminary final, implying then Collingwood would’ve won, and would’ve offered Geelong a tougher contest in the grand final.

By the end of the match, people were openly posting this sentiment on social media. Memes started making appearances – picture of the Papley-Moore contest, with Moore (being pushed forward) being labelled “a good AFL grand final” and Papley being labelled “Sydney”.

Here we are again in Collingwoodland: despite the facts, despite the indelible historical record, we can all walk away and console ourselves for being just about the most important club in the competition.

Even when we’re not.

Why do we do this? Why does the rank and file persist with this narrative?

Another example is the 2018 preliminary final, when Collingwood trounced Richmond, but then lost to West Coast in the Grand Final. However, Richmond won flags in 2017, 2019, and 2020. Thankfully, we stopped Richmond’s four-peat, even though at this stage they were only going for back to back.

We even go the double whammy in 2018: not only did we stop Richmond’s four-peat, we were also robbed in the Grand Final itself because Brayden Maynard wasn’t paid a free kick for being blocked.

If only.

It’s the Collingwood lament: “If only [insert lament].”

At Collingwood, we must be about the most unfortunate club to grace any competitive sport because there are so many reasons for failure, and so many pseudo celebrations for all the glorious hypotheticals. We cling to these myths as if we’re prescient, and speak of them with infallible certainty.

The truth is if Collingwood overcame Sydney in the preliminary final, we don’t know how they would’ve fared against Geelong in the Grand Final. The Pies might’ve won, might’ve lost narrowly, might’ve been smashed, or might’ve been smashed by even more than the margin the Swans suffered.

Josh Daicos of the Magpies gathers the ball

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The absolute truth that we can exalt is that this year, Geelong are a very good team, and they played a near-faultless Grand Final. Congratulations to the Cats. They’re worthy winners.

Go back to the Richmond fallacy, we don’t know what would’ve happened had the Tigers overcome the Pies in the 2018 preliminary final. They might’ve lost to West Coast, might’ve beaten them, or might’ve smashed them. Who knows how Richmond might’ve come up in 2019 if they’d gone back to back 2017–18?

We can theorise, speculate, and outright fictionalise, but the reality that remains is we just don’t know, so assigning any importance to Collingwood in situations like this is just an exercise in black and white martyrdom.

Blaming umpiring decisions – such as the Maynard block, or the Papley push (and there’s a litany of these that adorn Collingwood failures) – only excuses the real culprit: just not being good enough on the day.

I laud Craig McRae for his language and positioning in press conferences following the qualifying final loss and the preliminary final loss, but that attitude has to permeate through anybody and everybody associated with Collingwood.

Craig McRae

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)


Fans will defend their stance. They’ll espouse Collingwood as being the greatest, being on the right path (after just one season), and that if not for a little luck, we could be more successful – if not ultimately successful this year.

When there are so many qualifications on self-image, you have to wonder how distorted that self-image becomes. And, once distorted, how does that impact the collective psychology of the club moving forward?

Why take responsibility for a loss (and thus address the real issues) if it’s as easy as blaming an umpiring decision? Or attributing the failure to a single incident (e.g. Anthony Rocca’s point in 2002), or an external factor (e.g. Phil Carman’s suspension in 1977)?

Why find that edge to go above and beyond in the pursuit of ultimate glory when you’re celebrated for some hypothetical achievement (that can never be proven)?

In my reality, Geelong were too good for Sydney, and both were too good for Collingwood this year – they both beat Collingwood in finals, and they both beat Collingwood during the home-and-away season.

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That’s all there is to it.

If Collingwood are to move forward into a successful new era, it’s time they did so without all the unwarranted hyperbole and speculative ballast.

It’s the only way to get better.