Craig McRae has some thinking to do.
In an echo of the lead-up to Collingwood’s 2003 grand final date with Brisbane, the Pies will head in needing to replace their best key forward.
20 years ago it was a suspended Anthony Rocca, while this time around, it’s the injured Dan McStay.
With Taylor Adams also out of the running for a return due to the hamstring injury that saw him miss the preliminary final, McRae’s options to replace his important tall are thin on the ground – and while all have points in their favour, every choice likewise has a catch to it that makes selecting them fraught with risk.
Here are all Collingwood’s options to replace Dan McStay in their grand final 22… ranked in order of likelihood.
Pros: An emergency for the whole finals series, the Magpies swingman is far from the goalkicking option McStay was in the prelim – but he’s nice and tall, is a strong contested mark, and offers flexibility should the Pies lose a key defender or one of their two rucks early on grand final day. Helping his case is reports that he trained with the Magpies’ ‘A’ team at training during the week, an impressed with his aerial competitiveness. He seems the safest choice.
Cons: The Pies have 17 goals to their name across two finals, four of them off McStay’s boot – can they really afford to replace him with a player who has seven goals in 15 games this year, with one two-goal game his best contribution? The Lions will be a harder forward line to nullify than GWS and Melbourne’s, and have racked up 18 and 19 goals in their two matches against the Magpies this year. Perhaps lateral thinking is in order to boot a winning score – whether that means a move forward for Jeremy Howe or a smaller attack with Jack Ginnivan elevated in, both are proven to have greater scoreboard impact than Frampton.
Likelihood: The frontrunner
Pros: If the Pies choose to call on the literal ‘next man up’, that by definition is Ginnivan. The sub in both the Pies’ finals wins, and performing creditably as well, the goalsneak might not be a like-for-like swap for key target McStay, but could be a valuable addition should McRae decide a shorter, more dynamic forward line is worth the risk, or even if one of Darcy Cameron or Mason Cox spends more time near goal.
Cons: It’s a tight call between Ginnivan and Frampton for the starting role, but with the Lions boasting one of the AFL’s best intercepting talls in Harris Andrews, it could be dangerous to not pick another key forward to keep an eye on him, assuming Darcy Gardiner or Jack Payne is given the job on Brody Mihocek. The last thing the Pies want to see is Andrews winning a Norm Smith because no one was able to keep him in check – look at the job he did in the first quarter of the Lions’ preliminary final win for proof of what he can do.
Likelihood: Sub at worst… surely
Pros: One of the other Pies’ finals heartbreak stories, Noble had played 83 consecutive games before being dropped for the qualifying final, despite 21 disposals in Round 24 against Essendon. His dash off half-back has been a major asset for much of the year, even if Oleg Markov appears to have gone past him; and his toughness and resilience seem perfect for the cauldron that is a grand final.
Cons: The same thing that cost him a place in the team to begin with – there’s no spot for him. With Howe sliding back into defence after a stint forward and Markov’s star rising by the week, Noble was seen as surplus to requirements for the finals – and from the looks of his role in the ‘B’ team at Magpies training, that seems unlikely to change. He’d need the Pies to opt to replace McStay with Howe for a backline spot to open up for him.
Likelihood: Definite sub chance
Pros: He’s tall, he competes hard and, when he’s not injured, has supreme athletic attributes. Kreuger has been excellent in attack for the Pies in the VFL this year, kicking 25 goals, including four in their wildcard final win over Richmond. And it wouldn’t be the first time he was trusted to perform in a big final – he featured in both the Pies’ qualifying and preliminary final matches in 2022, though he was the sub on both occasions and averaged just 22 per cent game time.
Cons: Has managed just two games this season, and was injured before half time in both. It’s become a recurring theme for Kreuger in his time at Collingwood, and while his size fits the McStay void, you just couldn’t trust him to run out a full four quarters without dislocating something… right?
Likelihood: Never say never
Pros: A VFL ball magnet who has regularly impressed when given senior opportunities, Macrae was a tackling machine in his only AFL game for the season, racking up eight in just half a game after coming on as sub in Round 24. It’s one of just three games he’s played under McRae – but with the Pies set to miss Adams’ extra grunt at stoppages once again, a major structural shift caused by McStay’s absence could open the door. Also an emergency for the Pies’ preliminary final – so he’s certainly in the selection frame at least.
Cons: A popular figure among Pies fans to question his lack of game time, Bulldogs star Jack’s half-brother has spent the year flirting around the edges of the senior team without ever being able to crack it. And if he hasn’t by now despite superb VFL form throughout the year, it won’t be happening on the biggest stage of all.
Likelihood: Shock of the year if he gets picked
Pros: A mid-sized defender, the recently turned 19-year old was given his first and only AFL game against Brisbane back in Round 23, when he was given the sizeable task of standing Cam Rayner. Only lasted a half before being concussed by a Rayner speccy attempt, but clearly had the trust of the coaching group to even be named for such a big home-and-away game, and would be a size-for-size replacement for Howe should he be pushed forward.
Cons: Generally, half-gamers don’t get called in out of the blue for grand finals, especially when they missed the Magpies’ VFL finals due to lingering concussion symptoms and haven’t actually played at any level in more than a month.
Likelihood: Yeah nah
Pros: Running amok in the AFLW, Davey might just be the most in-form player at the Magpies at the moment. Cutting a swathe through the women’s competition, the Pies captain and 2021 league best and fairest winner is a smooth mover with beautiful skills who offers leadership by the bucketload – all more than handy attributes to have in a grand final.
Cons: There’s always an injury concern with Davey – she has suffered two serious knee injuries in her career to date, and just last week was hobbled by an ankle issue, though she played on. It’s a big risk to take someone like that into a grand final sight unseen. Also, I’m fairly sure that as a woman registered in a different competition she’s ineligible to be picked, but I’ll need to confirm this.
Likelihood: Better than Air Bud’s and that worked pretty well