Collingwood have claimed their 16th VFL/AFL premiership after an all-time classic grand final tussle with Brisbane, emerging victorious by just four points.
In front of a capacity 100,024 spectators at the MCG, after an extraordinary 18-goal first half – the highest-scoring first two quarters of a decider since 1989 – scoring dried up in the second.
But after conceding the lead with five minutes remaining to a Charlie Cameron snap, the Magpies booted two consecutive goals to seem home and hosed.
Jordan De Goey and Steele Sidebottom were the heroes, the former slotting an ice-cool major from 49 metres out just seconds after Cameron’s to retake the lead for the Pies, the latter benefitting from a silly 50m penalty conceded by Lion Jarrod Berry to roost the sealer home from outside the arc.
While Joe Daniher would respond with 97 seconds remaining to bring the Lions within a kick, but the Pies would hold on to run out victors 12.18 (90) to 13.8 (86) – blessed relief to supporters who must have feared their inaccuracy in front of goal, booing 3.9 in the second half and 1.6 in a wayward third quarter, would prove decisive.
The win is extra sweet for Magpies coach Craig McRae, who took over in late 2021 with the club having slumped to 17th on the ladder and undergoing off-field turmoil; the 50-year old revealing in his victory speech that wife Gabrielle had given birth that morning.
“Today was already the best day of my wife because my wife gave birth to a little girl this morning at 7.45,” McRae announced to another outpouring of cheers during the post-match presentation.
“So darling, I’m coming home tonight with the cup!”
The classic wasn’t without late controversy, with the Lions winning a free kick just outside 50 with 80 seconds to play after Lachie Neale was legged by Oleg Markov – only for the umpire to pay a questionable advantage as teammate Zac Bailey desperately hacked forward, having failed to hear the original whistle over a crowd at fever pitch, the decision described as ‘ridiculous’ by former great Matthew Richardson on Channel 7’s commentary.
Just as crucial were goals after the siren to end the first and second quarters from Jordan De Goey and Jack Crisp respectively, the latter giving the Magpies the lead after one of the great first halves in grand final history.
Most decisive of all, though, was the performance of Bobby Hill, whose four first-half goals and permanent menace inside attacking 50 consistently kept the scoreboard ticking over for the Magpies, who had previously found majors difficult to come by this September, and was duly rewarded with a Norm Smith Medal.
Defence was optional as both sides hurled themselves unto the breach again and again with breathtaking football – made all the more remarkable by the stifling heat on a scorching Melbourne day – with Hill’s four goals front and centre.
Responding in kind for the Lions was Zac Bailey; having appeared to have goal of the day sewn up for his superb finish on the run after receiving from a perfect tap from Lions ruckman Oscar McInerney, he’d one-up the effort late in the first quarter with one of the great grand final goals.
Smothering Mason Cox’s kick, Bailey received from Joe Daniher, who had snatched the rebound, dashed to the boundary line while being corralled by Cox and Pies defender Nathan Murphy, baulked around the latter and snapped truly to give the Magpies the lead.
The advantage would be short-lived as the Magpies responded with late goals from Brody Mihocek and De Goey to take a 10-point lead into the quarter time huddle, before the Lions took control to start the second.
Having been run off their feet by the Pies and dominated from clearances in the early stages, Brisbane bagged two goals in two minutes, one apiece from Cameron and Hugh McCluggage, after winning two quick centre bounces, to retake the lead.
With the Lions incredibly deadly around goal – a sizzling snap from Lincoln McCarthy from the boundary shortly after rivalling Bailey’s first effort if not his second – and Keidean Coleman racking up 22 precise disposals off half-back in a stellar first half, the Brisbane lead extended to 13 points midway through the term.
Enter Hill: with three second-term goals, one following a spectacular mark staring directly into the sun over the hopelessly outgunned Brandon Starcevich, a four-goal haul at the half had him on track for a rare big bag in a grand final.
With Daniher troubling star Magpie Darcy Moore one-on-one, booting his second of the term to tie the scores late in the half, it took an ice-cool Crisp set shot after the siren to restore the Pies’ lead.
After such a frenetic half in the heat, it was unsurprising neither side had the energy to continue at such a pace in the second; with just three goals, the third term was a far cry from the scoring frenzy of earlier on.
It took a controversial 50m penalty against Markov for violating the ‘stand rule’ – a decision greeted with fury from the legion of Magpies fans directly in front of it – to allow McCluggage close enough to boot the quarter’s first goal; when Deven Robertson added a second shortly after having marked in the goalsquare and played on past a despairing Steele Sidebottom, the Lions had their lead back.
It would be short-lived again, though, with Hill again coming up trumps: after marking in the forward pocket, he’d catch the Lions napping by centring to Scott Pendlebury, the Magpies veteran making no mistake with an easier shot.
Leading by four points at three-quarter time, the Pies would need to join rare company to lose, with only St Kilda in 2009 having lost a grand final with such an advantage since 1985.
But as both sides squandered chances – Hill dragging a set shot wide to let a fifth go begging the most egregious – it took until the 20th minute, and with under six to go for the season, for the first blow to be landed, Cameron scrapping ahead of a desperate Maynard in the forward pocket and eventually getting boot to ball for the go-ahead goal, his third.
As had been the story of the day, the Pies hit back instantly: a surge forward from the next centre bounce had them within range, before De Goey, on the end of a chain of handballs, kicked truly from just inside 50 to prove, once and for all, that the Magpies wouldn’t wilt.
When Berry dragged Sidebottom to ground after a mark on the wing to concede a 50m penalty – the second such infringement for the careless Lion – the Pies veteran would defy ageing legs and surely heavy fatigue to roost a 55m goal that just about sealed the premiership.
A grandstand finish was ensured when Daniher marked a centring ball and quickly snapped truly with 97 seconds to go, but the Magpies – with a little help from that advantage – would hold their nerve, and spark scenes of delirium in the black and white contingents around the MCG.
“Today’s success is a culmination of so much work, over so many years of so much work, over so many years of so many people behind the scenes that make up the Collingwood Football Club,” an overjoyed Moore said in his captain’s speech.
“I want to give a special shout out to all of the past players of the Collingwood Football Club, every person who has put on the black and white stripes over our history. It is not lost on us the 23 that run out here today and every week that we represent you and your years of dedication and hard work, and we do everything we can to make you proud. Today is a culmination of a lot of that hard work.”
The win is, remarkably, the Magpies’ first in September since 1958, having won the 1990 and 2010 grand finals in October.
It also sees the Pies tie with rivals Essendon and Carlton on 16 VFL/AFL premierships.
Having endured more grand final heartbreak than any other team, losing 28 previous deciders, this win is arguably the sweetest in Collingwood’s long and successful history… and buries the ghost of their devastating five-point grand final loss to West Coast in 2018.