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The Roar


Footy Fix: Adam Kingsley gave Craig McRae an absolute coaching bath - and this utterly bonkers stat proves it

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9th March, 2024
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Since taking over at Collingwood at the end of 2021, Craig McRae has been, by almost every quantifiable measure and some of the unquantifiables as well, the best coach in the AFL.

In his 52nd game in charge, never before has the reigning premiership winner been so comprehensively out-coached by the man in the other box.

By the same token, Adam Kingsley’s 27th game at GWS’ helm was unquestionably his finest. Against the league’s standard-bearers for electric, supremely skilled football, ruthless pressure and damaging efficiency, the Giants upped the ante in all facets, totally took apart the Magpies’ plans to stop their devastating run, and made mincemeat of a backline which was one of the league’s most miserly in 2023.

One absolutely extraordinary stat sums this up – it might honestly be the best statistic I’ve ever come across in a match.

By match’s end, the Pies had 20 tackles inside their forward 50 – they averaged 9.5 last year, third-worst in the league.

The Giants, 2023’s leaders in that category with 12.6 a game – thanks mainly to the suffocating pressure of Brent Daniels and Toby Bedford – had, to the 15-minute mark of the last quarter… zero. Nada. Zip.

Josh Kelly was the one to prevent an actual duck, and I’m personally offended by it.

Josh Kelly celebrates a goal.

Josh Kelly celebrates a goal. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)


Repeat inside 50 entries, and making sure any opposition rebounds were under sufficient pressure to force turnovers further afield, was a crucial element of the Giants’ style in 2023.

So you’d normally expect, for them to not lay a single tackle in their forward 50, for them to be on the end of a severe hiding, with question marks over their effort and intensity. Not butchering the reigning premiers by 32 points in a match that felt even more one-sided than that by the end.

As to why, well, that had McRae and Kingsley’s fingerprints all over it. In order to try and stymy the Giants’ blistering run from half-back and out of the midfield on turnover, McRae had his defenders push far higher up the ground than normal.

Darcy Moore, the best intercept mark in the business, had just two of his nine disposals for the night come inside defensive 50 – remarkably, five of them came in the Pies’ attacking HALF. Isaac Quaynor had seven of his nine touches to half time outside the defensive arc, and three as high as half-forward.

That’s a long way up the ground for, pound for pound, Collingwood’s best one on one defenders, especially with Jeremy Howe sidelined and debutant Charlie Dean given the job for large parts on Jesse Hogan.

And it backfired quite spectacularly.


McRae’s intent was surely to close up space for the Giants at the source, hemming them into defensive half, forcing them to try and move laterally. The gaps it created further afield would, ideally, be irrelevant – GWS would never get down there.

The problem? The Giants were just too slick. They found gaps through the central corridor with gay abandon, slicing their way past the Pies’ press quickly and efficiently, leaving Moore and co. horrendously out of position.

And once through, the Giants’ forwards made a beeline for their 50, usually goal side of their Pies defenders and with murderous, goal-scoring intent.

Callum Brown, who the Pies had no match-up for for either size or speed, had four marks inside 50, just one contested. With five goals on a career night, three in the first, he capitalised perfectly on the high Pies and got out the back regularly and successfully. And his beautiful set-shot kicking ensured he made the most of his chances.

The pacy Brent Daniels had four of his own – there’s a chance, incidentally, he ends the season as the best small forward in the game. Daniels has always been as ferocious a tackler as the Giants have on their list, and the goals are starting to flow as he improves his positioning and crumbing skills. He’s a gem.


Jesse Hogan, often the deepest forward, bagged four as well, often running back towards goal and then doubling back, with plenty of space inside 50 to work into. What a pick-up he has become after looking set for football purgatory after a turbulent stint at Fremantle.

By half time, while the scoreboard was still relatively unharmed, the Pies were resorting to desperate measures to stop the Giants picking them apart on the counterattack: like, for instance, Brayden Maynard picking a fight with Toby Greene to stop play and allow his teammates the time they badly needed to get behind the ball (for which, by the way, he should have conceded a 50m penalty).

It meant the Giants didn’t need to tackle inside 50 – the Pies were barely touching it in there to lay a tackle. With 24 inside 50s to half time for 10 goals and 15 scoring shots, you could expect to see the Giants hit the scoreboard every time it went inside 50.

By the time McRae adjusted after half time, the Giants were onto a stormer: the below goal has Darcy Moore back in defensive 50 where he belongs, matched up on Hogan… and GWS still goal anyway.

The focus should rightly be on Greene’s extraordinary finish, but the method is worth noting as well: Jacob Wehr, after marking on the wing, crafts his kick expertly, to an interesting spot down the line. It’s not the avenue most teams go for when in attacking position – usually, they’ll be looking inboard to try and spread the field.


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Wehr’s kick is perfectly placed, allowing Toby Greene, who has space on the pacy Oleg Markov, time to run onto the ball, while also making sure Moore stays out of the game. It needed an inch-accurate pass to make the miracle happen, but it was no fluke – Kingsley backs his players’ skill to pull off things like this.

It’s nights like this where the Giants look utterly terrifying, and why I had them as my pre-season favourites for the flag. They dismantled not just the reigning premiers, but a team which has been defensively sound, disciplined and well-structured almost since McRae walked in the door. They identified a tactic to curb them, shrugged, and bulldozed through it anyway.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, after all.