The Roar
The Roar

AFL
Advertisement

Footy Fix: The worst grand final rematch ever just proves the Pies have slightly fewer problems than Brisbane

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Replay
Cancel
Next
Editor
28th March, 2024
56
4054 Reads

It has been ten years since Australian cricket icon Ricky Ponting released his autobiography At the Close of Play, but there’s a passage that still resounds with me after all that time – and is a perfect metaphor, as it happens, for Collingwood’s win over Brisbane at the Gabba.

Struggling for form, with the glory days seemingly well behind him and dealing with media scrutiny unlike at any stage in his glittering career, Ponting was inspired to one last great summer in 2011/12, by the simple measure of watching Indian veteran Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman go through exactly the same thing, just on a larger scale.

“It was as if,” Ponting wrote, “I’d been joined at the bar by blokes my age who were having the same problems at work that I was’.

Whether the Pies can go on and resurrect their season after the most badly needed of triumphs remains to be seen, but they did the impossible on Thursday night: they made a win over a reigning grand finalist at their Gabba fortress feel thoroughly unconvincing.

The best I can argue in support of Magpies fans surely hoping this is the victory that turns the tide is this: Craig McRae’s men still believe, and if they’ve proven anything over the last two years, it’s that belief can take a team a hell of a long way. If any side can will themselves back into premiership contention, it’s this mob.

But let’s not kid ourselves – this was the worst grand final rematch I can remember, and anyone who comes away from it thinking that the Magpies are in any way back in business is far more optimistic than me.

The real reason the Pies won this game is only partly because of their ferocious tackling, or their spirited rearguard after a scoreless second quarter that must rank as one of the most insipid played by a reigning premier in many a year, or their simply superb kicking for goal in the final quarter – though even that was slightly spoiled by a couple more moments of hilarity, like Brody Mihocek kicking into the man on the mark from 15 out.

Advertisement

Really, the main reason they won is because Brisbane played dumb. And when they weren’t being dumb, they were being horrendously bad in every way imaginable.

Most alarmingly for Chris Fagan, they were bad in different ways depending on the quarter. In the first, it was horrendous kicking which let them down – 24 turnovers in a term is a staggering amount for anyone, never mind a team which averaged just 67 per game in 2023 and made a habit of slicing teams apart, especially at the Gabba.

They didn’t turn it over every time they looked to kick in the corridor, but boy, it really felt like they did.

The passage of play that summed it all up perfectly came after a Lions behind midway through the first term: taking the kick-out, Nick Daicos’ pass is an absolute stinker. It’s up the centre, directed at no one, bounces in dispute, and only avoids going straight back over his head because surrounded by three Lions, Jordan De Goey breaks two tackles from Conor McKenna and Deven Robertson that really should have been stuck.

Then, having broken the Lions’ press and with an open forward line ahead, the Pies stuff it up: Mason Cox receives the ball 70 out, looks desperately for an overlap runner, and ends up giving it back to De Goey running headlong into Ryan Lester. His attempted handball over the top is a horror show, landing in no-man’s land, and the Lions are able to swoop on it, handball the ball around, and eventually rebound.

Actually, scratch that: the passage to sum it up came a few minutes later, when Charlie Cameron, normally so precise by foot, misses a 15-metre pass inboard to an unmanned Dayne Zorko by a good five metres.

Advertisement

De Goey picks it up, and streaming forward with an open 50 ahead of him, it’s practically game over for a player of his skill. He has a paddock ahead of him, Bobby Hill riding shotgun for a Joe the Goose if necessary, and no player within 40 of the goal.

Beau McCreery is tackled high by Darcy Wilmot.

Beau McCreery is tackled high by Darcy Wilmot. (Photo by Albert Perez/AFL Photos via Getty Images )

He barely finds his foot with the kick inside 50 – he ‘shins’ it, as James Brayshaw described it on Seven – and effectively gifts the ball back to the Lions, given the ball ends up in a three-on-one situation. Hill gives De Goey a pointed ‘what the hell was that’ stare, and Brisbane rebound – until Rayner, marking on the wing, centres inboard… and kicks it straight to Beau McCreery ten metres away.

Go and watch it back if you dare – half the first quarter was pretty much this. The Pies ended up breaking away because eventually they worked out to just bomb it inside 50 and watch every Lion collectively soil themselves whenever Hill was in the vicinity. And also that Brisbane weren’t about to stick a tackle anytime soon.

Somehow, the Lions managed to make the second term even worse despite completely dominating it.

Imagine, if you will, how many goals Brisbane would have kicked last year had any team given up 21 inside 50s to two – yes, TWO.

Sports opinion delivered daily 

   

Advertisement

The issue this time was their kick inside 50 instead of the one inboard – again, it was near impossible to count how many times the Lions surged away from a stoppage thanks to another Lachie Neale clearance, got within a kick of goal… and then blazed long, high and right to Darcy Moore, effectively nullifying both the Lions’ lead-up smalls in Cameron and Lincoln McCarthy as well as the big talls Joe Daniher and Eric Hipwood.

The Lions turned three of those 21 inside 50s into set shots, and one was only because Darcy Cameron had a ruckman moment and froze after picking up the ball in the last 30 seconds, duly getting mown down.

As horrendous as that conversion rate is for anyone, never mind the Lions, it’s also something that should tinge any Magpie celebrations with definite concern. A reasonable football team kicks eight goals that quarter, not four, and blows the game to kingdom come.

And so it was that the Lions went into half time with 19 more inside 50s against a defence that has looked supremely vulnerable to start 2024, one that leaked like a sieve against a St Kilda outfit that could barely score last year – and led by five points thanks to a goal after the siren.

So sure, the Pies deserve credit aplenty from fighting back from that, even if the Lions made their job as easy as they could make it with more abysmal kicking forward – one aimless Jarrod Berry bomb from half-back that just gifted the ball back to Darcy Moore was like one of those plays you see in rugby where they just keep kicking to one another – and an absence of pressure that is sure to see them copping a major working over during the week if Chris Fagan is serious about turning the tide.

Encapsulating both was the very first goal of the half – the door is opened by both a horrendous decision and awful execution from Dayne Zorko kicking inside 50, and then jarring how in a flash eight Magpies are goal side of their opponents and are never caught.

Advertisement

To concede four stoppage goals inside defensive 50 is a damning indictment on a team that continually fumbled when they weren’t getting bullocked off the ball – it’s harsh to pick on Jaspa Fletcher for the below bumble, given he was far from alone, but it’s the best vision I can get to prove the point.

For all the good they did, the Magpies’ turnover issues remain a significant problem – the Lions kicked eight of their ten goals from this source, and probably cost themselves double that many simply by frittering chances away.

A win is a win is a win, and after a 0-3 start against three teams all with genuine finals bona fides the Pies will be thrilled to get one, especially in a game they might have pencilled down as a likely loss in the pre-season.

But sometimes a victory is more reflective of the quality of the opposition being beaten, and rarely has that been more the case than Thursday night at the Gabba.

The Pies were joined at the bar by a team having the exact same problems at work that they are – if nothing else, they proved that while concerns remain in abundance for the reigning premiers, they’re at least not as bad as Brisbane’s.

Advertisement
close