There were the giants, and there were the Giants. In a titanic contest, the team of the season prevailed over the team of the moment. The Magpies had their army, but the Giants had their tsunami, and they made for a mighty preliminary final match.
After Jesse Hogan’s goal 19 minutes into the last quarter, neither team scored even another behind, and that suited the Magpies just fine. Giants captain Toby Greene might have won it for his team with an outrageously conceived banana snap in the dying moments, but Steele Sidebottom was where he has always been for the Magpies for 300 and plenty games, on the line. It was that breathlessly close. But Collingwood have nothing if not nerve.
GWS were comically outnumbered everywhere in and around the MCG except where it counted, on the emerald greensward. There, the Magpies’ fabled extra could not make themselves felt for more than a half as the Giants silted up Collingwood’s patent running game and looked set to elbow their way into the grand final.
For nearly two full quarters, the Magpies were so stymied that they could not kick a single goal. But a more attacking formation after half-time opened up avenues, albeit leaving slits for the Giants. It’s footy’s eternal trade-off. Coach Craig McRae stressed this at half-time: faster ball movement, more risk, commensurately greater reward.Five goals in fairly quick succession wrested the ascendancy away from the Giants, and there it stayed. Just.
The stats sheet bore out the mind’s eye: there was nothing in this. Collingwood held on, said McRae, because they practise hanging on, at training by design and in games because that is so often how it shakes down. He made a point of it on the whiteboard post-match.
Then there was the phenomenon that is the Magpie Army, whose chant this night was by turns ominous, plaintive, urgent and then euphoric. McRae was adamant: without the fans, the Magpies lose. He said they dragged his team over the line. Quiet early, the extra man was good for a vote by match’s end.
Other numbers were against the Giants: a six-day break, a third road trip in these finals. They’ve dealt with these handicaps as occupational hazards, but perhaps now they became a back-breaking straw. The Magpies were in every sense at home. When everything was on the line, their best were their best, none more than the, well, leviathan Jordan de Goey. But the Giants lost nothing except the match. And without question, they gained a season.
So another high-flying Collingwood season lands them in the grand final. Collingwood have been indisputably the best value round-one-to-preliminary-final team in VFL/AFL history.
They’ve played in 11 preliminary finals in the past 22 years and won six. Last year, they lost a prelim by a behind, this year they won by that same irreducible margin. One-kick results have become their motif and hallmark.
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