AFL Round 1 – North Melbourne v Collingwood: Sing along with the common people

Those who haven’t been to Etihad Stadium for a while, take note: it is rapidly disappearing into urban camouflage and may not be distinguishable from surrounding high rise for much longer.

And half empty with the roof shut on a grey Easter Sunday afternoon an hour before play, the mood inside resembled an abandoned office block.

Upstairs in an understaffed bar at the Coventry End, Melbourne Victory were choking on one screen while Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker was telling us “common people” his missus wanted to live like us on another. I ordered a Carlton Draught and two Cokes from the sole (penalty-rates-receiving) barman for the three O’Connors. The boys chose the Cokes, leaving me to make do with the beer, and bad news from the front rolled in.

First, Dayne Beams did not appear on the Collingwood team list flashed briefly above the bar on screen number three. Josh Thomas was a late inclusion for his first game.

We were already missing the other Thomas and Luke Ball, and could ill afford the loss of another prime midfield mover. Worse still, when the team ran through the banner, it included the unmistakable blonde bonce of elevated rookie, Jack Frost, also now to play game number one.

I did a quick Pie scan and couldn’t find Heath Shaw. As Nathan Buckley would say later, he “literally had nothing left” after unburdening his interior five minutes before game time.

One part of me should have been happy, as I had done what some might consider sacrilege: taken North as the second half of a multibet that had started with a juicy $4.40 Dogs win. As many punters will tell you, the Pies are routinely “unders” as the majority of our fans are not members of my Pessimist faction and are known to bolster their enthusiasm with a flutter.

I thought the $2.70 North odds were terrific value, and they got considerably better with the late withdrawals. The Kangas were without suspended former skipper Brent Harvey, but just about every other key Roo was on deck. The Pies were missing a few other “best 22” starters in addition to the four big names, and our pre-season form had been patchy at best.

Oh, me of little faith.

But as with other treasonous bets, the moment the game started, I followed the Pies and not the dollars. I have yet to find out what sized collect would swing me the other way.

A breakneck first half ended with both sides on eight goals, the honours reasonably even. But the makeshift Magpie ship had held together, twice bridging small gaps to edge in front at the main break.

Frost had kept Robbie Tarrant quiet, and some ragged disposal aside, the newer Thomas had held his own at the stop plays. But it was at the top end of town that things were looking the most encouraging.

With an excess load to carry, Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan and Steele Sidebottom delivered with quantity and quality, adding marks and goals to their customary run.

Pendlebury in particular shone above the blue collar industry deployed by lesser mortals, his play of the day a glorious shimmy through the middle of Etihad and a lace-out pass to the leading Travis Cloke. The big full forward complimented the service by converting from long range.

Without wanting to sound uncharitable to dear, departed Dawes, Quinten Lynch’s first half in the black and white ticked enough boxes for the recruitment to be deemed an early success. Two goals and a pass to Cloke for another, plus some relief ruck work to give Darren Jolly a breather, added up to a solid beginning.

And whether it was Lynch’s presence, or the absence of contract negotiations, Cloke appeared to be focussed and sharp. He had wrestled his way to an ascendancy over the impressive Scott Thompson, and had three goals to show for it by the time the players headed downstairs.

Others to impress in the first half were Harry O’Brien in a more attacking role on the wing and Alan Toovey down back. The noticeably trimmed-down O’Brien set up camp a kick and half from Collingwood’s goal and chopped off three or four North forays out of defence. Toovey took on Shaw’s running role and backed himself to burn off his pursuers, succeeding more often than not.

On the Sportsbet side of the ledger, Todd Goldstein had combined with Jack Ziebell and new skipper Andrew Swallow to dominate the centre clearances, and Lindsay Thomas had somehow managed to fashion four goals from limited opportunities. Aaron Mullett was more composed and efficient than most 9-gamers would be.

There were no doubt other good contributors from the Kangas, but I still can’t tell my Cunningtons from my Bastinacs.

A corked Ben Johnson stayed in the sheds after the break, giving VFL veteran Sam Dwyer his first taste of the big time. His first touch set Tyson Goldsack up for a goal, and he looked right at home haring up and down the western wing for the rest of the quarter.

Goldsack added another after Nick Maxwell pinned Michael Firrito on his defensive fifty, and a clever one-handed Sidebottom mark set Jarryd Blair away into an open goal a few minutes later.

The Pies were down to 20 men after 13 minutes when Lindsay Thomas planted a Liverpool kiss on an unsuspecting Ben Reid, but the defence held firm with Nathan Brown keeping Drew Petrie in check.

Swan two-grab marked a long O’Brien bomb over a couple of Roo defenders and converted from close in. Commenting on the ensuing adulation, Fox Footy boundary rider Cam Mooney said (I later discovered) that Swan could drink for three days and the Collingwood faithful wouldn’t care.

Well, maybe. Depends on which days and how much.

The margin was 21 points at the last change, and another strong Cloke mark and goal at the start of the final quarter, followed by an opportunist snap from Sidebottom, all but sealed the four points. The Roos had a late dip, sparked mainly by Daniel Wells, but Brent Macaffer – playing his first game for more than a year – had the final say after an excellent one-handed mark in the goalsquare.

We had prevailed because we had fewer passengers than the Roos, and judging by his barely suppressed post-match grin, Bucks was clearly chuffed with the performance.

Having sung the song, we linked arms with the common people and walked north up Adderley Street to the car. No victory doughnuts though. I’d run out of money.

NORTH MELBOURNE      5.2          8.4          9.7          13.9 (87)
COLLINGWOOD                3.5          8.6          12.10     15.13 (103)

GOALS: North Melbourne: Thomas 4, Hansen 2, Cunnington, Bastinac, Tarrant, Gibson, Goldstein, Mullett, Petrie.
Collingwood: Cloke 4, Sidebottom 3, Lynch 2, Goldsack 2, Pendlebury, Blair, Swan, Macaffer.

BEST: North Melbourne: Swallow, Ziebell, Goldstein, Thomas, Mullett.
Collingwood: Pendlebury, O’Brien, Cloke, Swan, Sidebottom, Maxwell, Toovey.

Umpires: McBurney, Bannister, Foot

Crowd: 41,040 at Etihad Stadium

Malarkey Medal: Pendlebury (Coll) 3, Swallow (North) 2, O’Brien (Coll) 1.

Comments

  1. Great summary Matt. I have never been able to back against the Pies though, let alone tip against them!

  2. Andrew Starkie says:

    Couldn’t be bothered reading your piece – you’re full of shit.

    Did you get caught in the crush after the game? Took me at least 20 mins to get to Sthern x. THere’d be trouble if there was a fire.

    I’ve heard docklands is trying to create a madison sq garden look by building up around the stadium. In my opinion It’s made an already disappointing corner of the city even more so.

    Pies far too good.

  3. Dave Nadel says:

    Good report, Matt. Between you and Paul O’Connell (Floreat Pica Society) I now have a pretty accurate picture of a game that I missed. I don’t know how you could bet against the Pies, though. I couldn’t even tip against them in 1999.

  4. Luke & Dave – as I said, some might consider it sacrilege. But I think as long-term Pie fans, we get an “insiders” view as to how we are travelling, and know (or think we know) when we are seriously unders. I get really grumpy when we lose, so a bit of compensation slightly eases the pain. Whereas if we win, I don’t give a stuff about the punt.

    Having said that, I don’t make a habit of it – and it’s usually part of a three or four pronged multi.

    Tipping is another thing, I reckon. I have no qualms tipping against us if I genuinely think we wont win.

    Starkman – eloquently put. No crush at the northern end, but not surprised that one happened at the other end. When you put a multi-story office block on the walkway, it tends to cramp the space somewhat.

  5. Lord Bogan says:

    Great stuff MOC. They finally look as though they have got that boundary bullshit out of the system. Loving the way they switch and watching Harry play up the ground. Will be going to Vic Park this Saturday to watch Collingwood A.

  6. John Sandy says:

    Great work Matt,

    I also thought the odds for the pies were a little short as they a bit under done. However a good solid win with 3 debutants and a few injuries to be covered during the game.

  7. John Sandy says:

    I liked the pulp reference

  8. Paul Daffey says:

    MOC,

    I remember you once called Etihad Stadium an oversized disco.

    Your cleverness at naming this misbegotten stadium is excellent.

    I look forward to more nomenclature during the season (if Collingwood plays there again).

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