A Players Victory

Geelong and Collingwood.

A classic case of starting from a similar spot and ending up in very different places.

Two communities who in their own ways felt wronged. Who sought approval from others to compensate for a sense of inferiority. Who burned at ambitions thwarted.

Two football clubs who came to represent a means of expressing those community ambitions. A way gaining the recognition a larger game sought to deny them.

But two clubs who could hardly have chosen more disparate paths in pursuit of those aims, or adopted more differing countenances.

The Collingwood story is famous, not least because the faithful wear it like a badge of honour to this day. By the reckoning of the club’s own historian, ‘a suburb crippled from birth’ was ‘afflicted with a deserved inferiority complex’ which was ‘heightened by the scorn of neighbouring suburbs and the Melbourne press’. The football club was ‘a defensive reaction’ designed ‘to seek vindication of their habitat and vengeance against their neighbours’. You get the drift.

It has achieved remarkable success. Of the 117 Grand Finals played (including draws), Collingwood have participated in 43.

Yet the striking thing about this club is how that original sense of injustice has survived success. Even today, any opponent who stares into the maw of the Collingwood match day beast knows they feel that injustice still, even if they’ve never lived it. It’s no shtick. The club which now is closest to a modern Australian football conglomerate still harbours a sense of original tribal neglect.

Us Against Them is integral to the Magpie Army understanding of self. They constantly invoke it. It remains the source of their divisiveness.

Geelong has always been different.  Though they too held an Original Grudge.

When the gold rush opened up Victoria, Geelong’s civic fathers figured themselves the logical port of access to the fields of gold. But it was Melbourne which became marvellous. The legend of The Map came into being. A map that distorted the relative proximities of Ballarat, Geelong and Melbourne to Melbourne’s advantage. A lie that stole wealth which should have been the Pivot’s. Whether The Map ever really existed or not, Geelong believed themselves dudded, duped.

The decision to keep their football team in the big city competition speaks of ambitions unrequited. It’s an outward looking sensibility not every regional town possesses.

Yet Geelong never really developed Collingwood’s snarl. They traditionally played an open, attacking style of game. Maybe it was the influence of those College boys who regularly filled the ranks? Maybe it was the reckless spirit of Tommy Wills? Those who live in the country get used to broad horizons.

It brought them periods of triumph, but they became better known for outstanding individuals. A Collingwood legend originated the ‘Handbags’ taunt. Some claimed the constraints of a country town limited them. Sustained success eluded. Until recently.

Both clubs serve to remind that history can inform the future, but never dictates it. The club of the working class slum is now the richest in the competition. And the football team from the country town has developed dynastic tendencies.

It’s unlikely the 6th grand historical convergence of these two clubs did much to quell Collingwood’s fury at an unfair universe. The only team they lost to all season once again bested them. Grand final defeat number 26 would have hurt no less than its predecessors. Practice will never make good in this regard. Both clubs understand that.

The most noticeable thing about the early stages of this game was what was missing. There wasn’t the white hot intensity and claustrophobia of last year’s drawn grand final. The pace was hectic, contests were fierce, but players had some room to move.

The patterns were familiar, however. Geelong through the middle where possible. Collingwood around the flanks.

One suspected this would suit the Cats, and so it looked early on.  It certainly suited Travis Varcoe, who gave his team a flier.

But the other Travis was having none of it. He boomed one through from all of 60 metres and followed with another from barely closer. The Pies steadied. There was only a point in it at ¼ time.

Cloke continued to run Harry Taylor ragged in the second stanza. Andrew Krakouer prowled at ground level and floated gloriously across packs. Pendlebury was dominant. The Magpies were hitting the scoreboard more effectively.

Geelong’s recent trend of kicking long to their big forwards had failed to disturb the Collingwood defence. J-Pod and Tomahawk were often too close. Hawkins had shown some promising signs, but the Cats couldn’t buy a mark inside 50.

When Krakouer kicked his third goal, it looked as if Collingwood smelt a kill. Especially as J-Pod lay prone at the other end of the ground, his day done.

Grand finals are poured over forever more. Seemingly small events can achieve mythic status with hindsight. Yet if you could ever get a chance to ask the protagonists, it would be fascinating to discover how much lay at the feet of chance.

Though we didn’t know it for a while, two significant changes happened around this time. With Podsiadly gone, Tom Hawkins became the default focus of Geelong’s forward thrusts. He also now found more space to move against an opponent who’s recent injuries would start to tell.

At the other end, Taylor was decked by a heavy Leon Davis bump. He departed to the bench, necessitating Tom Lonergan’s move to Cloke. He would remain there for the duration, and Cloke was hardly sighted from this point. The Magpies defensive match ups now seemed upset. Maxwell ended up on a wing. Maxwell is no Robbie Flower.

If you had to pick a man for a footy crisis, Jimmy Bartel would be high on many lists. He is on mine. He kept turning up where he was needed. Doing what was needed. A ball won in a pack of Pies led to a Stokes steadier. A calm hook shot from the boundary made it only 3 points at half time.

The 3rd term was one of thrust and counter-thrust. Goal for goal. Centre breaks were crucial to penetrating either defence. Selwood continued to relentlessly hunt the ball. Hawkins exerted his presence, snagging a couple of majors. Sidebottom spun and goaled from 50 in one brilliant movement. Thomas lifted.

Near siren time, Bartel marked courageously in front of a pack. His shot reclaimed the lead, which was extended when Ottens fought a ground ball clear for Hawkins to kick another off the deck. With Geelong leading by 7 at ¾ time, we were expecting another spine-tingler.

We didn’t get it.

The ailing Ben Reid had struggled with Hawkins. Now he succumbed. Each Hawkins grab was a blow to the Magpie ribs, softening them up. Each wayward Hawkins shot was an opportunity for the knockout blow missed. But if Collingwood were playing rope-a-dope, they were leaving it late.

Hawkins marked again.  This time the dish to Stevie J produced a goal. Then Varcoe cruised onto his left for another. Bartel marked outside 50. He hammered his third goal home. If it was a fight it might have ended there. Tarrant finally went to Hawkins. It was too late. Collingwood had nothing more to give.

In a season where forward presses have rated more mentions than Tony Abbot’s Speedos, the finale was really decided by players, not tactics. The Magpie forward press swept all before it last season, but mainly because it was applied with the fanatical intensity of swarming wasps. The Collingwood wasps never really maintained that frenzy as this season wore on.

Black and white players had brilliant bursts – Pendlebury in the 2nd term, Thomas in the 3rd, Cloke’s 1st half. But they had few real four-quarter performers. It summed up the latter part of their year. Too many had been injured or otherwise distracted. The sum of the parts couldn’t make a greater whole this time. So much has to go right to win a premiership, let alone follow it up. Things really seemed to stop going right for the Magpies well before this day.

When it comes to players who can win you finals, Geelong have demonstrated an abundance. Their ability to continue playing for each other now bears the testimony of three flags in five years. Arguments about relative merits of teams from differing eras are for the pub. But there’s no doubt this is a great team. 105 wins from the last 125 games is a substantial Exhibit A.

Bartel  and Selwood starred. But they were almost givens.

The transformation of Hawkins from potential liability to vital cog is the sort of thing that needs to go right in a premiership year. So was the more gradual transition of Lonergan from iffy forward to reliable defender.

Steve Johnson got it right at the right time.  Again. He’s made some eccentric contributions to this finals series, but to get himself up from injury to contribute four goals whilst marshalling the forward troops was a mighty effort.

The defence remained the bedrock of success. Matthew Scarlett has been crucial to Geelong’s reign. A champion full back remains a surer indicator of premiership potential than any forward.

As the presentations took place, Malthouse and Buckley stood near, but apart. They studiously avoided each other’s gaze. It served to remind that many of Collingwood’s distractions this season were of their own making. The ‘transition’ can’t have helped the cause of this campaign.

Yet it might well have spurred last year’s success. And if a new coach did the trick for Geelong, who would state with certainty what might happen next year? With 20 wins despite many problems, you wouldn’t imagine the Magpies are done with yet.

Likewise, who would dare to declare the Cats ‘too old, too slow’ next year?

You’d suspect the histories of these two clubs might soon converge again.

Collingwood      4.2  9.3 12.6 12.9 (81)
Geelong             4.3  8.6 13.7 18.11 (119)  

Johnson 4, Hawkins, Bartel, Varcoe 3, Selwood 2, Stokes, Duncan, Ling

Collingwood: Cloke, Krakouer 3, Sidebottom 2, Ball, Johnson, Wellingham, Brown



Geelong: Bartel, Hawkins, Lonergan, Selwood, Johnson, Ling, Kelly, Scarlett

Collingwood: Pendlebury, Thomas, Sidebottom, Johnson, Ball


Votes:  3- Bartel   2- Hawkins   1- Lonergan  (apologies to Selwood and S. Johnson)

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Great read John – insightful and excellently written.

  2. Peter Flynn says

    G’day JB,

    Thanks for your insights. I really enjoyed reading your piece.

    Forward press and speedos. Classic JB.

  3. Clearest and best game summary and analysis I have read. It all seems clearer when you don’t have your jox on the line as per Dips and PhilD’s excellent passion plays. Loved the historical context intro – had never heard the dodgy map story. Maybe John Wren had his Director of Gaming and Legal Services (Squizzy Taylor??) knock it up.

  4. John Butler says

    Cheers Pete and Flynny.

    PF, enjoy the ride. :)

    PB, thanks. The Map story is a Harms nugget as far as I know. Seeing as it got a run in the Age on Saturday I figured it was public domain.

    I wasn’t going to try and compete with Dips’ jocks. :)

  5. Yeah, Peter B, a Carlton supporter with a balanced perspective is kind of amazing in itself. Well done JB, It is probably fitting that 2011 ended as 1911…with the Pies Runners Up. The more I reflect, Stevie J’s performance was sensational. Even on one leg he is an artful conjurer.

  6. John Butler says

    Cheers Phil

    Ain’t nuthin’ you can do to the Pies they ain’t done to themselves.

    Though the Blues try to help.

    And yes, the final symmetry across 100 years.

  7. Great piece, JB. If you had any influence, it’d be in the Almanac print.

    Time for the Blues to “arrive”.

  8. John Butler says

    Yes MOC,

    I think the time for excuses is starting to lapse. As always though, a little luck at the right time never goes astray

    Hoping we have a serious crack at your lads next season.

  9. Good work, JB

  10. Excellent summary JB.

    We are heading for a great 2012 with more than a couple of chances you’d reckon.

  11. Lovely piece John.

    One of my highlights was the late goal by Travis Varcoe. Contested well at half back. Followed up on the wing. Followed up again at half forward and slotted what was probably the sealer. Outstanding.

    Not to be picky but Exhibit A is actually 105 out of 125. As a one eyed Cats supporter I’m still pinching myself. I was around for the back to back spoons of 1957/58 and Geelong people were just as philosophical then. I love this club!

  12. John Butler says

    Burkie, consider me corrected. :)

    A number worth getting right.

    Bakes, Smokie, cheers.

  13. Great read, JB

    So let’s just get this straight:

    in 1906 and 2006 Collingwood were eliminated in the first week of the finals.
    In 1907 and 2007 they finished one game short of the Grand Final.
    In 1908 and 2008 they fell at the semi-final hurdle.
    In 1909 and 2009 they were again one game short of a Grand Final.
    In 1910 and 2010 they won the flag.
    And in 1911 and 2011 they were runners up.

    So, folks who want a leg-up in next year’s top 8 and ladder comps, it remains only for me to tell you that in 1912 Collingwood missed out on the finals altogether.

    And there’ll be no more Magpie flags until 2017.

  14. Gigs,

    Does that means Pies fans have to wait another sixteen years for 4 in a row??

  15. I think it ticks over to recapitulating the period between 1958-1990.

  16. John Butler says


    Giving hope to the afflicted.

    I leave the reader to decide who has the hope, and who is the afflicted.

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