Finals Week 1 – West Coast v Collingwood: USA, underdogs and numbness




I’m lying straight on my back, accepting that there’s little sleep to be had when it’s the first mild night of spring and you are unprepared. My mind races, suddenly realising that the next time I head to bed it will be after Collingwood play in a final.


Footy has taken on a new look in 2020 – it’s been a sole comfort on television, a talking point amongst boring conversations. But it has also faded into something lacking meaning. That is, until the finals kick into gear.


By the time West Coast and Collingwood are embracing the decent Optus Stadium crowd and standing resolutely through the national anthem, the nerves kick in. To say Collingwood aren’t favourites is unnecessary. They are dirty. They have had everything thrown against them in an interstate final. It’s the only thing that gives me hope for a memorable upset.


The Pies, having endured a rollercoaster season of scandal, travel and injuries, need a decent start to capture some confidence. Having had plenty of time to prepare for the Eagles’ wealth of returning stars, they take the game on and try slightly different tactics to what they have tried, and failed to execute, against the Eagles previously.


Interstate finals require early goals. If you don’t get them, you’re swept away in the tide before you can even consider where you are. It’s times like these that you appreciate Mason Cox and his development. Halfway through this season he had hit another crossroad; his eye injury and loss of form looked to have thrown him to the outer. But his return deserves recognition, his three towering mark and goals worthy of praise and applause. Right when the Pies needed it, Cox stepped up and set the tone. The littering of black and white clad attendees were dancing in the stands, trying to rustle a ‘USA’ chant in a hostile WA crowd. The locals reached full voice when Oscar Allen tapped Adams across the head. It was silly and late. None of that bothered the fans, who were ropable to see Adams slam through Collingwood’s fourth.


Great starts mean plenty when you play most teams. But when you’re a Magpie and it’s against the Eagles, you don’t give a lead as much value as you should. A four goal lead in any game should be confidence-boosting, but when it’s against West Coast it looks like a slim one goal margin. When Tim Kelly cashes in while Greenwood takes a breather, West Coast surge. Shuey gets in on the action, Nic Nat scares Grundy into not jumping at ruck contests. When Kennedy is too agile for Roughead and Darling too strong for Moore, alarm bells must’ve been pinging in Buckley’s box. The match-ups were wrong, and Maynard was being led on a merry dance by the cheeky swagger that Liam Ryan uses to sprinkle his magic over a game of footy.


The Eagles cut the margin deftly, like they collectively use a samurai’s katana to swathe through our defensive zones. Their stoppage work is swift, their forward plays creating space at the click of a finger. Mihocek is trying to stop McGovern, but can do little when the ball is put on his head, begging McGovern to sit a knee on it and clunk another intercept mark. Yet West Coast don’t break us – they get in front but they don’t surge away. A composed set shot from Noble steadies the Pies, and a late Elliott major gives us a slim lead at half time.


Half time isn’t as relieving as it should be. It’s been a terrific half, another addition to this modern-age rivalry has been created already, but it’s eerily similar to the last final these two teams played. West Coast have worked their way back into it, and looked poised to push ahead and continue this cat and mouse game until they devise the best way to break black and white hearts across the nation.


An instant major to start the second half gives all ascendancy to West Coast. They are so slick, catapulting out of the stoppage, playing keepings off with Adams and Pendlebury before finding cheeky forwards to slam through goals. Collingwood are in disarray, unable to marshall troops amidst the barrage of high balls being sent their way. Kennedy and Darling continue to probe, Ryan snaps at their heels, waiting to create. The Collingwood board begins to flex, bending under the weight of such aggressive forward thrusts. Just before it can break, a turnover gives Noble and Quaynor a chance to rebound and counterattack. Daicos’ poise is unbelievable in his first final; he possesses the Pendlebury gene of stopping time in traffic and bouncing around until he can hit his target. His work goes unrewarded, but his two-sided ability when it mattered makes him the most valuable player in a black and white jumper.


This play brings Cox into the fold, and he dishes off to De Goey for a winding running left foot goal that trickles through from 50. Our board steadies, copping the weight and returning to an unstrained state.


Duggan does everything he can to clear the footy, but suddenly the shoe is on the other foot. West Coast are wonderful at kicking reply goals all night, a trait personified by the Hawthorn three-peat side, but the Pies work their way into the third term. Daicos’ skills gifts Mihocek a badly-needed goal on McGovern. Hoskin-Elliott is shaky, but begins to nullify Hurn while booting a goal of his own.


Greenwood returns to Kelly and duly shuts him down. Adams plays a terrific two-way game; handling Shuey at stoppages while also accruing plenty of important touches on his own. Pendlebury is just being Pendlebury, pulling the strings and picking his moments to add his class. West Coast enter the last change stunned at Collingwood’s reply; somehow, the Pies have held on and taken a ten-point lead into three quarter time.


But West Coast have an extra gear to go to. The crowd wills them on, adoring their every possession while booing any Pie or umpire who goes near them. Kennedy and Darling come to the fore again; Ryan boots through a telling goal. All of a sudden the Magpie lead is erased, and I can picture Dom Sheed all over again. Hurt is just around the corner. Not again.


To break this nightmare requires brilliance. Mihocek is the first to provide this; a messy play ends low down in his hands. He sums up the situation, and elects to slice a left foot kick towards goal from 40 metres out and on the boundary line. It swings across the goal face, and then bends back to split the middle. The board, starting to crack, has had some magic adhesive applied.


To further treat the weary board, De Goey finds the tiniest touch of space in a forward stoppage. With the ball in hand, he snatches the opportunity, stepping up once again to curl through a remarkable goal. All of a sudden the Pies are two goals clear and in control, which means little in this contest. Instead of dictating terms in the final five minutes, they strap themselves in.


Nic Nat continues to dominate Grundy, but finds it harder when having to reach over Darcy Cameron’s tall frame. It is a coaching masterstroke by Buckley, who elects to go with Cameron in two key moments of the final term. It pays off; the lanky ex-Swan drifts back to take multiple contested marks that take time out of the game.


Even this doesn’t stop the final assault. To leave Optus Stadium with an away win is all but impossible. And when it’s on the cards, West Coast elevate. A forgivable Maynard turnover is followed by a reckless Crisp free kick. Suddenly, the margin is one point. As Cameron lines up across from Nic Nat for the final centre bounce of the match, I ask a question to future me, who lives a couple of minutes ahead of me; ‘Are we going to pull through?’.


I forget my question as the ball ping-pongs around. Treloar finds himself free inside fifty, but his shot hits the line and bounces back for McGovern to collect and dash away with. Something drops in my stomach. It is all too familiar. Where’s Ryan to take a big mark? Where’s Sheed in the pocket? The counterattack flies out the far side of the ground, where the Collingwood zone struggles to flock to. The Sherrin finds itself in the middle, where a handball inboard is perfectly set for a booming forward 50 entry. Just as the ball makes contact with the boot, Adams bravely moves forward, attacking and smothering the footy. Late Pies fall on the Sherrin, clearing the pack in a rugby union style attack for Pendlebury to curl a ball out to Hoskin-Elliott. My heart tries to steady, nearly beating out of my chest. It’s the perfect time for Pendlebury. The Pies chip it around, wasting the final 10 seconds. Siren.


Two years ago, I recall another final siren ringing out over the ‘G. At the time, I moved out of standing room in the Ponsford Stand to a vacant MCG wall, where I leant against it and watched teary fans vacate football’s mecca. All I felt was numbness, both in my heart and all over my body. I felt nothing.


On this night, sat on the couch, I refuse to stand up. My legs won’t move for me. I’m stuck watching the celebrations, the song, the press conferences, the highlights. As I finally make the trip to bed, I can’t shake the feeling. I’m numb. But joy and satisfaction slowly creep in as I drift off into another mild Spring night.



WEST COAST            1.2     5.4     7.6     11.9 (75)
COLLINGWOOD     4.0     6.1     9.4     12.4 (76) 


West Coast: 
Kennedy 3, Darling 3, Allen 2, Ainsworth, Cripps, Ryan
Collingwood: Cox 3, Mihocek 3, De Goey 2, Adams, Noble, Elliott, Hoskin-Elliott 


West Coast: 
Naitanui, Ryan, Kennedy, Duggan, Darling
Collingwood: Daicos, Adams, Cox, Mihocek, Cameron, Greenwood, Treloar, Pendlebury, Mayne



  1. Tracey Tutin says

    Absolutely fantastic and sums up how every pie fan from the age of 60 feels . We have been there thru the highs and lows but never wavered . Oh how we love our club
    We bleed Black and White forever .

  2. Nicole Kelly says

    A great recount of the night, Sean. What a game! How about that Mihocek and De Goey goal – amazing. That last 3 minutes though…that was heart stopping. I thought it was going to be the Grand Final all over again. Is there anything sweeter than being the underdog and beating them on their home turf? I’d say no – but backing it up with a win over those Cats would go pretty damn close. Can only hope!

  3. Frank Taylor says

    Great writing Sean, and a great win.
    Go Pies!

  4. Daryl Schramm says

    That is a very good article Sean. I’m neutral and had been out and about over the weekend. Got hold of the match on Kayo Sunday and Monday. What a match. It was manic to the highest level. Reading your contribution made me happy I’d seen it for myself. Eagles a good thing beaten in my view,

  5. Bill Wootton says

    Excellent summary, Sean. Good to give Daicos his due. You really tell it so well how it feels to watch a game as a Pies person.

  6. Bernie Anniss says

    Fantastic commentary on the game Sean, You are a true believer. Go Pies

  7. Thanks everyone for the kind words. Hopefully in a few hours there’ll be another great win to write about. May the best team win!

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