Grand Final Preview – West Coast v Collingwood: Looking Forward Looking Back


Hope no-one finds that pre-season comment on one of Earl’s pieces where I said the Eagles would finish bottom half with no midfield after Mitchell’s retirement (I also said Naitanui’s knee wouldn’t stand up – so I get one point).  Or the comment on Cam Hooke’s (remarkably persistent/resilient/prescient) Collingwood Life about what hopeless jokes Collingwood were after their Round 1 thumping by the Hawks.  And how Chris Mayne would never be a footballer (points deducted).


Having established my credentials, here are my prognostications about the Grand Final combatants:


Adversity, Adaptability and Resilience


Richmond taught us a big lesson about adversity last week.  The Richmond fitness and conditioning staff’s astonishing achievement in minimising injuries for almost two seasons, worked against them in the end.  Dusty injured.  Rance and Nankervis having shockers.  Three of the Big Five go down and the modest talent of the support cast riding on their coat tails became apparent for the first time.  Coach Dimwit’s refusal to tag Sidebottom (the most damaging ball user in the AFL) and Plans B and C (if they existed) that had gathered dust (rather than possessions) through lack of use.  


A V8 is great until a couple of tyres blow, and you haven’t checked the spares for two years.


The injuries West Coast and Collingwood have experienced though the year (and Gaffy’s brain fade) have paradoxically strengthened both teams.  Both coaches and their players have thrived on adaptability.  They are immensely coachable – in depth; in resilience; and in changing game strategies from game to game.


Obviously I don’t know Collingwood as well as I know my Eagles, but Cox and DeGoey got in each other’s space in the Qualifying Final in Perth.  The way they split the Richmond defence last week was impressive.


Gaff’s suspension has meant pushing our small forwards more into midfield rotations.  Rioli, LeCras and to a lesser extent Ryan have shared the role.  But it has been the making of Jamie Cripps.  I used to joke that we got the mini-me to his cousin Patrick, but his gut running and tackling has added new dimensions to his (and our) game. 


Schofield lacks Brad Sheppard’s intercept marking and rebound, but he is experienced, quick and in many ways a better traditional defender.  It’s a loss, but only marginal.


It takes a village to raise a flag.


Finals Experience and Emotional Exhaustion


I didn’t write up our Preliminary Final win because it was just boys against men.  Melbourne had simply spent all their pennies getting that far.  They were both physically and emotionally spent.  


It seems odd to think that a team were just “not up” for such a big occasion, but when you consider their lack of previous finals’ experience and playing knockout matches for a month, it is entirely logical.


It’s one area where I think my Eagles have a big advantage.  Twelve grand finalists from 2015 and many of the others have played in the three finals of 2016/17.  Collingwood have the residual experience of 2010/11 from their senior players, but their younger players have never experienced such a big stage.


Our two finals games to their three this year seems more balanced, and Perth is a quieter environment to escape the hype and expectations – at least in the early part of Grand Final week. Perth rolls while Melbourne buzzes.  Adrenaline is fools gold.  Our flops of 2015 like Kennedy, Darling and Yeo seem to have a steely determination this year, while Collingwood seem more red cordial kids.


As Malcolm Blight used to say at Geelong – you have to lose one (or two…….or three) before you can win one.


Coaching for Laughs


Professional sport is such a mentally and emotionally taxing experience.  We expect so much of athletes and they expect so much of themselves.  Six months of weekly brutal competition and four months of pre-season torture would take a toll on any marriage.


“Honey – if you don’t lose a few kilos; pick up a few more possessions around the house; stop dropping the ball at work; and score a few more goals in the bedroom – I’m gonna trade you to the Dockers.”  How’s that work for you?  At what stage do you tune out and give my stock response “whatever”.


Nathan Buckley has always been an intensely driven high achiever, but that wears thin with us mortals.  His conscious efforts to step back and chill seem to have been a more effective method for getting results.


The thing I took away from Collingwood’s QF in Perth was how much they run, handball and back up (usually on the inside) for each other.  they are very disciplined about only committing one to the contest to maintain their backup runners.  Melbourne were easily pressured into turnovers when they tried the same strategy last week, but Collingwood should have been 5 goals ahead at 3/4 time in Perth if they had a marking forward.  They dominated possession and territory in the second and third quarters.


While more outwardly calm, Adam Simpson has been no less driven throughout his career.  Footy media talk about Alastair Clarkson as his coaching mentor but I see much more of his old coach for two flags at the Kangaroos in Dennis Pagan.  


I went back and had a look at the North sides of `96 and `99.  There were certainly some stars like Carey, Archer, McKernan, Stephens and Simpson – but jeez there were a lot of role players that made me think “how did he ever play in a premiership side?”


The hallmark of Pagan’s North was the “one for all” bonding of the playing unit until Wayne Carey took “all for one” too literally.  More than the sum of their parts.


I see a lot of similarities in the way Adam Simpson has moulded the Eagles.  Yeo his Archer.  Darling and Kennedy both Carey-like in their size, physicality and mobility for big men.  Duggan and Cole unheralded but solid.


Recognising that last year’s Eagles were solid and predictable but lacking speed and dare, he has stuck with precocious youth in Rioli, Ryan and Venables even when their form (and off-field problems) didn’t justify it.  The reward has been blossoming maturity in their finals performances,  and capacity to take on the challenges of greater role responsibilities.


Both coaches are outstanding individuals.  The type who would succeed in any walk of life, and that you would love to share a day or a meal with – just to see what makes them tick and how they conduct themselves behind closed doors.  Them as men – strategists, mentors, motivators and decision makers – not just the polished media performers they let us see.


Both have fashioned the inevitable from the improbable, and both clubs are fortunate to have discovered them (Simpson) or sustained them (Buckley).


I’m not worried about Sidebottom, DeGoey or Cox.  I’m worried about Grundy and rain.


This is intended to be an even handed if inevitably biased preview (“he would say that, wouldn’t he”).


In summary, I don’t think the MCG is as big a problem for the Eagles now with the wider Optus Stadium having similar dimensions.  We beat Collingwood convincingly there in Round 17 by 35 points (the game that Naitanui blew out his knee).


John Harms commented to me that he liked what he saw in the Eagles because they were an “old fashioned footy teams – two big blokes both ends – two strong lumbering ruckmen – and lots of nippy little blokes around the flanks”.  His comment crystallised for me that in my Eagles – everything old is new again.


After Richmond and Bulldogs chaos ball with minimal talls.  After Ross/Roos lock down stoppages murder ball.  After Hawthorn’s possession ballet.  The 2018 Eagles have fallen into the  model of being a traditional “good ordinary football team” (to paraphrase Jack Dyer).


Looking Forward


The dynamic duo of Darling and Kennedy were back to near best last week.  Darling’s new found strength, run and soft hands have taken a lot of pressure off JK.  They are much better together providing space and screens than either alone. 


Willie Rioli could be the new Cyril – or not.  Liam Ryan could be the new Leon Davis (ouch) – or not.  Mark LeCras found the fountain of youth in the early season, but has looked out of wheels in the last month.  His experience has still been good for a couple of goals and important connections each week.  Jamie Cripps is Mighty Mouse used more in the midfield post-Gaff but he still kicked three against the Dees.


The Magpie defensive unit is solid and smart.  But on a dry day I can’t see them holding the Eagles diverse forwards all game.  Jack Darling redeemed or Willie Rioli pre-destined are my Norm Smith tips.


Looking Back


At the other end our defence is our long suit.  They collectively spoil, tackle, run and rebound better than any other defensive unit.  Hurn is part Hodge/part Rommel – quarter back and field marshal.  As much as he marks and rebounds, we play with a spare behind so he can on-field general exactly who, where and what he wants in the defensive structure.  The parts move in lock step like meccano pieces (ask your grandfather).


Cole did a good job on DeGoey when Sheppard was hurt early in the QF.  Cole has the speed to run with JDG, but Schofield is equally equipped if he gets off the leash.  I am sure the Eagles coaches will have spent most time this week adapting to the different forward look that DeGoey and Cox provided last week.  DeGoey leading more to give Cox room doesn’t allow the combined defensive unit that the Eagles (and Richmond) prefer.  But it won’t be an unexpected problem as it was for the Tigers, as the Pies “showed their hand” last week.


Big Tom Barrass is well equipped to handle Cox’s height, and is my roughy for the Norm Smith (a la Brian Lake) if Collingwood put too much focus on limiting McGovern’s marking. Barass was in career best form with his intercept marking and spoiling last week.  Both team’s prodigal Jeremy’s are banged up, but will take our breath away, if not as consistently.


I struggle to see Collingwood kicking a score on a dry day.  Too many limited or out of form forwards.


Stuck in the Middle with You


If Collingwood are to win it will all start with Brodie Grundy.  He was outstanding against the Tigers and fed a rampaging Pies midfield.


He has been surprisingly quiet both times against the Eagles.  Well beaten by Naitanui at the Battle of Wounded Knee in July (and then held by Lycett in the second half).  In the QF Lycett and Vardy were used as battering rams to jump into him, tire him and nullify the accuracy of his taps.


Max Gawn was notably absent in the Prelim after dominating us in Round 22.  Does the single ruckman strategy have a limited shelf life over successive weeks of attritional football?  Here’s hoping.


Player for player the midfields are evenly matched, with a slight edge to the Magpies.  Sidebottom, Pendlebury, Adams and Treloar.  Yeo, Redden, Shuey and Hutchings.  


Sidebottom is the Player of the Finals (if not the season) but Hutchings limited him in Round 17, with SS taking the honours in the QF.  Good but not dominating as against the negligent Tigers.  I expect similar this week.  Pendlebury works in a shoe box and always finds a target, but has lost a yard to my eye.  Adams and Treloar et al bring the youthful exuberance and searing leg speed.


If Grundy dominates he could give his mids enough supply to overwhelm a resolute Eagles defence.  With a dozen more Inside 50’s Collingwood win.  Quantity more than quality.


Fire and Rain


Cold but dry = Eagles by 4 goals. 


Wet and slippery = Collingwood by 2 goals.


Norm tips: Jack Darling; Willie Rioli (first goal); Tom Barrass (roughie)


The Avenging Eagle and her extended family and I will be offering insults and bonhomie in the best Footy Almanac lunch tradition on Friday.  We are all lucky to be here.  


And my dreams are strange dreams, are day dreams, are grey dreams,

And my dreams are wild dreams, and old dreams and new;

They haunt me and daunt me with fears of the morrow —

My brothers they doubt me — but my dreams come true.


(Henry Lawson: The Wander-Light)



  1. Pierre, with research and turn of phrase I enjoy the colourful way you put a view (better than putting the Callaway). I hope you’re analysis bears fruit but am mindful that it is Magpie swooping season.

  2. Love it, Peter_B.
    Your thoughts and observations always get me thinking.

    I’m with you on the similarities between N Buckley and A Simpson and their respective efforts to forge a team, to forge a belief in the wake of (serious) interruptions. And their apparent shared bearing (this year) of calm.

    So many moving parts, so many humans, possibilities, hopes, dreams, hamstrings, knees, brains, instincts…

    See you tomorrow.

  3. Love the raise a flag line, among others.

    Hurn is part Hodge, part Rommell. I hadn’t thought of that, but he is from the Barossa.

    Lots of observations I’m considering. I do think general wisdom suggests Collingwood is at home at its homeground.

    I have no take on the match whatsoever – and I am surprised by the odds which has the Pies at$1.65 faves.

  4. PB – that’s a way better analysis than anything I’ll read in the mainstream media between now and Saturday. You’ve actually got me looking forward to a game that I was seriously thinking of avoiding!
    Very pertinent observations about the Tigers. The more I reflect on the debacle that was last Friday and our earlier loss to the Eagles, I’m pretty reconciled to the conclusion that the two best sides of 2018 are going around on Saturday. Your observations about necessity being the mother of invention are so true. Necessity gave rise to Richmond’s idiosyncratic structures that proved so effective in 2017, but which, over time, lessened in impact and became liabilities on Friday. The game, indeed, changes quickly. Totally agree too about the “old is new” of the WCE structure. Two genuine ruckmen, two key forwards and a bunch of talented crumbers, eh – who’d have thunk it?
    Enjoy the day and floreat aquila!

  5. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Is this Peter Baulderstone or Alf Brown?
    Alf’s Grand Final previews were similar in their incisive analysis and focus on match ups and strengths/weaknesses of each player.

    Reckon Yeo and Jetta could hold important keys in this one. Eagles more steeled from 2015 and Pies in carnivale mode a touch. Then again I’m a pessimist when it comes to Pies in GF’s. My right eye has almost completely closed and I’m in the foetal position as I type with my middle finger.

    Good luck to you and the Avenging Eagle , PB. Let’s hope it’s a game that showcases the best of both sides. Cheers

  6. Calm, considered, balanced and nuanced. I’m gunna say this is what we can see of the iceberg but deep down yer testing 1000 conflicting ideas a minute. That’s a GF prep for you and I wish yer team all the best.

    For my money (and it’s only play dough) I reckon the Eagles will win. Those two big boofs up forward are playing irresistible footy.


  7. I reckon we’re on similar wavelengths here, PB.

    Though mine could be influenced by a cultivated aversion to Magpies.

    Two will usually beat one. Eagles have two rucks and two big forwards. I think Stainless is right – the Tigers structure was a happy accident that turned out to fit the way their play developed. The Pies will need a big advantage in midfield to prevail. That might happen, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

    See ya tamara.

  8. Sorry to not be joining you and the AE tomorrow at lunch. We enjoyed the last one.
    Good *cough* luck on Saturday.

  9. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Bravo, PB. What a flowing and eloquent analysis/crystal ball.
    Adaptability is really what it’s all about I think – a guru for the 21st century. Game to game, moment to moment. The small and big picture in the same frame. I respect adaptability an awful lot, cause I think it’s awfully hard for human creatures to do.
    All the very best to you tomorrow. Allez les bleus et jaunes!

  10. Well played PB in retrospect it was quelling,Grundy and Sidebottom which was absolutely vital

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