Grand Final – West Coast v Collingwood: McGovern, Vardy, Ryan, Sheed.

 

 

Grand Final day, the great equaliser. A day that make legends out of the humble back pockets, that cuts ruckmen and goliath full-forwards down to size and constricts the MCG to a bullring. There is no room for dashing flankers – but when they split space and burn down wings, they rise to folklore. Think Jason Johannisen and Bachar Houli.

 

There is no space to breathe in a Grand Final, which in turn accentuates the coolness in the moment tenfold, while the semi-miraculous becomes historical. The game does not require Luke Shuey, Taylor Adams, even Dom Sheed until the final moments. It requires Josh Kennedy, Jordan De Goey, Tom Barrass, Jeremy McGovern and Tom Langdon.

 

For the first half, Collingwood played football that was worthy of a Premiership. Travis Varcoe and Jaidyn Stephenson slayed the Eagles’ half-back line with ferocious pace. Langdon in defence, impassable. Taylor Adams, Scott Pendlebury and Adam Treloar farmed the ball out with precision, but not so Grundy and Sidebottom.

 

Jordan De Goey. The man cannot be subdued. He tore apart the Giants and Tigers with blows in moments that held significance. In the Grand Final, he first shrugged two tacklers and snapped truly from a pocket in the first – in the second, he launched a missile from outside 50 that had Yarra Park leaping skyward.

 

Will Hoskin-Elliott scored from the boundary and it was Collingwood, Collingwood, Collingwood. Everything worked for a Magpie side too beat up and broken to realise it was too beat up and broken. They pressured man and ball, then leapt into a fearsome attack that rolled in waves down the ground.

 

It was footballing magnificence, but the Eagles did not dissipate.

 

It became apparent that Scott Lycett and Nathan Vardy were breaking even in the ruck while Luke Shuey’s accumulation of leather became noticeable. The Eagles broke the game into an enthralling stalemate, launching bodies into bodies, ever so carefully nudging digits off Collingwood’s once commanding lead. Willie Rioli’s pressure on the ball-carrier was magnificent – his pace led to a comical first goal where the forward pocket ankle-tapped the ball through. A set-shot conversion from spearhead Josh Kennedy and the game was on.

 

If the first quarter was a dam burst, then the second was a drought – broken at the 20 minute mark by the bubbling De Goey. This was Collingwood’s moment to reinstate a lead, to re-assert their dominance on the Eagles – but Mark Hutchings, the man who would nullify Brownlow Medal runner-up Sidebottom, and Luke Shuey shortened Collingwood’s advantage to a mere two goals. Liam Ryan cannoned into the ribs of Brayden Maynard. The crowd bayed.

 

It was in the first 20 minutes of the second that Barass and Langdon soared. Barass had Mason Cox subdued, the Texan left to gesticulating at umpires and crashing into packs without reward. In the meantime, Barass’ intercept marking had held Collingwood’s formidable forward dash at bay while Jeremy McGovern worked quietly away. Langdon at the other end was similarly fabulous, the best afield at half time with enough marks for a full game and enough game-saving efforts to cement himself forever in Collingwood hearts.

 

But the Pies looked tired. Their young, enigmatic forwards were flagging – Will Schofield had gone to De Goey and kept him to cameos. Hutchings’ shut-down job on Sidebottom cannot be understated – neither can Vardy and Lycett’s double-team of Brodie Grundy. While Treloar and Pendlebury played second fiddle to an awesome Taylor Adams, Dom Sheed’s influence mirrored Luke Shuey’s in its magnificence.

 

The Eagles, undoubtedly, had run left in their legs. Collingwood had the look of a side primed to be ran down.

 

But someone forgot to give the teams the script.

 

Josh Kennedy’s second began the final half with a promise, but Collingwood held fast. Mason Cox and Jack Darling had shared a possession and a mark between them at the long break – now, both were Hercules. Darling’s third quarter comprised of what was surely at least 38 contested marks and the expungement of his 2015 Grand Final calamity – not since Tom Hawkins’ ridiculous 2011 performance has a key forward brought such a blitzkrieg upon the MCG on Grand Final day. Mason Cox buried Richmond with 3 goals and countless marks down the line – his third quarter was ominous. Barass became human again but now McGovern was Superman. A goal-for-goal sequence early in the Premiership quarter had fans in various degrees of delirium as Cox grabbed his first, spindly arms forever at full extension.

 

It was the kind of football that transcends the norm and becomes truly breathtaking, with every contest brimming with storylines and gut-wrenching effort. Adams’ dribbling goal was an immense effort from a young man playing the game of his life – but Darling, then Elliot Yeo, leveled the game at the final break, two Eagles almost absent in the first half who were instrumental in reigniting the match.

 

Yet still, Collingwood galloped onward. Mihocek and De Goey ballooned the lead back to 12 points with two minutes of the final quarter’s first bounce. De Goey, shackled by the terrific beard of Will Schofield, was allowed not an inch in the second half – his singular goal, however, could’ve been the difference. It could’ve been Cox, too – the big American glided perfectly into a chaotic mess in the Collingwood forward line and rose with the Sherrin in hand not five minutes later. He would give Collingwood a lead worth a kick, a lead held until the final two minutes.

 

Collingwood’s injury-stricken season was known by all – fully expected to create problems during September. With 20 minutes left in their year, the Pies ran out of puff and the Eagles rose with a vengeance. Shuey’s game was becoming more notable than his post-siren heroics of 2017. Darling’s reputation as a Grand Final laughing stock was shrinking by the second. Willie Rioli caused more headaches in Collingwood’s defence than the common cold. Yet in the pressure cooker that was the MCG, no Eagle could kick the winning goal.

 

It could’ve been Liam Ryan, twice. It could’ve been Chris Masten.

 

But it wasn’t and in each instance Collingwood whisked the football away for a critical moment. When a streaking De Goey found open air for the first time in a millennium in time on, the enigmatic forward had a chance to end the game for all money.

 

But McGovern, a man once expected to leave the club, a man who was suffering internal bleeding, a man moving like an octogenarian, got there.

 

He got there, spoiled the footy. Kept the game alive. Out on the turf, the players fall, exhausted, but McGovern rose still. Two points in it and the game is there. Collingwood have led all day and Adam Treloar, solid as a rock but still lacking his moment, bludgeons the ball forward.

 

Here it is.

 

McGovern leaves De Goey in the goalsquare and sprints to the pocket. If Collingwood kick a goal, that’s it, and McGovern decides to leave De Goey alone. If he had of stayed, Collingwood are Premiers. He goes.

 

It’s Jetta and Mihocek in the pocket, holding on to one another like lovers. McGovern plants himself between them and drags down a hanger, plays on before the crowd can explode. He thinks about blazing the kick to the wing, but stabs at it instead, seeking the chest of Nathan Vardy. Vardy left Geelong after years and years of injury – he marks now and that’s all that matters. There are just over 2 minutes left.

 

Vardy could have handballed it, didn’t. He kicks the ball to the wing, but it is an equal contest and Hutchings is under the footy. Crisp leaps from behind. Langdon does what he does and flies.

 

Liam Ryan, the ace in the pack, goes back with the flight. He is caught between Langdon and Crisp in the air, Hutchings standing, lost, below. Ryan snatches the ball from the air, fully sandwiched.

 

The moment holds. Ryan is a blur of blue in the grandstand, two Magpies folding into him in unison. His face is hidden by the blazing red Sherrin, one of two things that are still. The other is the brown/blonde head of Mark Hutchings, neck craned skyward.

 

Crisp flies through, Langdon and Ryan fall out of the sky.

 

Ryan has marked. The ball drops, but he’s done enough. Langdon has the pigskin but the umpire’s whistle has blown and he can only stare at West Coast’s #1, a man in his first year of AFL football, with a disgruntled, awed look upon his face. Liam Ryan is not done.

 

He grabs the ball from Langdon, darts forward. Sheed has snuck into a pocket and that’s where Liam Ryan goes. Brayden Maynard is there but so is Willie Rioli, shoving the Pie out of the way.

 

It could’ve been a block. It may have been a block. But the umpire thinks not and Rioli had his eyes on the ball. Dom Sheed can win the game. He is tucked in the pocket, 40 metres from goal. He must kick straight.

 

His left foot is true and it’s done. Sheed, the midfielder who was dropped thrice this year. Sheed, the midfielder who can only accumulate. The Eagles, who can only win at home.

 

Dom Sheed kicks the footy and noise fills the void.

 

West Coast.

Comments

  1. Wonderfully written summary of one of the great grand finals (and we’ve had a few in recent years), Paddy.
    From a strictly statistical point of view, my mind flashed back to the 1979 Grand Final, with Carlton taking the place of West Coast on a very muddy MCG.
    The scores in 1979 were remarkably similar to Saturday’s game – 11.16 (82) to 11.11 (77) versus 11.13 (79) to 11.8 (74).
    The margin in both games was a five-point loss to Collingwood, the Magpies kicking the first five goals of the match on each occasion.
    Apologies if this has already been mentioned in previous discussion of the match.

  2. John Butler says:

    Onya, Paddy.

    Hutchings’ work in this game should never be underestimated.

  3. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Great description Paddy.
    If I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t need to after that.
    Bravo and merci.

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