Round 12 – Melbourne v Collingwood: One team sprints, another stumbles

Melbourne v Collingwood

5:10pm, Saturday August 15

The Gabba

 

 

They share a weird history, do Melbourne and my Pies.

 

Both are among the oldest teams in the league. We have shared periods of dominance, long stretches of heartbreak and, recently, a home ground. Yet the demographic of stereotypical fans differ so much. While the Demons spent their harsh years in September oblivion up at the snow, Collingwood fans stereotypically occupied themselves with the drink…and dental implants.

 

The massacre at the hands of Melbourne on Saturday night was eerily reminiscent of the 2018 Queen’s Birthday clash. In that contest, Melbourne had gone in as favourites after a blistering start to the season. They were the finals bolter; the team to dethrone Richmond. But a high scoring contest went the way of the Pies, who began a run that would finally end in the final minutes of that season’s Grand Final. On that day, Melbourne had walked away from the MCG disheartened and extremely disappointed, while Collingwood supporters quietly (if anything associated with Collingwood is ever quiet) took confidence out of what may lay ahead.

 

On Saturday, the Demons reversed the tables. After a season and a half spent wallowing in the shadows of a harrowing 2018 preliminary final loss, Melbourne have finally bounced back. Their past month had been solid against weaker teams, but their effort in dismantling the lacklustre Magpies was something else. It was a stepping stone, a memorable pillar for the future of the Melbourne Football Club.

 

From the other perspective, it was a final confirmation that something was amiss at Collingwood. Without Max Gawn, Brodie Grundy was expected to have a field day. The opening tap of the night went his way, and a long clearance was meant to find the arms of one of three black and white talls up forward. Instead, it was brought to ground and ran out without so much as a tap on the shoulder. Halfway through the quarter, the red and the blue had slammed on three goals while the Pies looked heavy in the legs.

 

Luckily I had other obligations taking me away from the game at quarter time, but I wasn’t surprised by the score whenever I checked in. The first quarter told me enough. With an extra tall in Ben Reid being thrust into a faltering forward line, Collingwood were always going to revert to a slow, down-the-line style. It has never worked. Not when we tried it in the second half of the Grand Final two years back. Not when GWS reduced us to a slog down a wet MCG wing last season. And definitely not when we have gone to it in numerous games this season. It took one attacking handball from Taylor Adams to break the mould – the sky ball arched over the rugby-style pack to a running Varcoe on the outside; a chain of handballs found Reid for the only Collingwood goal of the first term. Those 30 seconds took me back in time, to 2018, to that Queen’s Birthday attack-a-thon. When the ball was moved through the corridor with risk and pace, the forward line was always left open. Not even Usain Bolt could get back quickly enough to intercept a long ball in if the fleet-footed Magpies took the game on.

 

Unfortunately, upon review this was one of the few times Collingwood tried such a tactic.

 

Another conclusion that this match proved was that Nathan Buckley’s tactical evolution has strayed too far. In the years leading up to 2018, Collingwood struggled with a boundary-line approach left over from Mick Malthouse. In a matter of seasons, teams knew to defend the sides and slow down the contest. When Travis Cloke left, Collingwood had no tall target to constantly rely on.

 

It took turmoil and years of mediocrity for Buckley to relax and introduce a free-willed, devil-may-care approach down the guts. When it was introduced, fringe players like Josh Thomas and Will Hoskin-Elliott found their feet. Goals flowed. Mihocek walked in from the VFL and slotted goals from the get-go. A lanky American relished the open space to lead Alex Rance and the reigning premiers on a merry dance.

 

Rapt with what a little slackening of the rope had done, Bucks used 2019 as the year to tighten the noose. With Moore, Langdon and Howe all in wonderful form to start the season, the Magpies went from attacking beasts to dour defenders. It worked for parts of the year, but Buckley’s change to steadiness and reliability cost them when a Grand Final beckoned. In 2020, Buckley tried to possess the ball even more, and it has meant the Pies had stalled to an ugly stop.

 

On the other hand, Melbourne were fast and free. Christian Petracca is one Demon who has certainly benefited from an open game plan. He bullied the Magpie midfield, held together grimly by Adams, and then floated forward to punish tired defenders. Sam Weideman proved he should never have spent time in the VFL, controlling the attacking group and kicking a few himself. When you play bravely and without fear, random goalkickers spring up. To no surprise, Simon Goodwin was left pleased by the emergence of Charlie Spargo, who bounced around for a hattrick of goals. Surprising players stepped up from everywhere, sticking their heads up ‘whack-a-mole’ style without any fear of being struck on the head.

 

The Pies certainly haven’t been helped by untimely injuries. To go with the growing list on the sidelines, Mihocek was knocked out stone cold, and Reid succumbed to the loosely-held-together hamstring that is seemingly always ready to pop. But it was no excuse for the lack of effort and cohesion. For the giving up, for the slowness of play that threatened to ruin an exhilarating attacking game from the Demons. In the other camp, there were smiles to go with the hard yards. For Melbourne fans, it’s a wonderful sight. For Collingwood, it’s a disappointing and frustrating reminder of what we had, and what we may have now lost. Let’s hope some reckless abandon and direct play can find its way back into the stagnant Magpie machine.

 

 

MELBOURNE            3.3      10.4    12.4    16.4 (100)

COLLINGWOOD        1.1      5.2      6.6      6.8 (44)

 

GOALS

Melbourne: Spargo 3, Fritsch, Langdon, Melksham, Weideman 2, Brayshaw, McDonald, Petracca, Pickett, Sparrow

Collingwood: Reid 2, Adams, Brown, Elliott, Hoskin-Elliott

 

BEST

Melbourne: Oliver, Langdon, Petracca, Brayshaw, Hibberd, May, Spargo

Collingwood: Adams, Sidebottom, Grundy, Daicos 

 

 

 

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