Round 13 – Melbourne v Collingwood: A heart-breaking/ warming finale


Never has there been a day as unique in Collingwood’s long history. Straight away as Nathan Buckley led an impromptu press conference during the week and announced his departure within the next week, Collingwood’s Queens Birthday clash with the ladder-leading Melbourne took on a whole new aura.


Suddenly, the Pies went from long shots after a brave win in Adelaide to an outside chance. If there’s anything Collingwood does well, it’s turning up in big games when the odds are piled against them. Think last year’s elimination final in Perth, or 2018’s preliminary final upset over Richmond. The club, as maligned as they are, cherish getting written off.


But even this was a tall ask. Intermingled with the usual superb coverage of the Big Freeze (this year across two G’s) were tributes to Buckley – the Terminator-like machine of a player, the fearless leader and the relatable coach. By the time the ball was bounced, many of us at home were emotionally exhausted. Clearly, the emotional rollercoaster was only just beginning to take off.


In an uninspiring start, Collingwood tried desperately to prevent a damaging Melbourne start, and stretched every muscle in holding the rope tight. Despite Neal-Bullen slotting the opening major, the Pies stayed within touch with an answer from Darcy Cameron, who quickly got to work and put the best tall defensive combo on notice.


It was remarkable to see how the black and white mob, a group who had struggled to create dynamic attacking forays all season long, picked apart Melbourne’s successful defensive system. Usually slow and measured, fleets of Magpies found themselves pushing into open space, creating a free-flowing corridor style that lent itself to decent scoring for the first time this season.


It took until the second term for Collingwood’s gut-running and dedication to opening space came to fruition. In an eyebrow raising second term, the Pies fell ten points behind, only to slot five goals in the half-hour of play to take a three-goal lead into the main break. With Jordan De Goey committed to a full-time midfield role alongside a rejuvenated Pendlebury, the former tore the game apart against the vaunted bulls of Petracca and Oliver.


In defence, Maynard’s bounce and Quaynor’s attacking role on Pickett changed the game. Instead of looking dangerous, Melbourne’s forward line was perfectly matched up on, as Roughead and Moore’s jobs on McDonald and Weideman respectively highlighted the need for the Dees to bring in Ben Brown in future weeks.


On the flip side, Collingwood’s talls, who had endured a much leaner season so far, competed differently. Cameron found space all day and took vital marks, while Mihocek emerged brilliantly with a stunning brace of goals to establish the Pies’ lead. With McCreery’s pressure and Hoskin-Elliott’s run also adding new elements, the Magpies’ forward line came to life.


But the biggest revelation of the day was the match-up between Max’s Gawn and Lynch. Just three years ago, all eyes were on All-Australian combatants Grundy and Gawn at the MCG. Three years later, Grundy’s neck injury gave the unknown Lynch a crack at footy’s most daunting ruck job (alongside Naitanui, of course). By the game’s conclusion, Lynch would win the hit-outs and very much hold his own in a shock result.


Yet this didn’t prevent Melbourne from re-entering the scoreboard. The opening half of the third term saw the Dees create a faster tempo up forward, resulting in better pressure and a flurry of goals to reclaim the lead. As Salem, Petracca and Harmes all exerted their abilities across the ground, Collingwood’s defiant stand for their departing coach looked to be finally falling short.


But the Pies didn’t stop. They had every right to, against a side on top of the ladder who had no injuries afflicting key players. Goals to Cameron and Mihocek kept them ahead at the final break, giving Buckley one last chance to rev up his troops and guide them home.


Whatever happened, emotional or not, it worked. Sensing the meaning of the result, Messrs Pendlebury and Sidebottom took over, turning back the clock in the midfield to run riot. It was a beautiful renaissance, a reminder to Petracca and Oliver that they may be entering their peak, but they still couldn’t fight the masters of the black and white midfield craft. Alongside De Goey and Crisp, they had vital allies. Melbourne didn’t have enough contributors to stop the tide.


In a three-goal final term, a wonderful Noble kick up the middle found Pendlebury in space. From there, a target is always going to be hit. On this occasion, it was the fortunate Cameron, who cashed in with a career-high fourth goal. It was the type of play not seen from the Pies since 2018. Full of dare, risk and dash. The type that makes you forget to breathe, and then exhale with satisfaction when you see the speed and direct nature of ball movement. In a final hurrah for a favourite Magpie, the Pies dug deep into the pits of their recent success and pulled a rabbit out.


Of course, the two veterans had the final word on the contest. With the game on the line, and Melbourne surging, a timely Pendlebury tackle and set shot goal from the boundary extended the margin, and roused the raw emotion of many across the country. In what would win the best afield honours, Pendles yet again picked the right time to uncork his genius.


Despite Melbourne’s every effort to avoid a mega Queens Birthday embarrassment, Collingwood held out, their defence proving their worth in a tight final few minutes. While the cameras sat on Buckley congratulating his coaches, Sidebottom marked and goaled after the siren to finish the fairy tale.


Still looking strong and defiant, Buckley strolled out onto the SCG one last time, a small smile on his face. For a man who barely showed his emotions and just soldiered on, it was an emotional finish to a Collingwood tenure worthy of the best celebrations. On this historic and unforgettable day, his team did just that. Sometimes the poignance of footy is astounding.



MELBOURNE          2.2     4.4     8.6     9.9 (63)

COLLINGWOOD     1.4     6.8     8.11     11.14 (80)



Melbourne: Jackson 2, Neal-Bullen, Harmes, Oliver, Gawn, Petracca, Fritsch, Langdon

Collingwood: Cameron 4, Mihocek 3, Hoskin-Elliott, McCreery, Pendlebury, Sidebottom



Melbourne: Salem, Petracca, Harmes, Oliver, Jordon

Collingwood: De Goey, Maynard, Pendlebury, Crisp, Cameron, Quaynor, Lynch



Melbourne: Nil

Collingwood: Murphy (corked leg)



Melbourne: Kade Chandler (unused)

Collingwood: Jay Rantall (replaced Nathan Murphy)



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  1. Daryl Schramm says

    I enjoyed the day’s viewing from go to whoa (match commentary aside). All’s well that ends well it seems, especially given some of the criticism of Buckley’s decision to grant himself a finale. One observation from the match for me was that there seemed to be so much more room/space and less congestion on the smaller SGC yesterday with the red and white team not playing. Lovely last sentence Sean.

  2. As well as Nathan Buckley’s farewell victory i was intrigued by Sam Weideman’s game.

    Unless my old eyes deceive me he had the sort of day, James Merlino, Professor Brett Sutton, and millions of Victorians are hoping for: a donut day. Unless there was a late possession I missed he failed to tally a possession. True, Melbourne are set for September action, but to go deep into the month a key forward is handy. On yesterday’s showing Ben Brown may be their best bet.


  3. george smith says

    Very sad about this, I thought it time for a change after 10 years, plus the turgid footy our team was playing earlier in the year.

    However it was great to see a favorite son go out with a win, nobody has done that since Jock McHale. Also fortune has given me a chance to see one of our greatest wins live, thanks to moving the game to Sydney. I never expected that.

    One interesting thing – Collingwood plays the SCG very well. They have been coming up here nearly every year since 1981, admittedly most of those wins were at Homebush Stadium. i have been advocating for years that the Pies play all their finals at Sydney Olympic Stadium, to give them an edge!

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