Round 3 – Collingwood v St Kilda: Fear and hope



Collingwood v St Kilda

4:35pm, Saturday June 20





Something about this was a danger game.



It started on Thursday night, when the Tigers fell to Hawthorn in an MCG boilover. Then, the other 2019 Grand Finalist in GWS stumbled against the Bulldogs. To prove this post-hiatus issue wasn’t just plaguing the league’s 2019 powerhouses, the undefeated North Melbourne then lost their moniker in the hours leading up to Collingwood’s clash with the resurgent Saints.



There was some cause for optimism; the return of Jaidyn Stephenson warmed the cockles of a black and white heart pleading for speed and dynamism, while Rupert Wills’ inclusion strengthened Collingwood’s midfield. Nothing like a bit of grunt to provide more mental security.



My wavering fears were soon fertilised by a shocking Brodie Grundy start. The evolving ruckman was clearly being targeted by St Kilda pair Paddy Ryder and Rowan Marshall – Ryder out-worked him easily in the early ruck duels, then Grundy coughed up a soft 15 metre chip kick. When Dan Butler pounced to banana through the evening’s first major, butterflies erupted out of the poorly locked cage in my stomach.



Thankfully, the mistakes from the ponytailed number four soon dried up, as he began to win the hit-outs and get his night back on track. One such tap eventually fell to Scott Pendlebury, who tangoed his way out of trouble, performed a nice little one-two with young Tyler Brown and then placed the Sherrin into the path of a flying Stephenson. All was settling back down. Stevo was back.



To confirm his return to the AFL fold was perhaps a tad delayed, he pounced on an audacious Nick Coffield handball and snapped through another. It was like he was looking back up at Bucks in the coach’s box – “How do you like me now Nathan?”



Just like that, Stephenson’s quick burst changed the complexity of the afternoon. From there, Jamie Elliott and Will Hoskin-Elliott decided to remedy poor performances the previous week. The former slid face-first into the uncompromising MCG turf to prove his dedication, and then skilfully curled through a set shot that reeked of skill.



With Pendlebury, Sidebottom and Taylor Adams now finding considerable space through the centre, Elliott queued up for a second bite at the cherry. The Pies, lambasted for their defence-first mindset the previous round, now were going on a merry goal-blitz.



But the Saints were a new-look and exciting bunch – they weren’t going to let Collingwood put the game beyond doubt so quickly. Jack Steele did the unthinkable and caught the protruding biceps of Adams in a crunching tackle. His effort thwarted another black and white surge; Marshall would benefit with a mark and goal just minutes later.



There was something great about the atmosphere. Sure, it lacked the fans, but seeing the traditional home jumper of Collingwood in early winter sunlight is a sight all Magpie supporters cherish. Seeing a peroxide-haired Jeremy Howe soaring for marks is another, and the shiny bald head of Sidebottom popping up out of packs to guide the ball onto his trusty left boot would join the others in a Collingwood-themed Louvre. Bucks’ furry cheeks would play the Mona Lisa – is he smiling? Do his eyes follow you wherever you stand?



A four-goal break at the quarter time was swiftly reeled in by the Saints. They started off the second term like Brett Ratten had fired the warning signs of a verbal rocket. Max King gave frothing St Kilda mouths another reason to believe in him – his towering mark and goal came over one of the best defenders in Jordan Roughead. Butler gave an ‘up yours’ to Richmond when he slotted a second major; how the Tigers would have loved his consistency in the past few weeks.



But for all of Collingwood’s tatts and glamour (or lack thereof), they have some sturdy pillars holding up the fort. Brody Mihocek is one such member – his quads could hoist the Parthenon, and perhaps perform half a dozen reps with them. His power means he is incredibly hard to beat when in the prime spot; Dougal Howard found that out the hard way.



When Tyler Brown then performed a minor changing of the guard ceremony by side-stepping old-timer Dan Hannebery and slamming through his first goal in the big leagues, Collingwood had steadied and returned to their comfortable buffer. The avalanche was only just beginning – Sidebottom had been moved back into the centre for 2020 and so far, he was returning to his 2018 form. Quick as a flash he judged a floating ball to perfection and then dished off to the running Adams, who steered through a goal to match his scintillating first half.



A week is a long time in footy. The Magpies had been slow and dysfunctional last Thursday. They’d gone from being the boring old grandpa against Richmond to the hot, leather jacket-wearing, dyed-hair sporting stud full of slickness. The half-back line was repelling St Kilda attacks like they were a cloud of Aeroguard on a summer’s day. Mihocek’s bulging quads slammed through a set shot from beyond the arc. The Pies had clicked in a frenzied second term, and were out by nearly 40 at the main break.



It was always going to be too good to be true. The Magpies had unsheathed their damaging sword out of its scabbard in the second term, and now were wary of showing too much too soon. They relied on their star-studded back line in the second half, and consolidated the win. St Kilda never looked a chance – mainly due to not being able to crack the likes of Moore, Roughead, Maynard and Howe. They are fast becoming the modern Fort Knox of footy; a title passed on from Josh Gibson, Brian Lake and Grant Birchall. The black and white version just need some silverware to match.



St Kilda had cause for hope on an otherwise bleak day. They had come in seriously believing they could inflict another upset, and had been brutally smacked back into their place. But King is only going to get better, and Jade Gresham is turning into a fine midfielder. There’s plenty to be proud of for the Saints – they just came out against a slick black and white machine who may have just realised now is their window of premiership opportunity.



The Pies remain undefeated, and looked a lot better. Elliott and Stephenson are key to the forward line structure – when they cause headaches, Mihocek and De Goey can explore wherever they like. Sidebottom back in the midfield is not a concern, for Pendlebury and his bald pal still defy age to make a withering combo. The young Browns and Daicos are improving. There’s a lot to like down at Collingwood. There’s definitely a long way to go – but Saturday gave me a small shot of an exhilarating feeling. One that is dangerous for any Collingwood fan who has witnessed such heartache to hold: Hope.





COLLINGWOOD          5.3       10.4     11.7     12.9 (81)
ST KILDA                       2.1        4.2       5.6       5.7 (37)



 Stephenson 2, Elliott 2, Mihocek 2, T. Brown 2, Adams 2, Sidebottom, De Goey
St Kilda: Butler 2, Marshall, King, Marsh



 Sidebottom, Adams, Pendlebury, Grundy, Crisp, Maynard
St Kilda: Gresham, Butler, Hill, Jones, Carlisle




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