Round 4 – Collingwood v GWS: Weary bones refuse to work in chilly conditions




Melbourne’s weather isn’t as fabled as Sydney’s.


In the cross-city rivalries, Melbourne’s foe is known for turning on dismal weather in critical times, particularly during cricket season. But last night it was Melbourne’s turn to unleash blistering winds and splatters of icy rain. It was befitting of the night for many involved with the Collingwood Football Club.


Football, somewhat surprisingly, is a mental game. As Scott Pendlebury led his team out for his record-breaking 201st game at AFL’s mecca, most fans were rugged up at home, sat in front of the heater watching the final ebbs of St Kilda’s miracle comeback win against the Eagles. In just seven days, the Saints had gone from being thrashed by Essendon to beating one of the better-structured outfits in the league. No amount of physical training or tactical nous can do that. It’s all between the ears.


This sentiment rang true throughout the next two and a half hours at the MCG. If the black and white army had been playing Carlton or Richmond then we would have seen a more confident side, handling the wet conditions and attacking incessantly down the middle. Players would have ran more. Kicks would have hit targets. More goals would be kicked, enthusing a bigger crowd.


But when Collingwood play GWS, there is none of this. Instead, Nathan Buckley’s men decide to retract into their shells, like a shy turtle trying to (understandably) retain all body heat due to the Antarctic gale sliding through Melbourne’s CBD. No one dares to streak down the middle. Kicks slide off boots, and players allow doubt to enter their minds. In a game dominated by psychologists behind the scenes, Collingwood’s consistent mental inaptitude against the Giants reared its head.


The crux of the matter came down to coaching decisions. The only positive to emerge out of a disastrous off-season was the Christmas morning haul of wide-eyed draftees, with dazzling highlight reels and a massive upside. But only two have been seen – Oliver Henry was given a token debut in round one before being shoved back to a forward pocket in the reserves, while Beau McCreery finally got his chance last night. His game was honest – a hard-working, exuberant game with the tackling and pressure acts of a kid desperate to play more footy at AFL level. His opening goal was the highlight of the night. Unfortunately, too many older teammates waltzed around without that tenacity to hold onto their spot, perhaps feeling the warm blanket of guaranteed selection.


For how stagnant Collingwood was, both physically and mentally, GWS were equivalently sharp. Leon Cameron had only the bare essentials to work with in his cupboard – a pinch of Greene and a dash of Kelly, perhaps a teaspoon of Ward. What he had, he used terrifically to conjure up a face-saving dish. If this was a Masterchef pressure test, Leon had saved himself from elimination.


The Giants know how to stop the Pies. They and West Coast were the first exponents of slowing the free-flowing Magpie machine in 2018 and early 2019. By getting more numbers to the footy at stoppages and putting a hulking presence on Brodie Grundy (this time it was Mumford, re-enacting his third reprise of Frankenstein), the Giants came away with most of the stoppages. It’ll only become easier – Pendlebury is only getting older, while Sidebottom’s third quarter burst may never result in the four quarter showing of utter class we have seen many times. With Adams now injured, it leaves Crisp and De Goey with too much to do. It raises the question of how handy Treloar may have been in these tight scenarios.


GWS pounced on this – Ward, Taranto and Kelly enjoyed great nights, while Mumford strained every meaty muscle to its last sinew to ensure Grundy didn’t lead the Pies back into the contest. Up forward, Greene was his usual self; slinking away from tackles and wriggling like a slippery baby to find space. Poor Isaac Quaynor should never have been tasked with guarding him – the decision only curbed Quaynor’s attacking instincts and left him in a confused no-mans’-land between his natural game and his pre-game instructions. When Maynard finally got the job, the game changed. It was too late.


Despite threatening to emerge as tiring winners, GWS held strong. A brutal start to the second half and a tight end to the final quarter solidified a crucial win. Now, the world is off their shoulders. They may not win next week, but they have a free pass.


Nathan Buckley assumes the role of Atlas this week. For a side capable of playing such destructive and aggressive football, they still refuse to devise a back-up plan for when teams deny their constant handballs. It’s a mindset – the idea to be bold and take the game on through the middle of the ground. In the fleeting moments they did so last night (think of Howe’s run off half-back and Cox’s play on and kick down the middle) they scored goals and looked dangerous. Many players were brought into the game. But it all too quickly was clammed up by slow, down-the-line play that fed into GWS’ steel-strong tactics to fight out a gritty win.


This bitter-cold night at the MCG may be a turning point. Finally, everything over the past six months has reached a sharp head for the Magpies. There may be many solutions that arise over the next few months, but for now, a dash of youth and a shot of exuberance when moving the ball forward may just be the temporary tonic. As long as the midfield can work out a proper structure going forward.



COLLINGWOOD        1.2        4.5       7.6      9.6 (60)
GWS                               2.2         6.3     10.3     14.6 (90)


De Goey 2, Hoskin-Elliott 2, Daicos, Madgen, McCreery, Mihocek, Thomas
Greater Western Sydney: Greene 5, Finlayson 4, Kelly 2, Hill, Himmelberg, Riccardi

 Madgen, Crisp, Sidebottom, Moore, Howe, Daicos
Greater Western Sydney: Greene, Ward, Ash, Finlayson, Taranto, Hill, Hopper


 Adams (knee), Sier (illness)
Greater Western Sydney: Ward (hand)


 Greenwood (replaced Sier)
Greater Western Sydney: Shipley (unused)


29,866 at MCG



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