Round 5 – Collingwood v Essendon: Give me Julia and Maynard ahead of cold Pies

 

 

It’s always hard to be confident when coming up against the Bombers.

 

My childhood is plagued by the calming sensation that rolled over me halfway through the last quarter on ANZAC Day 2009. The horror show of the final ten minutes is the stuff of black and white nightmares. Although the Pies hadn’t lost to Essendon since 2017, you just had to go back to the two tense clashes against the red and black last season to remind fans why the Bombers can never be taken lightly.

 

Losing two stars in Jeremy Howe and Steele Sidebottom, Collingwood had to perform consistently if they were to get over the line. The away side were without their best player in Zach Merrett, so it shaped as an interesting nigh at the `G.

 

I’m no believer of omens, but witnessing my one-eyed Pies father elect to watch re-runs of RocKwiz over the game didn’t bode well. He had never missed a Collingwood game – recent matches and a lower-scoring competition meant he wasn’t enthused by the upcoming contest. I wish I had joined him in enjoying some Julia Zemiro quips and tasteful musical trivia.

 

Five minutes into the contest my arched back began to relax onto the downstairs couch. Huddled in a blanket (it’s always colder down where the heater can’t reach) and nursing a Canadian Club, Jaidyn Stephenson got off to another rapid start. Sporting long sleeves on a chilly Friday night, he managed to snag two goals before Essendon defenders realised they had to deny him space in front to lead into. Once they made this adjustment, he faded out of the contest fast; dissipating like an apparition. Had he really been on the field in the first place?

 

The majority of the first half was controlled by Collingwood. Brodie Grundy faced a physical duel against ex-Blue big man Andrew Philips. With Pendlebury and young Josh Daicos using the ball wonderfully, the favourites jumped three clear and looked headed for a redeeming win. Then the rain fell.

 

Something about Collingwood turns from wine to water (pun intended) when the rain arrives. Nathan Buckley’s men base their forays forward on high-possession and creative handballs. When the Sherrin turned to soap, the Pies didn’t adjust their plans. They still chipped backwards, and tried to cleanly pick through Essendon’s defence. It backfired horribly – the Bombers’ midfield cracked in harder and continually willed it forward. Their smarts in trying conditions gifted them three goals to finish the term on level footing with their rivals.

 

Expecting to reset and once again prevail in the stampeding rain, Collingwood surprised us all – they changed nothing. Pendlebury will go down as one of the black and white’s best ever, but even he failed to recognise that his team’s tactics had to evolve. No longer could they handball every time they grabbed the ball – gaining territory was pivotal.

 

The Bombers couldn’t have received a better gift. Collingwood’s midfield became non-existent; trying to focus on pretty plays and clearances only gifted Dylan Shiel and Jake Stringer opportunities out the back of the pack to surge away with ball in hand. The latter came into the game down forward – a fortuitous high-ball out the back fell into his arms, and he duly converted two goals in a manner of minutes to break the contest open.

 

Down by two goals going into the second half, Collingwood’s numerous experiments were beginning to blow up in their faces a la Frankenstein. Mason Cox didn’t rack up a possession until the last quarter. The choice to include him on such a wet night was a head-scratcher. Brody Mihocek was blanketed up forward, much like the other small attackers who surrounded him. Travis Varcoe proved he was much better suited going for goal, not trying to defend them.

 

On the flip side, Essendon’s bold strategy to include Philips for Bellchambers was bearing rich fruit; Grundy may have smacked him in statistics, but we all know that footy isn’t just a numbers game. To see his impact, you had to watch Philips negate Grundy’s hit-outs, and use his physicality to quell Grundy’s free-running game. Coming up against a million-dollar-man, Philips reduced him to a football peasant in the harsh conditions.

 

Ultimately, Essendon’s rampant second and third quarters were built on endeavour. McGrath, Shiel and Stringer all wanted the ball more than the Pies’ centre brigade, and it showed when they continually strolled out clearances. The Bombers’ forward line relished the wet weather, for it covered up their lack of a tall forward option. McDonald-Tipungwuti had both an industrious and a questionable night; his direct opponent in Maynard was one of the best players on the ground, but the small forward still managed to influence contests and wreak havoc with his pace and pressure. He also popped up with two critical majors in the third term. Hurley had a field day down back, picking off the scraps that frequently arose when Cox and Mihocek misjudged the ball. Stringer was destroying the Pies in the middle – his muscular frame allowing him to dismiss tackles and boot three telling goals.

 

I was left shaking my head at three quarter time. The goal review decision against De Goey’s freak baulk and shot on goal did nothing to enthuse me, but it had little impact on the game. The Pies deserved to lose; in fact, other than that decision, the umpires had given Collingwood a decent ride. If it wasn’t for some decisions and the tough-lined approach of Brayden Maynard, Collingwood would have been behind by 10 goals.

 

Freezing downstairs in an angry state of commitment to enduring the final term, the Pies teased. In a similar vein to their heartbreaking 2019 Preliminary Final loss, they surged from nowhere. Players went from being unsighted to pushing into the thick of the action. Mihocek and Cox began to get in front and lead. Teammates took pointers from Maynard – his simple game of attacking hard and kicking long had made him his side’s best player by a long way. The side had finally learnt to kick the footy more, and it reaped rich rewards when four goals flew through in just 12 minutes.

 

The complexion of the game had changed. Brown got remarkably lucky with a soft free kick in front of goal. Cox took a mark. Varcoe flew forward and slotted one. Stephenson reappeared and became the central figure of the forward line. De Goey won clearances and also willed himself into the action down forward.

 

In a state of shock, I was yet to reinvest any care into the game when we were just three points behind. Yes, the Pies could stage a memorable comeback, but it wouldn’t have been deserved. It was just a bad night, and the final seven minutes only dished up more hurt.

 

The defence, usually stoic and brilliant, reverted to handballing out of trouble. It resulted in a free kick in front of goal. Then the midfielders stopped barrelling into the contest. The result: Shiel picked the ball up and slammed through the game-clinching score.

 

I would’ve rathered the Pies not stage a comeback at all – it’s easier to sit back and remove all feelings then have my emotions bandied about. To be fair, I would have preferred to be in the warm confines of upstairs, sat in front of the heater and watching gifted musicians laugh and play away.

 

 

COLLINGWOOD                3.0       3.1       3.5    7.6 (48)
ESSENDON                        3.0       5.0      8.2    10.3 (63)

 

GOALS
Collingwood: Stephenson 3, Brown, Daicos, Mihocek, Varcoe
Essendon: Stringer 3, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, McKernan, Parish, Shiel, Townsend, Zaharakis

 

BEST
Collingwood: Maynard, Stephenson, Scharenberg, Pendlebury
Essendon: Stringer, Shiel, Hurley, McGrath, Ridley, Hooker, McDonald-Tipungwuti

Comments

  1. Good report Sean. Mason Cox is certainly not a wet weather player. Maybe Mark McGeoth for Cox!

    Are the shorter quarters producing less momentum shifts.

  2. Nicole Kelly says

    Thanks, Sean. My husband and I were discussing the wet weather. It’s like our kryptonite at the moment. And getting fans hopes up before capitulating once again was cruel! Just another day of being a pies supporter!! Thanks for the piece.

  3. Sam Evans says

    Good report Sean. As a neutral, this was an intriguing game. Collingwood looked all at sea until that late fightback made for an exciting finish to the match. I think the loss of Howe will be significant and losing Sidebottom was never going to help. The question mark on Collingwood for me this year has been how they score their goals – and yes the inclusion of Cox was questionable on such a miserable night.

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Sean, reckon you’ve absolutely nailed what went wrong Friday night. I’m was staggered Cox was kept in the team with the forecast weather, think he still has a role to play in better conditions but not suited at all when it’s wet.

    Enjoying the improvement of Daicos, beautiful user of the ball.

    Your old man had a far better night watching Julia than we did watching the Pies.

  5. I watched this game out of interest as a neutral footy fan. Can’t help thinking there is a disconnect at Collingwood at present. A lot to frustrate Pie fans.

    Weird how games of footy spin so readily these days.

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