Almanac Grand Final – Collingwood v Brisbane: Smashed Guitars, Old Legs and Newborns


I cried about five times – then the game started.

ACDC’s Thunderstruck bleared through my AirPods, as I weaved through the stunning Fitzroy Gardens on the way to the restaurant. That famous guitar riff shot up the hairs on the back of my neck as I was drowning in nervous energy. Eardrums were being punished but I didn’t care.

I was heading to an Italian place near the MCG to meet friends and family on the morning of the 2023 AFL Grand Final. This is a pre-big game ritual for us. The sun was shining through the trees, it was 23 degrees. Perfect day. The gardens seemed still, there weren’t many people around.

I vividly brought myself forward five hours in time. I was in the three-quarter-time huddle, listening to Collingwood coach Craig McCrae address his players. It was a close game and he seemed proud. He said, “I love you boys”. I’m lucky enough to understand the feeling of that moment. Perhaps, not in front of 100,000 people at the MCG with actual AFL players. Although, I know the feeling through a local footy lens. Your hands scrunching your teammate’s jumpers, all huddled up, eyes fixed on the coach’s eyes – noticing the details of their eye colour and pupils. I can smell grass and Deep Heat cream. The rev-up ends with a collective “cmon on”, while pulling your teammates’ jumpers towards yours – you want to run through a brick wall in that moment.

My daydream and Thunderstruck caused me to well up multiple times. Little did I know, the day was going to bring so much more and I don’t think I was quite ready for it.

Let’s go back a few days prior. It was my last day at my old job, and I was coming down with what felt like my annual chest infection – great timing. I saw the only doctor available in my area on the Thursday night and asked for medication that would get me through the following few days. The next morning involved a brief visit with my best mate to the Grand Final parade and we then attended the annual Williamstown CYMS Grand Final Luncheon. I was careful not to go overboard at the function, as the thought of “hangxiety” the next morning terrified me, considering how sick I was at the time.

The Saturday morning sun woke me up. I felt slightly better. It’s Grand Final Day. I threw my runners on and ran down to the Maribrynong River at about 8:00am – I needed to get rid of some nervous energy. The blue sky and mild heat made it more appetising for a run. However, my lungs were wheezing as I was still battling sickness and I was also still anxious about the day.

I showered, put on my retro Collingwood polo (mum gave me as an early Christmas gift) and jumped on the train at Footscray station.

I had a couple of beers at the restaurant, but I had either too many butterflies or was still too sick to finish my meal. I was running on a reserve tank by this point and it was only midday. We then joined the convoy to the MCG, mostly made up of jittery Magpie fans with a smattering of Brisbane Lions supporters. We got to our seats (located in the forward pocket at the ponsford/city end). I noticed my butterflies slightly dissipated, which then carved out space for excitement.

When I saw Mike Brady with his guitar, standing on the boundary line alongside activation crew, it brought me back to the three other Grand Finals I’ve attended (2010 draw and replay v St Kilda, as well as 2011 v Geelong). He played classics Up There Cazaly and One Day in September – the symmetry of Brady and Grand Final Day at the G’ is blissful. I revelled in KISS, Paul Stanley smashing his guitar, the flames propelling up in the sky in the centre square. I noticed a sea of maroon behind the stage at the Punt Road end of the ground.

The Lions supporters were made up of travelling Queenslanders and old rusted-on Fitzroy supporters. I felt a beat of nervousness as I wasn’t used to an interstate Club appearing so large in numbers. The ground looked perfect, the blue sky shined down on the heaving stands and the hallowed MCG turfed looked luscious. Each bay was either littered with black and white or maroon and a bit of royal blue. The MCC section was rollicking with a mixed bag of white and other colours. You could hear the commotion spilling out of the bars within the stands – I soon realised there was not a single empty seat. Right up to the last row.

The Collingwood team walked out onto the ground to a remixed, epic-styled version of Ray Charles’s ‘Hit the Road Jack’.

The first thing I noticed about the Collingwood team was captain Darcy Moore’s wide-brimmed smile, as he led his troops out onto the field. Emblematic of Collingwood’s up-beat persona they’ve carried with them even since the Craig McCrae appointment.

The Collingwood song quickly turned on and the players ran through the banner, to a mix of Magpie fans cheering and boos from the Brisbane end. The players quickly stopped for their mandatory Grand Final team photo – a stop in flow – I was then reminded that this is a Grand Final. The crowd around me started screaming as the Magpies players ran closer to the Collingwood goal square for their warmup.

The national anthem was a blur, but I will never forget the roar during the last few words of the final verse. Fans can’t keep it in until the end. Goosebumps enveloped my whole body. You hear about the feelings players have in the moment. The crowd roars for about 5 seconds. The energy would swirl up from the grass and shoot through their legs up into their body once the national anthem ends.

As the captains toss the coin, the weight of the other players’ heartbeats would be palpable We are now only seconds away. Nowhere to hide. The first half was a blur. The excitement of Nick Daicos kicking the first goal from a set shot, followed by Bobby Hill kicking a similar one was quickly usurped by the brilliance of Brisbane small forward Zac Bailey. Lions gun Lincoln McCarthy kicked a drop punt on the run and then Bailey kicked a second that was even better than his first one. It turned the whole Punt Road end into a jumping frenzy, as I could feel the ground shake – It was so loud. What a goal.

I felt okay, though. Because at half time, veteran Jack Crisp kicked a goal that would bring Collingwood to 63 points. I took confidence from that half, as Collingwood struggled to kick 10 goals in all of their three finals that year. I knew we were on.

The second half was quintessential Collingwood. Always throwing a big return punch, but not quite good enough to pull away.

Scoring dried up in the second half, compared to the first. So every goal, and even score meant so much to both sides of the fence.

Charlie Cameron beat Brayden Maynard and Isaac Quanor in the forward pocket with approximately five minutes to go, which put the Lions in front. When Charlie kicked that goal, in my shattered state of mind, I was concurrently rationalising the impending loss. Us Collingwood fans were probably thinking the same thing – “not again”.

Collingwood have been the competition’s perennial bridesmaids. Before Saturday the 30th of September, 2023 the Club has lost 27 of out 45 Grand Finals. The one game that has seared the minds of tortured Pies’ supporters was the 2018 Grand Final against West Coast Eagles. Eagles midfielder Dom Sheed kicked the winner from a tight angle to ultimately win the Grand Final – fair to say, Dom hasn’t paid for a beer in WA since. After Cameron’s amazing goal, as Collingwood did, and always did through season 2022 and 2023, they responded with a quick goal themselves.

Thanks to the clearance work of champion midfielder Scott Pendlebury, the ball ended up in the hands of quick-thinking Nick Daicos and Jordan De Goey finished off the good work with a clutch goal on the run. 40 seconds later, Collingwood great and thirty-two-year-old wingman Steele Sidebottom was awarded a fifty-meter penalty, which brought him to a set shot just outside the 50 meter mark. I had no faith him, I’ll be honest. But he nailed it, those old legs had one more big goal in them on the biggest stage…and we all went up as one. We looked somewhat secure, until Lions sharpshooter Joe Daniher brought the margin back to within a goal. It’s not over yet.

Will Hosking-Elliot, the utility who was the proverbial whipping boy for Collingwood supporters, threw the ball onto his foot as the ball advanced closer and closer to the Collingwood end. I knew we were home. I just needed to hear that bloody siren. The siren sounded and my chest felt light. I broke down crying. Again. I hugged my sister to my left, as my great mate Durham (to my right) jumped all over us. We basked in the glory with Durham’s parents, my Mum and the couple sitting in front of us. We didn’t know anyone around us, but we were so connected that day, it didn’t matter if we high-fived, hugged or even kissed each other.

It was pandemonium.

I remember quickly looking through the elated rows in front of me, an exhausted but relieved Scott Pendlebury, on all fours, with camera crews surrounding him. That’s when it felt real. The setting sun washed over the punt road end. Not many Lions supporters have left, and I couldn’t help but sympathise with them for a moment. During the presentation, the loudest moment wasn’t when Bobby Hill was announced the Norm Smith Medalist (best on ground in a grand final), it was when Craig McCrae announced that his wife Gabrielle gave birth to a little girl that morning at 7:45am. The new father of (quite fittingly) Maggie, closed his speech with “darling, I’m coming home with the cup, I love you”. The goosebumps returned, it was our Hollywood Collingwood moment and it just fit the script perfectly.

As the exhaustion finally set in – my face felt heavy and my head started to ache. I began talking to my mate beside me and we noticed our voices were totally shot. We watched the players do their lap of honour and congratulated them as they exited the field as the competition’s new premiers. The events of the night saw my family, some friends and I attend a North Fitzroy house (on the collingwood side of brunswick street!), not too far from East Melbourne where the MCG is.

We watched the replay, totally consumed by what just took place. It felt like unwrapping a gift on Christmas Day but already knowing what’s inside. I was happy for Mum, a 40 year-plus Legends Member who has seen it all – the heartbreak, the controversy and turbulence. As sports fans we bottle these things up and are grateful to say we were there for it all. The good and even the bad. In the words of the great Mike Brady, “But there’s a lot of things around, when you line them up together, the footy wins hands down.”


Read more stories about the 2023 AFL Grand Final HERE.

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  1. Mickey Randall says

    Thanks for that. I enjoyed reading the context of your grand fnal experience. For me, this is the interesting part of any spectating story and becomes the text. Having said that, as a neutral, it was a great final. Congratulations, Lynchy!

  2. Russel Hansen says

    a great debut narrative, Lynchy, thank you!

    I agree with Mickey Randall’s comments about context – for me, the 2023 AFL GF was a quiet Saturday afternoon in the Barossa, the first year I’ve watched the AFL GF outside of Queensland.

    It was a great contest, and for the faithful (great reference to your Mum!) … what a great memory you now have from 2023!

    I do love the AFL footy songs too – Mike Brady of course, and even as a rugby league tragic, Greg Champion’s “that’s the thing about football” is a wonderful sporting anthem


  3. Welcome, Lynchy.

    An excellent read.

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