The more things change…

It’s obviously Blockbuster Season again in the AFL.

Although, I wouldn’t the only one who suspects Blockbusters aren’t quite what they used to be? The moment a couple of teams string 3 or 4 wins together, we got ourselves a blockbuster folks! Yeehaaa! Roll out the marketing guys.

If Collingwood, perchance, happens to be one of the involved teams, then Blockbuster hardly seems adequate. Forget Avatar: when it comes to putting on a show, nobody does it like Eddie and Mad Mick. Apparently.

Sections of our various media seem to have endless faith in the belief that beating a Magpie drum is good for business.

Is this a logical conclusion of the idea that everything must be marketed to us? That we need someone to explain what we’re seeing lest we can’t figure it out for ourselves. More likely it’s just plain old hype. Which goes with the Pies like tomato sauce.

Anyhow, Friday night was supposedly a Blockbuster with a twist. A Freo twist. The Dockers? (!!!)

Now credit where credit is due. Chuckles Harvey and his young team have made an impressive start to the season. Chuckles has even stopped doing interviews with an expression on his face suggesting he smells something bad. A couple of ugly years blooding the kids seems like it might pay off.

But seriously people, this is FREO we’re talking about. As Malcolm Allbrook eloquently attested here they’ve peeked their heads over the precipice of success a couple of times before, and didn’t seem to fancy what they saw. Yes, if they won this game they would’ve been sitting on top. But round 8 premiers isn’t the usual benchmark aspired to.

The Magpies were probably happy for the rare opportunity to give the Lear jet a run, and they would’ve been even happier when Freo chose to come at them in exactly the same manner as their previous four opponents. Little tackling pressure, sloppy turnovers, an undersized defence (particularly when McPharlin was injured), this was exactly what the Magpie doctor ordered.

As a result, Collingwood were able to play as they’ve recently preferred. If first possession wasn’t won, then sustained tackling forces the opposition to error, whereupon the Pies are primed and ready for the rebound score. The intensity of this pattern is magnified by the perpetual interchange blur that suits their deep and even running brigade. They’ve played to this template very well in the last month.

On this occasion, their four goal ¼ time lead seemed sufficient to induce a little Magpie snooze. The Dockers gave an indication of what might be, by upping their intensity and getting on their bikes. The Pies have been working on their foot speed, but they still have a couple of plodders who can be exposed when it’s fast and open.

Serial pest Ryan Crowley took time out from annoying Didak to run amok in term 2. Big Sandi was dominating the ruck to an almost comical extent, and for a while the Dockers managed to take advantage. The rangy Hill again suggested the Dockers may have got one right when they passed on Daniel Rich , and the industrious Barlow continued to give hope to every late blooming unfashionable aspirant. The long-suffering Pavlich continued to try and play both key forward and midfield engine simultaneously.

At ½ time there was the prospect of a contest, but that was largely all she wrote. The Dockers returned to their initial ways, and the Pies were awoken from their slumber- possibly by Mick’s half time rant. With Mundy hobbled, and Freo one short already, it seemed merely a question of how far. Thus it proved to be.

The after-match hype seems likely to dwarf that which preceded. As the build up to an even bigger Blockbuster continues, it’s likely the unaffiliated will need to resort to industrial strength ear muffs.

It might seem folly to step into the path of a Magpie Bandwagon at full speed, but if a Carlton supporter can’t attempt to crash the party, then who can?

Collingwood have been thereabouts for a few years now, without being able to go that extra step. To all but the irrationally passionate, the reasons have seemed fairly obvious. An over reliance on medium sized goal kickers- too many of whom go missing in big games (Neon Leon anyone?); they usually get smashed by the gun inside mids;  no reliable big forward to bail out to when it’s tough; lack of individual midfield foot speed… I think I’ve made my point.

On the plus side, they usually turn up to play with the right attitude; their game style really demands this. They are well organised, and execute efficiently when allowed to. They have an evenness that aids consistency, but usually have lacked a real game breaker of the highest level.

So, on the evidence of this game, what has changed?

Jolly and Ball are the big trade attempts to plug some holes. Whilst Jolly was smashed by Sandilands on this particular night, he didn’t throw in the towel, and made some useful contributions around the ground. It is obviously hoped he will provide some big man gravitas that is deemed lacking in Fraser and Woods.

Ball is an attempt to improve the team’s inside ball winning capabilities. If fitness allows, he will help, but he and Swan can’t do it on their own. And Ball has the downside that his lack of foot speed can be exploited in the open by a canny opponent. WellingBeamsBottom have shown promising development, and they are quicker than those they’ve replaced, but will they be enough?

Now what about that forward line? Whole tracts of Amazonian rain forest have been sacrificed to sing the praises of the Trav/Dawes combination. The new Dunstall/Brereton apparently. Trav certainly dominated the first half of this game, but seriously folks, who was he playing on?

In the past, Freo’s trading decisions have largely seen them act as a benevolent society for the rest of the league. Under Harvey, that largesse has ended, with the seeming exception of Essendon. Adam McPhee is the latest evidence of this blind spot.

Trav must have thought it was Christmas when the newly returned Docker went to him. Nanny McPhee would have seemed a tougher proposition. It quickly became apparent that, once in traffic, the Docker McPhee couldn’t locate Trav even if a map and compass had been available. It should be noted that once Harvey bowed to the inevitable, and sent Tarrant to Trav, the party was largely over.

From what I’ve seen this year, Trav is doing precisely what he’s always done. He can beat up on poor opposition, but is still to prove he can handle tougher match ups. And does any Magpie really want him to be the one taking a crucial shot in a final?

Chris Dawes is getting a crash course in Life In Black and White. Play a few useful games as a Magpie forward, and some will paint you as Coleman reincarnated. He’s doing a reasonable cut-rate Rocca impersonation, but geez Louise, the jury must still be out on this one.

Otherwise, much of this particular game fell into the category of same old same old.

Heath Shaw still can’t handle a hard forward tag, and Mick shows no inclination to help him when he’s struggling. Didak can still be rattled by taggers, although, to his credit, he joined the 2nd half party when Crowley lost heart. The defence remains solid, although I have my doubts about some of them if they’re isolated one on one.

Harry O shows every sign of developing into a wonderfully versatile defender, if he can avoid believing some of his own publicity. Beware the celebrity trail.

After a Round 3 encounter where the Saints basically sat on the ball, and Pies couldn’t take it back, Collingwood have had a lovely five weeks playing sides who didn’t do enough to prevent them playing as they wished. Are the big finals teams going to be so obliging?

Having said all of this, you couldn’t discount the Pies against the Cats this Friday. Geelong have nothing to prove outside of September anymore, and the Pies will be craving some credibility to justify the hype. And Mick needs a few big wins for his own sake.

If all my scepticism should be proved wrong in September, I’ll be diving for cover along with the rest of non-Magpie Melbourne. But I’m not ordering the bomb shelter yet.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. JB – don’t you just love the Pies supporters? The players will cover the front page of The Hun this week, I just hope they don’t put Maxwell or Pendlebury there. Probably great blokes but not pretty !!

  2. Danielle says

    what’s wrong with Pendles? Pendles is pretty! ask his pretty-barbielike girlfriend, Alex!
    i cut out the Hun pics of Beamsy and Steele and put them up on my bedroom wall.
    if we do cover the pages again i hope they put Dawsey and Medders! :)
    oh, and id LOVE a five page photoshoot spread of Sean Rusling (Hes a stunner!)

  3. I reckon Pendlebury scares the children.

  4. John Butler says


    I don’t think Dips and I are looking in quite the same way you are. In fact, I’m sure we’re not. :)

  5. Danielle says

    4- lol, okay then.
    i guess you will have to rely on my opinions then.
    Weird thing, i never thought Heath Shaw was attractive, but now….
    He lights up the tv screen! He’s just gorgeous!
    who knew that the Ranga-ish player that came to my rescue when i was a 13 year old is now a PrettyPie!

  6. Media moves quickly on the Pies. After Round One they were invincible. Two weeks later they were ordinary and their season was going nowhere. Right now they are back in vogue. They are, in fact, pretty even and good on their day. In an unremarkable season, they are a sniff along with several others. The drivel written about them bears no attention whatsoever.

  7. smokie88 says

    Pendles may well scare the children, but I would not be game to tell him to his face…I saw him in the supermarket the other day, and he is a big boy…..
    He was with his barbie-like gf, and I can safely say that she is much better looking than Barbie !

  8. Dave Nadel says

    After one premiership in fifty years and many disappointing Grand Finals I am not going to get overexcited yet, but I am noting all the negative comments and will remind you of them if the opportunity arises at the end of September, JB, Dips et al.

  9. John Butler says


    If the Pies can prove the doubters wrong, you’ll be entitled to remind us of whatever you want. Not that I’ve noticed any previous Pie reticence in that regard. :)

    But Crio’s comments are apt. I tend to think all the hype around Collingwood makes things harder in the longer run.

  10. Danielle says

    7- OMG! which supermarket??
    if i was working there i would have used that loud speaker thingo and said
    “hot stuff in aisle four!”

  11. Hey Smokie, do you live anywhere near Eltham? Because I’ve seen Pendlebury in the Eltham Safeway.

  12. Danielle says

    Smokie, did you ask him to sign your Cornflakes box?

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