Pies come up short (in more ways than one)
Collingwood is on the road to nowhere, the footballing oblivion in the middle rungs of the ladder where the draft picks are not as tasty and the celebrations are rare and muted. The Magpies might even be headed for ninth, the spot only too familiar to Richmond, their bitter cross-town rival.
Nathan Buckley’s team capitulated in the last 20 minutes against Adelaide at the MCG and, for the first time since round four, dropped out of the top eight. With a game against a finalist in Port Adelaide at the MCG next Sunday to come, the Pies are in trouble.
It was a big game and a big occasion and Collingwood was flat from the outset, trailing at each change, and mistake-prone.
What the Magpies did was to hang in, and with a flurry early in the final quarter, they stepped up. Dayne Beams’ slotted goal from an angle at the six-minute mark put his team in front for the first time since the opening minute.
Adelaide seemed likely to wilt and the crowd, small by usual standards at 41,000, but hugely partisan, became a factor as Travis Cloke marked and added a major.
But what happened next summed up Collingwood’s last six weeks; Adelaide banged on the next five goals to seal a rare MCG triumph.
Thus, the Crows leapfrogged from 10th at the start of the round to eighth, thanks to Brisbane Lions’ surprise win over Gold Coast, a team that also is flagging. In fact, Adelaide’s form, with three wins in the last four around a respectable 10-point loss to Hawthorn, shows bona fides.
The Pies seem to have too many small players when the trend is toward taller midfielders.
Collingwood has played in eight consecutive finals series, more than any team in the competition, and has not missed finals since 2005.
Inevitably, as they work under the microscope unique to the biggest club in the land, it will raise questions about the Eddie McGuire-engineered transition from Mick Malthouse to Buckley at the end of 2011. But this is not so much the issue; moreso Collingwood’s list is not up to the mark, a group in transition to becoming a better team.
With Nick Maxwell, Dane Swan, Alan Toovey and Luke Ball watching from the stands, Collingwood had just eight players on the field from its 2010 premiership team. It is an astonishing casualty rate but it is the reality of the modern game, accelerated by Buckley’s decision to move on a few of those immortals at the end of last year.
Maxwell has retired, Swan is hobbled for a month, Ball is showing further signs of the battering he has taken. Which leaves a cluster of young players to pick up the pieces and move forward. Plainly, they are not ready.
The Pies seem to have too many small players when the trend is toward taller midfielders. The club opted to play Ben Reid after a long-term injury and he showed that he was ill-equipped to handle it. At least hindsight showed that, for Reid, a superstar in 2010, has never had a clean run at the game since.
It was a horrible piece of scheduling given that there was no other game on the day.
Collingwood has some elite players, such as Scott Pendlebury and Travis Cloke and Steele Sidebottom and Beams, but the quality falls away quickly and, as Buckley observed last week, the club needs to address the injury blight, which cannot amount to mere bad luck. Through round 12 the Magpies were fourth and thought to be a contender; they lost to the Bulldogs in round 13 and the season has gone pear-shaped since then.
As for Adelaide, the Crows came to play at the MCG and walked away with a season-shaping win, their third in the past four matches.
Taylor Walker is making progress after his resumption from knee surgery, and together with James Podsiadly, Eddie Betts and Josh Jenkins, forms a decent front half set-up.
Sam Jacobs is close to the best ruckman in the competition and then, of course, there is Patrick Dangerfield, who sent a flutter through the hearts of the game’s aficionados when he limped off with a knee injury late. Fortunately, it was not thought to be a structural issue.
A final point worth noting. The crowd of 41,000 was 10,000 fewer than the last time these teams met at the MCG. It was a horrible piece of scheduling given that there was no other game on the day, and the fact that the AFL is contractually obliged to play a Sunday 4.40pm game does not excuse it. Why agree to such a ridiculous notion?
Like a lot of teams, Collingwood might like to have some of what Hawthorn has; the magnificent, resilient Hawks who do not appear to need a rebuild or a bottoming out. They step up virtually every year and they are in the premiership race up to their necks again, after a 10-point defeat of the previous premiership favourites, Sydney Swans at the MCG.
This was the game of the year, arguably, a high-octane contest from start to finish with 28 goals between them and a host of momentum shifts as well as great individual performances from the best players. If you haven’t caught up with the highlights, check out the video below.
Sydney came within a goal or two of breaking Hawthorn’s resistance when it reached a 23-point lead early in the third quarter, but the Hawks gathered themselves and blew the game away in 20 minutes of brilliance.
Jordan Lewis was best-afield with his 35 disposals, a much undersold star of the competition, and Jarryd Roughead was able to celebrate his 200th game with four goals on one of the AFL’s best defenders, Ted Richards.
But it was a near-run thing. Everywhere you looked, there were superb duels: Richards and Roughead, Josh Gibson and Lance Franklin, Luke Breust and Nick Smith, Lewis Jetta and Brad Hill.
Franklin could well have taken the game by storm but was wearing his inaccurate boots, kicking 3.5 when 5.3 probably would have done it for his adopted team.
The Hawks nutted them in midfield, which was crucial. It is easier said than done, and Sydney lost few friends on the night. If they meet again in a grand final it might well be another classic, reprising their 2012 epic.
The 2014 season has not necessarily been the AFL’s best, what with the Essendon saga lingering and some grumbling about style of play, but at least there has been no stench of tanking. Take Brisbane Lions, who are revealing some of their best form in recent weeks while sitting near the bottom of the table, highlighted by the weekend’s defeat of Gold Coast.
The Lions were remarkable in the first quarter, setting up the win through the likes of Pearce Hanley, who might become the best Irishman ever in the AFL, and flint hard Tommy Rockliff.
The Suns are 0-7 without Gary Ablett and have five minutes to work out how to get a ‘w’ without him as he recuperates from shoulder surgery. All their early-season momentum has gone.
Vickery apology shows class (but won’t save him)
Richmond is another team making a late-season surge, the Tigers taking out West Coast at Subiaco for a third win on the trot. Technically, if they won all five remaining games they would reach 12 victories and have a chance of reaching the finals, as remarkable as that sounds.
Dustin Martin was superb again for Damien Hardwick’s team but ruck-forward Ty Vickery’s brain explosion – he dared to kill Bambi by belting iconic Eagles’ ruckman Dean Cox at a boundary throw-in – will be costly. Spectators abused Vickery and even approached the Richmond dug-out to pass on their message unimpeded by the non-existent Subiaco security detail.
Vickery was retaliating for an elbow to the midriff from Cox, but that will not save him. From what I can make of the points system, the match review panel will most likely hand him a three or four-match penalty that can be reduced to either two or three games by pleading guilty.
Given the nature of the offence, a swinging right arm that knocked Cox out, Vickery will have to accept it and move on. If you haven’t seen the incident, it comes in at 2:30 in the video below.
The irony is that Vickery has been maligned for lacking aggression, and now he confronts a second suspension for striking this year.
Vickery cannot seem to find the right balance, although his apology to Cox on Sunday was an act of class.
“I just want to unreservedly apologise to Dean and his family – it would have been hard to see him go through what he had to,” he said. “I’ve attempted to make contact but haven’t got through to him yet, but I want to offer him an apology personally. In the heat of the game I overstepped the mark with my physicality and aggression.”