It ended up a blowout, but Collingwood and St Kilda played out an enthralling contest at a sun-soaked MCG for three intriguing quarters. The Pies settled, and dived across the line.
Here’s your Mongrel wrap.
Collingwood’s depth was tested thrice-fold on Saturday afternoon, with Jordan de Goey and Darcy Moore, as expected, withdrawing before the contest, while Tom Langdon injured his knee in the first quarter, not returning to the field after half time. It’s exciting for the Pies that without their star full-forward and potentially All-Australian backman they held an exciting Saints outfit before scooting away when it mattered.
For Alan Richardson, the game will hold a plethora of positives; Luke Dunstan was dogged in the midfield with 30 disposals (17 contested), encouraging for the midfielder who has struggled to carve a niche in the St Kilda line-up. Jack Billings’ lean run in the last few years has seemingly run its course, with the talented forward/midfielder’s 2019 continuing to typify St Kilda’s rise from a horrific 2018. The former Pick #3 had 25 touches and eight marks in what seems to be a career-best season.
St Kilda weren’t going to realistically win this match. Indeed, they sat awkwardly at 4-4 before Saturday’s events after a bright start, but the red, black and white aren’t consistent enough for mine. I think St Kilda, I arrive at a handful of Jack’s, rebirthed careers and an honest toiling back pocket as a captain. A tad harsh, but St Kilda lack a beacon that may drag them to the finals. They lack a Daniher, a Fyfe, a Ben Brown.
This is no slight on the Saints; their side is consistent with an identity, and when Ross, Steele and Dunstan allow Gresham and Billings to work, the side works. Bruce and Membrey (the latter accounting for four goals against the Pies) crash packs, good for a couple of goals. Their defenders are stoic and perfectly dour.
I don’t see St Kilda making the finals unless Billings, Gresham or Ross make that jump. Jack Steven’s mental health has seen the Lorne midfielder out of the side – I will take this opportunity to wish him well and hope that he returns to the AFL field – and without him the Saints don’t have a star, don’t have an established gun to look to.
I think with Billings and Gresham, they may be close. Gresham had 23 touches and despite going goal-less, excites with his every touch. He may be a year away from dominating. He reminds me of ex-Western Bulldog and Tiger Nathan Brown, small, mercurial and clever, capable of kicking the most brilliant of goals but, unlike Brown, Gresham can be run through the midfield and not look out-of-place for a stretch of time.
I hope St Kilda let Gresham and Billings breathe as they phase into potential superstars. Occasionally I wonder if Carlisle and Hannebery were pursued to denote St Kilda as possessive on established guns. They might have found their real one from within.
Dunstan, Steele, Ross were solid. Shane Savage off the flank was accumulative (25 possessions) and belted through a wonderful ball-bursting goal amid a flurry of majors in a high-scoring third term. Debutant Robbie Young, overlooked in five National Drafts, bagged two goals, the second a well-aimed punt from general play, his exuberance and joy notable. Tim Membrey marked and kicked and ran hard out of full-forward, taking the opportunity that was made available with Darcy Moore’s absence with his aforementioned four goals.
In a third term that bled goals, five apiece for the two sides, the Saints wooed long-suffering supporters with promises of better years to come. Rowan Marshall, an undersized ruckman, was taking the game to Brodie Grundy. A ramshackle defence featuring Jono Marsh, Nathan Brown, Josh Battle and Callum Wilkie dug in their hells but could not track Collingwood’s menagerie of fleet-footed forwards as they flittered about the pockets and flanks.
Three quarter time felt ominous. The Pies flew from their huddle.
Collingwood’s forward line is a multi-headed Hydra, vomiting new options week-to-week. Jamie Elliot’s hamstring twangs, and Trav Varcoe slides onto a flank. Ben Reid sprouts alarmingly from where the towering Mason Cox once swayed. Jordan De Goey aggravates a leg injury so Brody Mihocek is promoted from the pocket to the goalsquare. Mihocek is fast becoming one of the more underrated players in the competition; another four goals this weekend has his yearly average at a tick under two snags a game.
Collingwood can bludgeon opponents in a remarkably varied listing of ways. Adam Treloar, Dayne Beams and Scott Pendlebury may wrestle the ball from stoppages and quite rudely not give it back. Brodie Grundy leaps over men and buildings alike in the ruck and those forwards kick enough of a score that the game can be dead in a flash.
But win the footy the Saints did. The job for Howe, Crisp, Roughead and Maynard was not simple with no Moore and, for the most part, no Langdon. St Kilda made hay while they could, but in the first and last quarters, Collingwood’s embattled and patched defence held their opponents to 15 points total. They do their job.
That the Magpies’ leading mark takers were Hoskin-Elliot, Stephenson, Mihocek and Reid (8,8,8 and 7) shows their ability to simply wrest the game away when needed, take the football and simply score. When they needed to at the MCG, the Magpies piled on majors. 11 in the second half overwhelmed the Saints, Stephenson’s last quarter torpedo from 60 metres highlighting the forward 50 wizardry that is so often exercised by the black and white.
Watching Collingwood, I see a team that spends a plentiful amount of time in third gear. They kick monster scores almost by accident and in spurts relegate gripping skirmishes into bloodbaths. St Kilda held onto a bucking horse-drawn wagon for three quarters before the Pies reached for the whip. Their ability to put goals on the board is the best in the competition and they can do it every weekend. 17 majors, and De Goey and Elliot, on average, garner four-and-a-bit between them as well. And then there’s Mason Cox.
Saturday’s game, all told, pitched the most talented-laden group the AFL has to offer against a mid-way side full of gutsy stalwarts and earnest promise. I love watching both teams play, but the Pies did it pretty easy, despite a worthy test.
Oh, and Collingwood are still my flag favourite. The Saints are going to be exciting.
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