Well, this was certainly a memorable match, though perhaps not for the celebration of Hurn’s 300th as West Coast fans would have hoped.

With Collingwood sitting in 15th and needing to win every game and have some results go their way for a chance at making finals taking on a West Coast Eagles team in the eight, with a game and a half to spare, a casual fan could be forgiven for putting the house on an Eagles victory.

It was not to be the case as—and there is simply no other way of saying it—Collingwood dominated the match with pressure and dare for three quarters until the game was well and truly over, allowing West Coast to salvage some pride in the final quarter.

A fair warning to Eagles fans; I realise you’re a proud bunch, and justifiably so with finals appearances in eight out of the last ten years and recent premiership success, but this is not a great review for you guys. There are positives, but I’m not going to call it fairy bread when it’s just a shit sandwich with sprinkles on top.

The Set-Up

It would be remiss not to mention that West Coast are not putting their best side on the park. With Rioli, Barrass, Ryan, and Shuey all out and Petruccelle and Redden looking like they’re playing hurt, this is not the Eagles’ best unit.

However, Collingwood aren’t immune either, with Daicos, Moore, and Pendlebury all out and Howe back for his first game in three months.

So with the sides equally reduced, a tight game is what most people could expect, despite some recent form hiccups from the Eagles, especially with caretaker coach Robert Harvey’s unfamiliarity with the big chair and the pressure of trying out for the job he hopes will be his, and with the knowledge that he may now be competing against Alastair Clarkson for that role. If he is up against Clarko, he did his chances no harm as his squad simply decimated a demoralised Eagles team that had few winners, and very little spark.

The Game

Normally, in my reviews I like to go through the goals and plays chronologically, but in a game as one-sided as this, it got pretty boring very quickly, even if you happen to be a Collingwood fan. Plus, there’s only so many times you can write “Moved the ball from half back through the corridor unopposed and spotted up an open target in the forward 50” without it becoming a little monotonous.

The reason for the repetition of that particular phrase, though, is the almost unbelievably regularity that it could be applied. You would normally only see this sort of quick running through the corridor at a boy scout camp run by Rolf Harris.

Put simply, the difference appeared to be that Collingwood were willing to work hard when they didn’t have the ball as well as when they did. They chased down their opponent with the desperation and commitment that West Coast lacked the entire time the game was in the balance.

I was intending on pointing to a particular play to highlight this, but instead, you can look at almost any of Collingwood’s first ten goals. Most went right through the corridor or funnelled into it between the wing and centre-half forward.

I will point out one that bucked the trend a little though, with Bianco’s major just before half time coming quickly after West Coast’s opening goal through some fairly lax positioning from West Coast up the field, but the inside 50 entry by Sidebottom was just exquisite.

With Shannon Hurn giving Bianco some close attention as he led to the space, Sidebottom speared a low, hard pass that almost punched a hole in Bianco’s ribcage. It was as much of a case of Bianco folding around a ball hitting his rib cage like a sherrin-shaped bullet as it was Bianco actually intending to mark the ball. With no crowds, the impact echoed around the empty stadium.

I honestly cannot talk up that delivery enough. Every forward in the game would gladly make a pact to give their soul to Satan himself for that sort of delivery every week. Jason Dunstall let out an audible groan that seemed disturbingly like an aroused silverback gorilla as that kick was delivered, but I’m sure there were plenty of Collingwood fans who felt the same sort of euphoria at just how perfect it was.

Tackling with intent

I for one think tackling is an enormously underrated skill in the modern game.

A good tackle stops a forward thrust and if the hold is sweet enough, gets the turnover.

The best part is that it’s the sort of skill you can learn in an afternoon. It’s simple to pin at least one arm and hit the hips. There’s a lot of ground to cover between the basics and doing it legally, at speed to a fit and motivated 90kg+ AFL player, but even someone with a rudimentary understanding of how to tackle can at least slow down a player carrying the ball. The best tacklers though are all, without exception, driven to win the ball, and completely shut down the options that the person they are tackling has to dispose of it.

I’m of the opinion that few things lift a team more than seeing an opposition streaming through the midfield only to be halted by a smaller player absolutely spearing the playmaker and stopping the play. Doesn’t even need to be a holding the ball, just seeing the team stop their forward rush in disappointment as the chance to score is ruined by a single determined player.

On the flip side, the action lifts the whole defending team. You’ve seen a player absolutely committed, and you want to show that you’re equally keen to win. Bonus points if it’s a run-down tackle or a rookie player. Triple points if it’s on a big bulldozer of a bloke. Take Ginnivan’s tackles on Nic Nat and Sheed in the first quarter. His second career game and he has the courage to have a crack at two players who have every advantage over him. Every player stands a little taller with that sort of example.

WCE had very few willing to do that today, while the Pies had it in spades.

The sheer volume of broken West Coast tackles through the corridor will fill most of the Monday review. Honestly, rough delivery and ordinary goal kicking can be forgiven because it’s a skill of refinement and precision. A tackle good enough to blunt opposition momentum is all about commitment.

I’ve always thought that any player who gets their tackle broken should spend the next week with the Olympic wrestling team. Get in there with guys like Ali Abdo (Australian freestyle wrestler who competed at the Commonwealth Games several times) and let them show you how it can be done.  Worst case, you can take the skills, add some goanna oil and rock up for one of the pro wrestling groups out there. Judging by Yeo’s not-infrequent sprays to teammates, he may have a bit of a future there. I could see him do well with an Ivan Drago-style schtick.

 

Inside 50s

With that delivery as a prime example, it’s worth noting just how good Collingwood’s forward 50 entries were. Getting it in quickly is something forwards always ask, but when that’s not possible, getting it in to where they are going to be is often the better option.

Time and time again, Collingwood found players leading into space and hit them up with barely any need to break stride—no small feat considering the quality of the Eagles’ backline.

Adding to the defensive problems was the fact that Collingwood were willing to hit up any open player rather than look for a primary target, as well as take the long shots themselves. It almost looked like a basketball offence with shifting attack positions from range as well as the ability to hit the long shot to make sure the defence had to push up, thereby opening up space for the forwards to lead into.

West Coast actually won the inside 50s, finishing with 45 to Collingwood’s 42, but Collingwood were clinically efficient with their disposal to ensure they scored from entries rather than have the ball become disputed as West Coast regularly did.

The Young Guns

For Collingwood, Macrae, Ginnivan, Bianco, Henry, and Ruscoe are all less than 15 games into their careers. Combined, those six players have played less than 40. Murphy was named too, but only as the medical sub.

West Coast have some youth in the side too, with Conor West in his third game, Harry Edwards in his ninth, and Xavier O’Neil with 12.

I hadn’t seen much of Collingwood’s younger brigade up until this match, but it seemed all of them gave a good accounting of themselves, and I was particularly impresses with Ginnivan. As mentioned earlier, his tackling on Nic Nat and Sheed may not have been perfect, but it was 100% committed, and when you see a rookie with that kind of buy in, every player lifts.

Ginnivan also had some nice clean disposals into the forward 50, and popped up for his first career goal to round out a game that may not attract a lot of plaudits, but is very exciting for Pies fans that are looking for something from a tumultuous year.

Bianco had some nice impact up forward two, with two goals to his name, and was willing to push up the ground regularly to become a marking option.

Ruscoe was excellent and very efficient. 22 touches, nine marks and three tackles is a fantastic return for a teen in just his 11th game.

Fin Macrae has turned heads all season, and was solid for a teen with 16 touches, but most seemed in traffic. Even if that’s the case, it shows he’s playing to the structure that’s been set up, and linking into the chain of possessions that Collingwood did so well.

Oliver Henry was quiet by comparison to his fellow teens, but his 11 disposals and five marks is a decent enough return for the kid.

West Coast’s young brigade was led by Harry Edwards who looked like he’s fitting in to the side very well into the Eagles backline as a KPD. He also had four spoils and was one of the few Eagles that seemed intent to harass his opponent. He may be one of the few to avoid a Yeo spray on Monday.

Conor West and Xavier O’Neil had decent games for the stage of their career, though West’s work on the wing was a bit problematic for a structure that is built to have Andrew Gaff there, and West isn’t at that level just yet. He looked a bit in two minds of when to rush forward and when to stick to his player, but he was hardly alone there.

In the coaches box

Robert Harvey has been highly regarded for some time, and while he may not have had an enormous impact on the squad just yet, such a dominant win shows that he is doing himself no harm at all in earning the top job. On the back of a performance like this, I’d be surprised if there aren’t some phone calls made to see if he’s available for next year. He’s been at Collingwood for quite a while though, so may be reluctant to move, unless of course it’s to return home as a favourite son? Then again, he’s seen how that can end first hand.

Adam Simpson’s coaching record speaks for itself, but so too does the result of this game. He wasn’t able to get his team on the same page, and the lack of hunger they displayed was not something a finals-bound team can afford to show. They have too many hardened, experienced, and classy players for this form slump to last long. If they do miss though, there will be some serious reviews in the off season. I wouldn’t expect that to happen though.

Ruck Battle

This week Nic Nat was rated the number one player in the comp, which had a few scoffs from people pointing to their player of choice as a more worthy recipient.

Grundy is a generational ruckman, and always in the conversation for the coveted Ruck King crown, though as a pure ruck, I’d have to say Naitanui won the day.

Both had 51 ruck contests, with Nic Nat winning 24 to Grundy’s 18. 9-4 Naitanui’s way in hits to advantage, as well as 10 total clearances to four in his favour.

If you’re feeling like I’m polishing Nic’s day a bit too much, have a look at the set up for Yeo’s goal late in the third quarter. Yes, the game is pretty much decided at that time, so Collingwood are likely a little less than invested, but a boundary throw-in saw Naitanui execute the sort of back tap to a moving Yeo that would have made an NBA highlight reel for the execution of a perfect blind pass. Yeo goaled from range to a bit of an apathetic response from his teammates who had perhaps missed the execution of the play in favour of thinking about how they can miss the video review of the game due to an ill cat or something.

All day, Naitanui was able to control where the ball went from ruck contests, but oddly it didn’t seem like he was able to communicate that to his mids. Maybe Collingwood had scouted his play signals well enough to interrupt the run of his mids, maybe he was adapting mid jump. Either way, it often meant he had to chase his own tap to generate a clearance.

In Grundy’s favour though is that he is not a traditional ruckman. Grundy plays more like a Ruck/Midfielder, and his 22 disposals were augmented by 10 marks and 6 tackles, as well as a sneaky mark inside 50 that possibly was intended for a teammate, but he converted into a goal. It’d be fairly easy to argue he had the more impactful game.

It really depends on how you rate the two players. Both did what they had to do very well, but they had fairly different roles. I’m willing to give Naitanui the nod as taking the day over Grundy for his pure ruck work. I know Collingwood fans will consider that an outrage, but come on guys, let them have something out of this game!

Scoring options

Collingwood had eleven goal scorers. Half the side managed to kick a major, including Jack Ginnivan kicking his first career goal in his second game, and Isaac Quaynor deciding to open his career tally with his first major in his 35th match. They had plenty of options and the younger players were well represented among them.

At some stages, Collingwood’s forward thrusts seemed almost stalled by indecision as they had so many options in their forward 50. It was like having the wife trying to decide what she wanted from the menu as a restaurant because “it all looks so good”.

West Coast by contrast had only the old stalwarts hit the scoreboard, with all their goals coming from Cripps, Darling, Kennedy, Sheed and Yeo. It did look like they tried to play a conservative attack once they were blown away in the first quarter, going for the reliable forwards rather than allowing the newer players to show how inventive they can be, but that’s where the coach needs to step in and give them options on how they can get to goal.

It wasn’t all the forwards’ fault though, as their inability to find space was as much a result of Collingwood pressuring the playmaker as it was West Coast sticking with a predictable attacking strategy.

Up next

Once again, the coming round will be asterisked with changes likely to be made, but if everything should proceed according to plan, West Coast will take on Melbourne on Saturday while Collingwood head to Tasmania to take on the Hawks on Sunday.

Melbourne are in a bit of a form vortex, looking like a well-oiled machine one week and a crusty four-stroke lawn mower engine assembled by that relative (who assures everyone he’s “handy” yet always ends up with parts left over) the next.

Melbourne will also have a shorter break having the disruption of rescheduling their game against the Gold Coast due to Covid, though I’m certain that disrupted travel plans will not elicit any sympathy from West Coast supporters.

Despite the result in this match, West Coast aren’t completely out of it here. They will have a chance to show how serious they are about playing finals by taking on a team that will definitely see September action. They will have to bounce back and show something as a team, but I still expect Melbourne to take the four points, though not without giving West Coast a chance.

Collingwood will unveil the official “Shat the bed on a coaching handover” flag presentation to Hawthorn in Tasmania, and they’ll be more than grateful for that. If Clarkson is in the coaches box, the match also shapes up as a chance for Harvey to show that Clarkson may not be the only option for the Pies as a coach. I would not be surprised if Harvey brings his A-game and uses the mobility of his big men as a way to break the lines of the Hawks, and put them to the sword.

It’s always possible that the players will lift to show Clarko how much he has meant to them, but it’s equally possible that they’ll be angry at their own club to drop him like they did, and while Mitchell has done a great job of mending the bridge between them, that will be one ice-cold coaching box for the match.

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