Well, what more can be said about this game, except that both teams lived up to their respective ladder positions. Brisbane were just too much for the Pies—too quick, too strong, too clever and too well-drilled, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t without positive for the lads in the black and white.

The ins

Both teams had big names returning, with Brisbane welcoming Lachie Neale back after a bout of gastro that would surely have had the medical team equally ready to soil their pants in the current climate on viral spread, and Collingwood bringing in Josh Daicos after having a bit of trouble with his finger.

Darcy Gardner also replaced an injured Mitch Robinson, while Nathan Murphy was returned into the side at the expense of Jeremy Howe who was managed. It seems weird to be managing the load of a veteran player at this stage of the season, but managing to get him to hospital to be there for the birth of his child is good management. Also, getting a few more games into Murphy seems like the right thing to do. Prior to 2021 he had missed two full seasons and only managed two games in his debut year. Considering he turned his back on a potential cricket career, it’s good to see he’s managed to get himself into the senior side 15 times this year. He didn’t have an enormous impact, but he wasn’t the worst by any stretch of the imagination.

I also found it odd that John Noble was selected as the medical sub. In the last few matches, he’s looked pretty good, though his ability to play back, wings and push forward may have hurt him in the way that his adaptability makes him very handy to cover many potential injuries.

The start

Collingwood were so quick off the mark they could get a sponsor for premature ejaculation. The crowd was barely warmed up before a quick clearance from Grundy managed to get the ball down to Darcy Cameron, who spotted up Josh Thomas, all within the first 15 seconds of the match. It probably took you longer to read that than for it to happen, but it offered a moment of immediate satisfaction to the Magpie faithful in attendance.

On that point, the crowd of 15 thousand was particularly vocal (and unapologetically myopic in their support of their local team) and it just acts as a reminder to me how much the crowd noise adds to the game. While the piped in noises are better than the odd scratch-match-type feeling you get from an empty stadium, they’re nowhere near as good as the real thing.

Brisbane must have been likewise appreciative of the crowd that turned up, because they immediately decided that the crowd had not turned up to see Collingwood enjoy themselves, and promptly set about putting on a show for their fans.

Joe Daniher is a player that polarises people. At his best, he’s a very mobile forward, with the speed and sense to lead into dangerous spaces or leap and take a towering mark that has defenders scrambling, and when he has his kicking boots on, he can turn games. Criticism of him is that when he doesn’t have his kicking boots on, he’s about as accurate as a politician’s covid forecasts.

When he is in form though, he is an enormously damaging player, and he showed that he was feeling his oats tonight when he got on the end of a quick clearance to take a solid mark, and slot a bomb from just outside the 50 metre arc.

An odd event happened with the kick though, with Brody Grundy tapping the ball back into play on the goal line. Play moved on, but the umpire called a stop as the goal umpire had called it a goal, but asked for a review.

The replay clearly showed that the ball was over the line, but it raised the question on what would have happened had the replay shown the opposite? Collingwood were in a bit of space, do they get a kick from where they were, or is it a kick from the goal line? Is it right to give up 40 metres if the ump got it wrong? Or alternatively, if the goal umpire had called the ball in play, and Collingwood ran away with it, does it get reviewed at the next stoppage, or is it just a matter of bad luck, play on?

More to the point, why do the replays from the goal post look worse than a $500 GoPro? I’m sure one day we’ll find out that they’re really using Nanny Cams ripped out of teddy bears simply because Gil bought one through Alibaba but didn’t realise that he was buying one container full, not a single bear to spy on his siblings with.

Daniher maintained the rage as he collected another quick clearance from the middle, and bombed it into the square where he found Charlie Cameron, who was likewise getting himself geared up for a night out. He converted from dead in front and backed it up again barely a minute later when Collingwood had their forward movement intercepted and Brisbane charged through the corridor as Cameron executed his trademark double-back to find himself running into a beautiful pass from Daniher and another goal.

With four goals in barely six minutes of play, both sides decided that it might be worth toning it down a bit, and perhaps work on limiting the impact of their opposite numbers.

Jack Crisp continued his bit of form by finding Mihocek in space, but not quite cleanly enough for a mark. Mihocek gathered the pill and spotted up Oliver Henry at around the 40-metre mark, on a reasonably tight angle. Henry didn’t seem too fussed though and converted as if it was a training drill. He’s turned a few heads in his short career and seems like he’s quickly cemented himself into Collingwood’s forward structure, despite being too young to ever have worn a “Livestrong” bracelet. Hopefully, he can avoid the sort of downturn they went through though.

Daniher continued to hassle defenders, playing a mobile Centre Half Forward role that saw him take some contested marks and create space that caused problems for a Collingwood defence that seemed to lack the backline leadership they needed to make the Lions forward more accountable.

Madgen and Roughead toiled all evening, but just couldn’t run the zone defence in the same way that they would if Moore, Howe and Noble had been back there, especially as Crisp and Mayne had to work so hard to be playmakers from the half back line when the team was under siege.

Grant Birchall managed to pop up for a handy goal to give the Brisbane crowd something to cheer about, while Fin Macrae hobbled off looking a little worse for wear.

Robert Harvey decided to then restrict Brisbane’s corridor use by compressing the middle with his wings and flankers, congesting the quick movement of the ball and stalling the rebound play until help could arrive, and it worked pretty well, especially as it allowed Oliver Henry to make a clever intercept, find Josh Thomas in the pocket who quickly moved it on to young livewire Jack Ginnivan.

I’ve covered a few Collingwood games lately, and Ginnivan is one who keeps popping up as a very clever pick up in last years’ rookie draft. He’s not getting the attention of Oliver Henry, but he’s looking every bit as handy, especially with his clean finishing in the handful of games he’s played in the AFL.

He stayed true to form and slotted his fifth career goal in just his fourth game, just before the end of the quarter.

 

The mid-game

Pies fans, this is where things started to go pear-shaped.

After a bit of a tussle of a first quarter, Brisbane’s experience, cohesion and no small amount of ruthlessness took hold of the game.

It started nicely enough with McCreery laying a strong tackle on Starcevich to spill the ball into the waiting hands of Ginnivan who collected and snapped the ball between the sticks as if he was shelling peas, or whatever the modern equivalent is. Maybe it’s swiping right on tinder after a bit of a quiet patch? Hitting “skip intro” during a Netflix marathon? Upvoting a Mongrel Punt article on social media?

Anyway, the point is it looked like it was a skill he executed with little conscious thought, just an automatic reaction to having the ball and being within his range. Brilliant work from the young lad.

Daniher once again made his presence known, marking a blast kicked ball just inside the 50 metre arc and kicking it through cleanly. He’s hitting form at the right time and every Brisbane supporter will be pleased about that—even those who may not be particularly fond of him will know he can be a difference-maker come finals.

Jordan de Goey was really busy in the middle, using his strength and explosive first step to great effect, emulating Patrick Dangerfield by creating space and opening up the passing lanes. His 13 touches in the first quarter was a promising start, and a run forward allowed him to get to a marking contest, collect the crumbs and put through a goal from the square. His read of the play was perfect and he was a major reason why Collingwood was able to stick with Brisbane for the opening stanza of the match.

Unfortunately, one of de Goey’s limitations seems to be his aerobic fitness. After his goal he ran off sucking air like a discarded carp on a riverbank. The label of “big bodied midfielder” is so sought after because putting a big body through the midfield takes a hell of a lot of energy, and so few players have the speed and endurance to do it while carrying around more than 90kgs. Don’t get me wrong, his ability to burst through the midfield is a brilliant addition to his game, but Harvey may have erred with using him a bit too much early on, as it looked like De Goey tried to do a little too much for his team, which needed even more from him, especially with Pendlebury out and Sidebottom looking like he’s playing through a leg injury.

From here on, Brisbane took hold of the game.

McInerney started getting over the top of Grundy at the stoppages and pulling in clearances of his own, and Jarryd Lyons’ aggression in the midfield started hampering any Collingwood ability to move the ball with his ferocious tackling and hard chasing.

A quick response from Brisbane saw Berry find McStay with a regulation mark and kick from 40 metres, which was a common theme for the game. Every time Collingwood look like they were getting into the match, a quick response from Brisbane put them back to square one. It hurts morale when you grind so hard for a goal, only for the opposing team to get one back so quickly.

The forward structure of Brisbane was running like a machine even more well-oiled than Tommy Hawkin’s upper body as they managed to execute a dynamic attacking game plan that allowed players to lead into spaces away from teammates, drawing defenders away from reinforcing each other. It allowed them to take contested marks where possible, while also giving their small forwards like Charlie Cameron the open space around the drop of the ball to have an enormous impact.

The next goal showed this in spades as McStay marked 50 metres out from goal in the pocket on the overlap, while McInerney ran towards the square, taking two defenders with him as they set up a contest for the Big O. By following him, it opened up space for Ah Chee to lead into, and McStay hit him lace out to mark slightly off-centre, 30 metres out and put though a clean drop punt from the set shot.

And then the flood gates opened.

A McInerney tackle on De Goey allowed Zac Bailey to collect from a Daniher tap in a marking contest for his first goal of the match, which was quickly followed with a goal from 50 by Lincoln McCarthy to make it five Brisbane goals in a row and a few dropped heads in the black and white army.

Daniher limped off off after Roughead landed on his ankle, but quickly returned after a quick restrap to be on the end of a Brisbane handball chain close to goal as he kicked his third for the evening off a single step while being tackled by McCreery.

A late goal to Neale saw Brisbane walk into the main break with a handy 37 point lead, and looking very confident. This is where some top of the table teams can falter by getting complacent as they eye finals action at the expense of finishing off the game, but Brisbane was after percentage as well as the four points, and even the must rousing speech from Robert Harvey couldn’t combat the sheer charisma of Faganism in full effect as his ardent disciples set about tearing Collingwood apart in every area of the ground.

Sequential goals to Cameron, Cockatoo and McStay pretty much put the game to bed. The McStay goal was a particularly telling one, as it showed exactly how well the Brisbane forward line understands each other. McInerney slapped the ball back into play from the boundary line, Nakai Cockatoo took the ball running away from goal, went to his knees and blind handpassed over his own head to hit an open McStay in the goal square so perfectly in the chest that I had to watch it twice to see if McStay was somehow remote controlling him, but it was just the sort of communication and understanding that top teams have and makes this sort of thing look so effortless.

Collingwood finally managed to get a centre break, and a long bomb into the forward line allowed Mihocek to take advantage of a spilled ball to toe poke in a goal with a clever baseball slide, stopping the Brisbane run of goals at nine in a row.

It didn’t cause much more than a pause though, as McStay kicked his third in a contested mark that again illustrated how a forward line could function as the other Brisbane talls stayed down and let him get a clean run at the ball that they could swoop on if it spilled out. McCluggage soon opened his own account to put the margin at ten goals and solidly underline the result for Brisbane.

McCarthy kicked his second shortly after, and Charlie Cameron added to his tally as the perceived pressure of the Brisbane offence caused Maynard to fumble, then give away a free for a high fend off, which Cameron reacted to quicker than anyone else to run goalward, knowing the ball would be coming his way. It did, and he put through his fourth for the match.

Three-quarter time saw the margin at 71 points, and it would have to have been a very optimistic Collingwood supporter to think they had a chance from here against a rampant Lions outfit.

 

The finish

With the result decided, the game fizzled out a little Charlie Cameron saluted with his fifth and got into the celebrations, while Darcy Cameron marked and goalled to little fanfare.

Lyons responded for the Lions, and another scrambling goal saw Cockatoo kick his second and Brisbane took their foot of the gas a bit, knowing the game was done and dusted.

Josh Thomas popped up for a goal against the flow, but Brisbane couldn’t even let Collingwood finish on a high note as Cameron kicked his sixth for the match at the death, topping off a day out for him and his team.

The final result was a big percentage bump for Brisbane, and Collingwood relying on North to lose to Sydney to avoid any chance of a wooden spoon (which thankfully for the Pies did happen, locking away that particular trophy in Arden Street).

 

Same delivery, different results

The old “Bang it to the hot spot” is a tried-and-true classic of footy. A long kick to the zone 20-25 metres in front of goal is as much the part of the game as stepping on your opponents’ toes, or insinuating you had relations with his mother, wife, or both simultaneously.

Both teams were big fans of this approach, but only one managed to get much joy from it.

The problem for Collingwood was that their forwards had to contend with a motivated, hardened defence that wanted to kill the ball, while their own defenders struggled to adapt to the rapid movement generated further up the ground, while also being pushed off the ball a little too frequently.

Brisbane on the other hand were able to split the defence at will with their coordinated leading patterns and clear role definitions. It was a rare sight to see two Brisbane players hamper each other around the ball, and their movement looked like a complicated synchronised swimming routine at times, effortless and graceful as they swirled around each other in perfect timing.

 

The stats that matter

Much of the stat lines looked pretty similar, with a few notable exceptions.

While the total marks were very even (85-86 to Collingwood) it was marks inside 50 that told a story, with Brisbane winning that match up 23-8. It told the tale of just how hard Collingwood found it to get an open target up forward, and how effectively Brisbane cut off the passing lanes and caused them to kick to a contest.

The number of tackles stood out too, with Brisbane laying on 21 more tackles than the pies, despite having the ball in their possession for a greater amount of time. Lyons, Zorko and Ah Chee combined for 24 tackles alone. It took the combined efforts of Adams, Crisp, De Goey, Elliott, Maynard and McCreery to match that number.

 

Midfield battle

It’s hard to find positives for Collingwood here, but Taylor Adams would be one of the few. His seven clearances and four tackles to go with 22 contested possessions were instrumental in any Collingwood movement around the ball, complementing De Goey’s six clearances and four tackles. Jack Crisp spent a lot of time at the stoppages too, getting seven clearances himself to go with his seven marks, four tackles and thirty disposals.

Josh Daicos and Will Hoskin-Elliott also toiled all day, but the gameplan of congesting the corridor didn’t allow them the room to move that they usually enjoy. It may have seemed necessary when Brisbane got on a roll, but once the margin blew out beyond ten goals, it looked like they should have worked back to another gameplan, especially when there was time in the main breaks to rearrange the movement.

Maybe that would have been worse though, with a new coach unable to draw on strategies that the players were used to, or not quite sure how to implement them mid-game in a meaningful way. That’s the cure of the caretaker coach, you’re working with players who are only used to one playbook, and it’s those plays that got the last bloke sacked.

While a handful of Pies stood tall, every Brisbane midfielder had a big impact.

Jarrod Berry seemed to stick to Steele Sidebottom around a lot of the ground, and while Steele did manage to collect 29 touches, he struggled to make an impact for much of the match. As mentioned earlier, he hasn’t seemed right for a few weeks, so maybe he’ll be put on ice from here on to allow his to recover. When he’s in touch, he can break the game open, but without Pendlebury and looking less healthy through his legs, he’s not performing to the level Collingwood need from him. He’s not a liability, just not living up to his own high standards currently.

Jarryd Lyons, Dayne Zorko, Lachie Neale, Hugh McCluggage and Zac Bailey all had a day out. Lyons and Zorko in particular managed to each get six clearances and nine tackles, showing how they could break away or earn their own ball as needed.

Lachie Neale found himself in the right places with regularity, and while he was one of the few to kick more points than goals for the Lions, he was constantly threatening up forward, and acting as a link-up player further up the ground.

McCluggage and Bailey both played dynamic games, with Bailey creating an option outside the pack and McCluggage moving in and out of the contest to give Harvey a headache.

Keidean Coleman was also handy for someone only in his second year, but didn’t quite have the impact of the bigger names and bodies around him. Not disappointing by any stretch of the imagination, but if there’s anyone who wants to have a big game in the final round to ensure they see some September action, it’ll be him, especially with Mitch Robinson likely to come back into the side. It’d be a shame for Coleman to drop out after playing a majority of the season and getting good returns for this stage of his career, but it could certainly happen.

 

Ruck battle

I’m hoping that the vocal and passionate Magpie fans have gotten at least a few good points to comfort them out of the review so far, because I’m going to drop a bit of a bombshell here that will almost certainly upset them; Brodie Grundy has become a fantastic tall midfielder, but it’s come at the expense of his ruck craft.

Before you hit that comment button, hear me out. Yes, he managed to control the tap 37 times compared to McInerney’s 32, but so often his taps were roved by Brisbane, and even when they weren’t they lacked enough distance to give his mids space, so they were under pressure with their delivery or worse, tackled and forced to do it all again.

The game showed that McInerney enjoyed a bit more impact from his ruck work, despite being far less mobile than Grundy, and by far less I mean he moves with all the grace of a kids duplo tower and looks twice as likely to end up coming crashing down on your head when you least expect it, but he understands his role; get the ball to his mids and then run forward to be a marking option if the ball goes the other way.

Grundy’s greater range of capabilities sometimes seems to work against him; he can push forward to be an option or drop back to fill a hole at the centre-half-backline. He can float along the wings in space or control the middle. It could be that Harvey doesn’t quite know how to use him, but as a long-time midfield coach, it seems a fairly thin excuse if that is the case.

For my money, the problem is that Pendlebury isn’t there to lead the midfield group and implement the strategy on the fly. Grundy seems used to taking instruction rather than dictating how the play will be set up and where he will hit it, and as good as some of his mids are, they are not ruckmen, and are definitely not used to competing at a ruck contest with a monster like Big O.

Grundy needed some leadership around him to tell him how to adapt to each setup, and with Sidebottom held and the rest of the mids focused on their own man, he didn’t get it. Either the coach needs to dictate the audible-caller at the contest, or Grundy needs to take another step and start telling his mids where he wants them to be and making damn sure they get there when he puts the ball into that space.

McInerney managed to mix things up frequently, getting six clearances off his own boot and floating forward to drag Grundy away from the rebounding lanes in a performance that was simple, but effective and exactly the type of game Brisbane would want from him.

 

Young brigade.

If you were just looking at the scoreline, you may be tempted to think Collingwood are knee-deep in the smelly stuff, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Sure, they were out of this game about midway through the first quarter, Brisbane just had too much cohesion for Collingwood to effectively stop their rush forward, and too much structure to get them on the overlap. The thing is though, Brisbane are a veteran, hardened site, and Collingwood’s aim at the moment is to develop their youth, and by that metric, they were very successful.

Ginnivan had another quality game. Daicos too. Henry was very handy. I’m not as bullish on Henry as some others, but if he’s not in the best 22 in 2022, he’ll be putting a hell of a lot of pressure on whoever does have the gig, which is exactly what you want.

Come draft time, you’d think Collingwood will pick up another Daicos to add to the group, but with the cap potentially requiring them to send another player or two out of the club, they’ll need to look at recruiting players who will be able to fill the gaps they have down back, without costing too much. It’ll be a hard process, but maybe they can trade well and find a solution.

For Brisbane, Coleman continues to develop well, and Zac Bailey is a genuine star that is going to be an integral part of this Brisbane side for a long time to come yet.

 

Up Next:

Brisbane will host West Coast at the Gabba and Collingwood will face the old nemesis Essendon at the G.

Both games have a lot more to them than first glance might suggest. West Coast need to win to be sure of playing finals, and Brisbane need to win for a chance at a top-four finish. While the current Covid climate won’t guarantee a home final for any team, the double chance is never something to knock back.

It’s very hard to tip West Coast here. While they are yet to play this round, it’s no guarantee they’ll beat Freo, but even if they do, they’ll need to win or risk Essendon relegating them into the dreaded 9th spot.

Barring a spirited win against St Kilda, West Coast have been ordinary for a while. Brisbane have had moments of fallibility, but their general cohesion will put them firmly in the “too hard” basket for West Coast, despite the “do or die” situation they find themselves in. Brisbane will be looking to tune up for finals, and are likely to put West Coast to the sword in the process.

On the flip side, Collingwood will be desperate to finish the season on a high note and take a little bit of solace in breaking the hearts of the Essendon faithful by denying them a finals berth.

Having traded away their first round pick to GWS for picks 24 (Reef McInnes), 30 (Caleb Poulter) and a future fourth rounder in the hope of making up a few points for Nick Daicos this year and picking up players to fill in the gaps that last year’s fire sale left, Finishing low on the ladder offers little for Collingwood, except a few more points to use if they have to match a bit for the newest son of a Magpie hero. What is perhaps even more problematic is that his form is good enough to go in the top few picks, and it’s not impossible that North will use number one to force Collingwood to go into deficit to match.

With all of that in mind, and with enormous motivation for the coach, players and anyone associated with the club to give the faithful a reason to look positively to the future, I think it’ll be Essendon putting the knife into the hearts of the Magpie army, and relegating West Coast out of September action at the same time. Isn’t it just typical Essendon to crap on multiple teams at once?

Collingwood fans may get their own taste of schadenfreude in the next match though, when Essendon run the risk of extending their winless-in-finals streak to over 6,500 days should they lose to whoever they match up against (Possibly the Lions or the Bulldogs), so the Pie faithful shouldn’t sink the moccasins into the big screen just yet.

So Collingwood will probably lose to Essendon and lose big, but Bombers fans may well consider holding back the snark for at least one more week.

Or not. Don’t let me spoil the fun of watching two of the “big 4” teams rip each other to shreds. I’ll just be over here handing out the popcorn.

 

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