How can you not be excited if you’re a Pies fan? How can you not feel a little uncertain if you follow the Dees?
On Queen’s Birthday, in front of over 75,000 people, Collingwood notched their fourth win in a row in a run that has included wins over Freo and Carlton, whilst the Dees lost their third on the trot and finally fell from the top of the ladder.
In a pulsating, pressure-packed game, it was the Pies running away with the 26-point win over the reigning champs, both teams heading into their respective bye weeks with a completely different outlook on the second-half of the season.
After being written off by many, the Pies are back and would be walking tall. After being fawned over by the media in the first ten rounds of the season, the Dees are suddenly looking shaky. I don’t know about you, but results like this make the season seem a little more intriguing to me, particularly with my side looking at a bottom-four finish (bring on the draft!).
This is what a standalone blockbuster should be – a big crowd at the MCG as co-tenants crack in. This game delivered on a number of levels, and as such, I’ll be addressing the parts I loved most.
Let’s jump into the Collingwood versus Melbourne version of The Mongrel Loves…
THE MONGREL LOVES BEAU MCCREERY
I have a suspicion that in order to beat the Dees, you have to match them in one vital aspect of the game, and beat them to really ram home the advantage. That aspect is mongrel.
Look at the Melbourne team – Oliver, Petracca, Viney, Harmes, Hibberd… they’d chew their arm off to get a touch of the footy, and they’ll chew off the arm of an opponent before they worry about their own. When there is a loose ball or a contest, you back the Demons’ strength and composure to win the footy. More than that, you back their mongrel.
Some teams attempt to match that with supreme skill, but I’ve found that sides that fight fire with fire can work if you have the right pieces in place. And in Beau McCreery, the Pies genuinely have someone that relished the challenge.
The second quarter belonged to the contested work of McCreery, and his ability to create through the middle via his sheer pressure gave the Pies an avenue to get back into the game.
You can read the stats all you like for that quarter – seven touches, two marks and two tackles were bettered by a few, but in terms of impact, he was huge.
After the main break, McCreery continued to apply the pressure – a trait he has made his name on in his brief tenure with the Pies. Repeated efforts, hard chases, and clean hands when the ball was turned over were all highlights of his game.
Yes, early on it looked as though the Dees may get the better of the Pies, although a lack of conversion was to blame as much as anything Melbourne were doing. However, with McCreeery’s pressure leading the way after quarter time, the Pies looked like a team hell-bent on destruction.
THE MONGREL LOVES HARD WORK MIHOCEK
Brody Mihocek was so close to dominating this game in the first half, with big “get out of jail” marks for the Pies, and intelligent positioning inside fifty. Initially matched up on debutant, Daniel Turner, Mihocek started to work the youngster up and back until they switched Harrison Petty onto him for a little more stability at points.
Still, Mihocek threatened to take the game over, only to be denied two marks that could have easily been paid.
Not to be denied, Mihocek continued to apply himself in the second half, clunking marks in between the arcs to give Collingwood an excellent aerial target between the arcs. Here at The Mongrel, we keep a little stat called the “Get out of Jail” marks, where a player takes the big clunk on a slow play to relieve the pressure on his team. You may have heard the commentators start talking about this type of ark over the past four weeks – strangely, just after one of them joined as a member… surprise, surprise – but they are calling them “connecting marks” or something lame like that.
Mihocek dragged in four of them in this one, giving the Pies space to get around, over, and through the vaunted Melbourne web of pressure. Add those four big grabs to his work inside 50, and the marks that were denied (one would have taken him to a league-high five GooJ marks this season), and you have a wonderful game from a bloke that has built his game on hard work.
The title says that The Mongrel Loves Hard-Work Mihocek, and whilst I don’t expect everyone to love what he does as much as I do, you have to respect the hell out of it.
THE MONGREL LOVES NEVER SETTLING FOR A STOPPAGE
I’m sure I am preaching to choir here, particularly if you’re a Melbourne supporter, but the praises of Clayton Oliver need to be sung again.
Look, the possession totals are nice and the way he continually makes contest after contest enhances his reputation as one of the best midfielders in the game right now – perhaps the best, but there is one aspect of his game that deserves to be covered in a standalone capacity.
Clayton Oliver just refuses to settle for a stoppage.
If the ball is in his hands, or loose on the deck, Oliver fights and scraps to get a handball out to create for teammates. Not every time – he is not an idiot and doesn’t do this inside defensive fifty, but when the ball is in the middle or in the Dees’ attacking half, he does not stop working until he hears that whistle, and if you’re opposed to him and don’t match that intensity, he will beat you.
So many players seem content to accept there is going to be a stoppage. The ball gets halfway locked into a contest and the pressure goes off – they sit and wait for the whistle to blow.
He has a hunger for the footy and a determination to win the contest that compels him to keep contested, keep fighting, and eventually, win the clash. In the first half of this one, Oliver was everywhere, collecting contested touches like he doesn’t need to give it a second thought.
However, in the second-half, however, things tightened up and after 12 contested possessions in the first half, he registered only four after halftime. This is not the first time this has occurred in 2022, and the Dees will need to start finding ways to free him up at the contest.
I don’t think you’ll find many who don’t have the utmost respect for the way Oliver goes about it, but when you watch the first half of this on replay, if you take note the way he refuses to settle for a stoppage, you’ll find another reason to admire him.
THE MONGREL LOVES THE WAY JAMIE ELLIOT ATTACKS THE CONTEST
If Jamie Elliott were six inches taller (note – not bigger… I have never seen him naked), he would be the most potent forward in the competition. As it stands, he remains one of the best small men capable of playing tall.
When someone states something like that, they are usually referring to the way the player attacks the ball in the air, and whilst that would apply to Elliott, his combative work at ground level, multiple efforts to break even and win the footy for his team are so underrated.
Those talents were on display as he attacked the footy like a madman, and if he couldn’t win, himself, his physical play often saw the ball spill out to the advantage of a teammate.
One of my mates, the great Adam West, laments that Elliott gets hurt too often, and I take his point, but when you have a bloke applying himself in this manner, throwing himself in without a single thought for his own preservation, you take the good with the bad, and in this game, Elliott’s good was very, very good.
THE MONGREL LOVES THE WAY ANGUS BRAYSHAW STOOD UP FOR THE DEES
The Dees were facing a black and white tsunami in the third quarter. Though the Pies only added three goals, it felt as though they had the capacity to blow the game open and the Dees were doing all they could to hold on.
And clinging the tightest was Angus Brayshaw.
His defensive efforts in the ‘premiership quarter’ were mammoth. He took five intercept marks in the third quarter, alone, and worked off whichever unfortunate Collingwood forward was charged with keeping him accountable (my gut says it was Ollie Henry, but I am happy to be corrected).
Brayshaw laid tackles, positioned himself perfectly, and was a pillar of strength as the walls started to crumble around him. If anyone has ever doubted what he adds to this Melbourne team, switch on that third-quarter again and marvel at the way he kept his team from being run over.
Angus is out of contract following this season and in a sign that would probably worry the Dees a little, has put contract talks on hold until after the season – 19 times out of 20, which means he’ll be testing the market. Whilst the Dees can and will be able to cover him, games like this indicate that the cover will only be partial. The bloke is a star.
THE MONGREL LOVES BIG COX
Whoa… scratch that…
The Mongrel loves Mason Cox – much better.
The big fella cops his fair share of garbage from the media, and truth be told, members of this site, at times. Sometimes he has deserved it, turning in performances that were less than stellar. Earlier in the season, Cox had a couple of games where he looked as though he was a long way off the pace, but you would not have known that watching him today.
After the halftime break, Cox was easily the most effective big man in the game. With Max Gawn forced off the ground on a couple of occasions through the third quarter, Cox came to life, clunking big marks in defensive fifty and showing some excellent dexterity at ground level. So good were his efforts that it brought back memories of that fateful day in 2018 when the Tigers were vanquished in the Preliminary Final.
The stakes were a bit lower in this one, obviously, but with a huge crowd in attendance, Cox once again stepped up to put his stamp on proceedings. In case anyone forgot, he was pretty damn impressive against the Blue a couple of weeks ago, as well. Big crowd… MCG… he seems to like this setting quite a bit.
With 21 touches, eight marks (three contested) and a goal, this was Cox’s best-rounded game of the season, and as the contest wore on, his work around the ground got better and better.
To expect this type of game from Cox all the time is ridiculous – the gap between his best and worst remains way too large – but should he chime in with a couple more games like this in 2022, including maybe one in the finals, there may be a lot of people eating the words they spouted (and wrote) earlier this season.
THE MONGREL LOVES THE SHUTDOWN
I don’t often sing the praises of Will Hoskin-Elliott. Truth be told, he is a lot like the teenage version of myself – he does the work to get into the right spots… he just doesn’t really know what to do when he gets there.
With players like WHE, I have often thought that their ability is best suited to a run-with role, and whilst I don’t want to see them trying to rough someone up at stoppages, running with a prolific ball-winner on the outside, such as Ed Langdon, is right up their alley.
Hoskin-Elliott tag-teamed with Steele Sidebottom to completely put the clamps on Ed Langdon in this one, rendering the Melbourne winger as the type of player that does a heap of unrewarded running. And if Langdon is doing unrewarded running, it means the Dees are not benefitting in any way from that run, other than occupying his opponent.
It’s an equation heavily in the favour of the Pies.
Sidebottom sacrificed a lot of his own game to curtail the running of Langdon, as well, using his rest time to wisely recharge the batteries in order to maintain the rage when running with Langdon.
Hats off to the foresight of Craig McRae in limiting the influence of Langdon. One of my fellow Mongrels is currently looking at the correlation between Langdon being below average and what that means for the Dees over the past couple of years. It should be a good read.
THE MONGREL LOVES SOME QUICKIES…
It’s true… I have kids.
Loved the collective work from the Pies’ defence. Maynard was huge early, Nathan Murphy continues to improve, Moore… apart from that horrid turnover to Pickett, dominated the third, and Nick Daicos… wow. He continues to impress in every aspect of the game.
Did you get the feeling that the Pies almost kicked themselves out of it in the first quarter? It felt like a really even game, but with zero goals on the board, it must have been a bit demoralising. Huge character demonstrated by the Pies to work back against a team that knows how to grind out wins.
Felt that the fumble in the goal square from Petracca was a huge error. If he gloves that and goals, the Dees have two in a row in rapid succession, and momentum is a funny thing in footy. Of course, Darcy Moore helped out soon after by gifting Pickett his goal.
Was this umpiring okay? This might be the first game this weekend I have finished watching a game and wasn’t feeling angry about a string of idiotic decisions. There may have been a couple, but this was umpired like a final – why can;t they umpire every game like a final and that would develop… consistency?
Can’t have that, I suppose…
Finally, I would have had Mihocek, Cox, and Angus Brayshaw ahead of Clarry Oliver as best on ground, but what do I know…
And that might just about do me. Wonderful, inspirational win from the Collingwood Football Club – predictions of their death in the offseason may have been slightly exaggerated.
As for the Dees, three weeks back, they were marching toward the bye. Now they’re limping. This has come at exactly the right time.