Sydney v Collingwood – The Big Preliminary Final Questions

What a game of football.

Aside from the Geelong blowout win over the Lions this weekend, we have been treated to one of the best finals series in memory, with close, tough, and exciting games of footy. And this one may have topped them all.

Half an hour before the game began, you could sense something big was about to happen. In the past, I have spoken about how the MCG becomes part of the game – a living, breathing entity that is every bit as much of the game as the players and coaches.

The SCG elevated itself to that level for this game.

The crowd was buzzing, the Swans were ready and the Pies… well, if they were close enough, they were always going to be a danger.

In an article I wrote earlier this week, I stated the following

This game will likely be decided by who controls the corridor. If the Pies want this aspect of the game to go their way, they must continue to take risks – they thrive on running through the guts and cannot be deterred by the Swans pushing numbers into the middle to force them wide. Players fatigue, structures start to break down, and when the time to switch into the middle presents, they cannot hesitate.

Players did fatigue, structures did break down, and the Pies went through the guts and almost ran over the top of the tiring Swans.

“Almost” is the operative word.

In a tense last quarter, Collingwood threw everything they had at the Swans. Sydney desperately clawed to their ever-dwindling lead, relying on desperation in defensive fifty in the last few minutes to get them over the line.

Preliminary Final weekend has been known for some classics throughout the years. The Hawks overcoming the Cats and ending the Kennett Curse in 2013, the Swans riding Plugger Lockett’s after-the-siren kick to launch into the ‘96 Grand Final, and the pulsating Hawthorn v Collingwood clash that saw Lance Franklin kick an amazing dribbling goal, only to see Luke Ball snap a goal out of a stoppage to get the win for the Pies.

This game is in esteemed company.

It was one of the greats, with acts of heroism and moments that will live on in memory.

It was a privilege to watch. Yet, there can only be one winner, and in the end, the Swans ended the fairy tale season of the Pies.

Not all fairy tales have happy endings, I guess, right?

Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

DID THE PIES NOT LEARN THEIR LESSONS WITH NICK DAICOS UNTIL IT WAS TOO LATE?

Craig McRae backs his players, but the writing was on the wall early for Nick Daicos, when one of The Mongrel’s favourite players of 2022, Ryan Clarke went and stood next to him at the first bounce.

It was like the ghosts of games past coming back to haunt the Rising Star winner.

But hang on… Daicos had 23 touches and was second only to Jack Crisp for score involvements… he payed a good game, right?

Wrong – he was blanketed by Clarke, and struggled to get any space to pick apart the Swans as he has done to many teams this season. Five touches in the first quarter consisted of just two effective disposals – and one of them came from a kick-in.

The second quarter was more of the same – Daicos was held to five touches again, with three effective. Guess where he got those – yep, you know it… kick-ins again.

So, with Daicos the Younger being towelled up for the second game in a row the time was right to move him forward to get him involved, but McRae stuck to his guns, only shifting Daicos away from The Clamps to start the fourth quarter. Lo and behold, there was Daicos picking up eight touches across half-forward and giving the Pies plenty of drive as he created with the footy.

Before I go on, I have to say that I understand why McRae didn’t move him – it is important to demonstrate faith in your players, particularly ones who are still finding things out about the level. Nick Daicos has been a star, but he doesn’t know everything there is to know about the game just yet and this season he has learnt two very painful lessons at the hands of Ryan Clarke.

And whilst Clarke was using his clamps on Daicos, he also managed to find space of his own to slot a goal, himself.

This wasn’t the matchup that won the game for Sydney – no, it was more reflective of a number of matchups that all came together to give the Swans a lead that would turn out to be just enough to hold on.

What if McRae had moved Daicos after the first half?

What ifs, huh?

Just adding this after the article was written – the AFL website had Nick Daicos listed in the best for the Pies, but Ryan Clarke is not in the best for the Swans.

There you go. Read The Mongrel Punt.

 

HOW MUCH DO THE SWANS OWE CALLUM MILLS?

Plenty. He does so much and responds whenever John Longmire calls his number.

“Hey, Callum… you’re starting on Jack Crisp – you have to match him at the contest and beat him on the spread.”

No probs.

Mills started on Crisp to open the game and limited him to six touches for the quarter (three effective). Crisp got a late goal to keep the Pies in touch, but the quarter belonged to Mills, who found the footy nine times and laid a couple of tackles.

“Hey, Callum… Pendlebury is carving us up out there. Can you switch over to him to start the second?”

No probs.

After ten damaging touches in the first quarter, something needed to be done about the Collingwood Captain. That something had a name – Callum Mills.

Pendles was rendered redundant in the second stanza, having just one disposal with Mills making his life tough whenever he went near the footy. I want to get this straight – this was not a tag where Mills was roughing anyone up – no, no. This was more a head-to-head clash that Mills thrives on. He was given the role and embraced it with open arms. It’s what makes him so damn good!

Whilst Pendles was taken out of the game, Mills continued to work, with another eight touches as he played the perfect role between attack and defence in the midfield.

“Hey, Callum… could you please go back behind the ball and kill some contests for us? Maybe save the game?”

 

 

I try not to engage in online arguments – largely I find that it’s a no-win situation, but when I heard people question whether Callum Mills deserved to be All-Australian when he gained his first blazer, like a fat kid with the key to the school canteen, I couldn’t help myself. People who do not consider Mills one of the best mids in the game simply have no understanding f how good he is. They don’t see the accountability. They don’t see him ensuring he is aware of where his opponent is at all times, and they don’t see his bumpers up, preventing the run, overlap, and second disposal in a chain of play.

Callum Mills is the type of player you would feel comfortable walking into battle alongside. You would know, without even a shadow of a doubt, that he would have your back every single time. The way he covers for teammates and sacrifices his own game each and every week should be used as an example to kids coming through.

He is the ultimate team man playing the ultimate team game, and with the way he shut down two of the Pies’ prime movers, I bet John Longmire wishes he had two of him.

 

WHAT DID WE MAKE OF THE ROLE OF JUSTIN MCINERNEY?

It was phenomenal, but it will be something that gets under the radar of everyone this week because they’ll be talking about the big names and forgetting to talk about the big performances.

In this one, McInerney was charged with limiting the influence of Josh Daicos.

Why?

I’ll help you with why.

From Round 17 onwards, Daicos has averaged 23.2 touches per game and has been arguably the best wingman in the game during that time. His run, carry, and decision-making have made him one of the more reliable attacking midfielder/wingers in the game

McInerney held him to 14 touches, and when the Swans were up and about, a large aspect of their form was the fact that Daicos could not get into the game. At halftime, he had just four touches to his name, as he was not only shadowed by McInerney, he was beaten in one-on-ones and was outworked consistently when it came to doing the hard stuff.

McInerney acted like a seventh defender for most of the game, busting a gut to get back and help out the back six. Six of his 13 touches came in defensive fifty, where he was a constant support throughout the entire contest.

Daicos lifted after halftime – I wonder if anyone had a quiet word with him – but in many ways, the damage was already done and McInerney played his role to perfection.

 

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD ABOUT GOOJ MARKS?

It’s worth your time.

A GooJ mark is a “Get out of Jail” mark that is sometimes called a “connecting” mark by the commentators. They occur when the team exiting defence has exhausted all other options and is forced to long and high. They don’t have to be contested, but what they d is either release the pressure on a team, or open the game right up.

As the pressure mounted on the Swans in the last quarter, we saw back-to-back GooJ marks from two players that did just that, and did enough to kill just a bit of time.

Lance Franklin was first. Not renowned for his contested marking, Franklin has really improved this aspect of his game since coming to Sydney. Isolated on the wing, Franklin and Brayden Maynard jostled for position. Will Hayward got rid of Jeremy Howe, allowing the one-on-one contest to occur and CLUNK… Franklin took a big contested grab – his third of the game.

The next long kick went down the line. The Swans were out of options after a couple of chip kicks to buy time. They needed someone else to stand up.

That man was Tom Hickey.

In a pack, his telescopic arms went up to drag down another big :Get out of Jail” mark. Buddy and he had four between them in this game. The Pies had five as a team.

Some of the conversations I have had since the final siren have been similar to the ones I had with people all the way back in 1989 when the Hawks held on to beat the Cats in a game some call the greatest of all-time.

“If the game ran two minutes longer…”

Yes, if the game ran a couple of minutes longer, we may very well be reading a very different article. All the praise would be about the irresistible force, as opposed to the immovable object. However, we should stop and pause for a second and look at the 30-40 seconds those two big GooJ marks from Buddy and Hickey killed in this contest. The game still had life, but even a couple of minutes out from the siren, they may have done as much to save the game as anything else that occurred.

 

WHAT WAS GOING ON WITH THE JACK GINNIVAN 50-METRE PENALTY?

You know, all season I have watched players encroach on the “nine” metre area every time  player takes a mark in defence. Routinely, the forward will run right up to the spot where the mark was taken and stand there until the umpire calls him “back to the nine”.

I wondered when an umpire would have enough and call for a fifty-metre penalty without warning. I mean, it is not as though they don’t know the rule, right? It’s a bloody rule – learn it!

However, to finally get fed up with it and call the fifty-metre penalty in a tight Preliminary Final seems a tad overboard when no one else has been penalised for doing what Jack Ginnivan did all season long, and no one was penalised for doing it for the rest of the game, either.

Lance Franklin did EXACTLY the same thing in the last quarter and the umpire called him “back to the nine”. He gave him a chance.

Why was there no chance for Ginnivan?

There has been rampant speculation that there is one set of rules for AFL players and another for Jack Ginnivan (and a third set for Toby Greene) but I have never seen it so blatantly on display as this instance.

If you want to be technical, by all means, go ahead – the fifty was there if we go by the rules of the game (you know… the ones they keep changing), but when you see it paid at one end and not the other, well… it just stinks, and I reckon Ginnivan has every right to feel as though he has been targeted.

If you feel he has brought all this on himself, fair enough, but when you start penalising one bloke and allowing everyone else to do exactly the same without punishment, people… that is called discrimination. And it needs to stop.

 

DID THE SWANS EXPOSE JORDAN DE GOEY TO AN EXTENT IN THIS ONE?

I reckon they did their homework, and I reckon they came up with a way to exploit the fact that de Goey does not work hard enough and doesn’t show enough desperation at the contest.

In a lot of ways, Jordan de Goy is like a middle-aged man in the sack – providing very much a one-and-done effort. Though he laid eight tackles, it seems as though once his initial attack on the footy is done, de Goey is content fading to the outside and hoping the footy trickles out to him.

With players like James Rowbottom, Callum Mills, and Luke Parker contesting the footy and going back to have a dip two or three times, de Goey managed just 12 disposals. Amazingly, the AFL app tells me that ten of those were contested and six of them were uncontested, so I don’t know what is going on there (actually, I do – possessions and disposals are measured differently) but he just seems to lack a genuine second and third effort to lock things up.

When you’re playing against the Swans, if you are going at three-quarter pace, they’ll expose you.

In this case, Jordan de Goey exposed himself just as much (that sounds like an off-season headline. Bookmark it!)

 

HOW GOOD WAS TOM PAPLEY?

This I the cue for Pies fans t jump in and lament that he pushed Darcy Moore in the back to take a mark and kick a goal that proved to be just enough to get the Swans home.

Only… there is no hands in the back rule anymore, and it kind of leads to situations like this where it all comes down to whether the umps feel like paying a free kick, or not.

What was missing in the whole discussion around the mark was… how bloody good it was. Outnumbered and outsized, Papley stood up amongst the tall timber and did what matchwinners do. It was a clutch play from a clutch player that gave his team just enough room to move.

 

DID THE QUARTER-TIME SIREN PUT BUDDY OFF HIS SHOT AT GOAL? AND WHAT WAS HEENEY’S EXCUSE?

I’ll start with Heeney, and before I do, I just want to say that is possibly the most complete footballer in the league right now. In the air, on the ground… he doesn’t lose his feet – just a brilliant player to watch.

That said, he had a chance to slam the door shut on the Pies after the siren to end the third quarter, but as his shot sailed wide, even me, as a neutral, felt that he had left the door ajar for the Pies.

And I reckon they felt that way, as well.

The siren sounded as Lance Franklin ran into kick for goal after the siren at the end of the first, and I swear it went just at that horrible time in the couple of steps before he kicked. I know Buddy has been there and done that and it shouldn’t put him off his kick, but I have the feeling it may have irked him just a little.

And sometimes, a little is all that is required.

 

WHAT DOES THE SAM REID INJURY MEAN?

So, they’re saying it was an adductor strain and given Reid’s history, you’d think that it will likely be enough to keep him out of the Grand Final next week. And that is a damn shame, given the way he has been playing.

You know, over the journey, I have been a bit of a critic of Sam Reid. It always seemed as though he’d bob up at the ass-end of a season, show promise and then spend the majority of the next year injured. This season, he has played a couple of blinders that would make the Dad from that Google Ad look up the meaning of it and tell his daughter that THIS is what she should be doing.

In this game, I felt as though the absence of Reid was greater than that of Mason Cox, who also left the game with a groin injury. Darcy Cameron seemed to be able to get around the ground to more ruck contests than Tom Hickey could, meaning that often, Callum Mills or even Isaac Heeney were left to do the ruck work against DC.

In one instance, with Mills as his opponent, Cameron’s deft tap to Josh Daicos led directly to a goal.

If Reid doesn’t come up this week, it will be interesting to see what the Swans do. Geelong is one team that you can get away with playing one ruckman against, so do they bring in another mid-sized player and use Logan McDonald in a more prominent role? Or do they bring in Joel Amartey or Hayden McLean, who have been on the periphery all season?

Whilst I’d love to see Reid out there, I reckon he is a long shot. If you were sitting at selection, which button would you press?

What a pity Peter Ladhams is such a knobhead, huh?

 

HOW MUCH CREDIT DO THE PIES DESERVE?

Tons.

An absolute shitload of credit.

They play this game as fast and daring as any team in the game and flat out refuse to lay down.

As mentioned above, I reckon the Swans had a chance to ice the game with Heeney’s shot after the siren at the end of the third. When it missed, you could feel the Collingwood players felt as though fate had stepped in and delivered them an opportunity.

Craig McRae captured lightning in a bottle this season. It will be interesting to see how he replicates this in 2023.

 

SOME QUICKIES

 

I loved the interaction between Brayden Maynard and Buddy Franklin in this one. Maynard walking up to Buddy and wiping the oil off his arms… I don’t think I have ever seen that occur.

A couple of costly errors in marking contests from Nick Blakey resulted in two goals to the Pies through the first half. Both were for blocking – you’d think once would be enough to learn your lesson, right?

Nope. Luckily, The Lizard steadied and had some telling touches late in the game, including a big D50 mark in the last quarter to relieve the pressure.

Three marks inside 50 for the Swans – two to Franklin and one to Heeney – stemming from centre clearances. Credit where it is due, the 6-6-6 rule is one of the better ones the league has come up with over the last ten years. I’m guessing Collingwood fans are hating the rescinding of the hands in the back rule, though?

A couple of huge tackles from Errol Gulden in the last quarter of this one. Great to see a bit of mongrel in his game to go along with the polish he’s shown.

That run from Beau McCreery through the middle in the last quarter… spine-tingling stuff I love watching him crash and bash around the ground.

The late mark and goal really threatened to upset what was a very good defensive effort from Tom McCartin, as he turned the screws on Brody Mihocek for most of the contest. It was a fantastic grab from the Magpie, but overall, the contest went to the younger McCartin Brother.

Finally, I wish that JPK had another chance to pull the boots on to say a proper farewell, but waving to the crowd at the SCG as your team heads to a Grand Final… not the worst way to be farewelled.

 

And that will do me for the Prelim.

Having been on the Swans’ bandwagon all year (and quite a while last year, as well, I am excited to see this team front up on the biggest stage to take on the Cats. They knocked them over earlier this season and would be filled with confidence heading into the Grand Final.

As for the Pies, a dream season ends with a couple of wake up calls in form of narrow losses. They have been rejuvenated under Craig McRae and it will be interesting to see how they maintain this rage in 2023.

The Cats and Swans in the Grand Final. Bring it on!

 

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