The Magpies are sitting back, drinking piña coladas, getting caught in the rain (IYKYK), and basking in the glow of being the AFL’s current golden child. Covering themselves in glory, both on and off the field, Collingwood entered round nine a game clear on top of the ladder and from the eye test, look even better than they did last year. In front of the unusually subdued Black & White army, Collingwood took on a Giants outfit that has exceeded expectations in 2023. Led by Toby Greene, GWS has taken some big scalps along the way and certainly fancied themselves in the clash with the ladder leaders.
But Craig McRae’s men had other ideas. Collingwood controlled the game from the outset, and no matter how hard they tried, the Giants were always kept at arm’s length, until the final term, when an avalanche descended on the MCG, and the Magpies ran away with a 65-point belting.
From the final match-up of Round Nine, here are the Mongrel’s likes and dislikes of Collingwood’s win over GWS.
Jeff Browne. Craig Kelly. Darcy Moore. Craig McRae. Two years ago, none of these four men held the positions they currently occupy. Yet all four have been ultra-successful in turning around Collingwood’s fortunes. Remember the Do Better report? I hope so, because, for all the negativity it (deservedly) produced, it was a necessary evil that forced the Magpies to change its ways. Long-time Collingwood faithful Buckley and McGuire left their posts, Moore took over on the field after a glittering captaincy tenure from Scott Pendlebury, and Kelly has just recently been appointed CEO.
It’s been a change that has transformed the Magpies. On the field, led by McRae and Moore, they are playing a style of football that everyone, regardless of fan base, can’t get enough of. But it’s off the field that Collingwood has turned their ship around. Last week’s response to the treatment of Lance Franklin highlighted this in spades. Putting aside the reasons for the jeers, the manner in which Collingwood handled themselves and the situation was brilliant, taking a stance that both praised their fans for their support, but reminding them that this is a new era at Collingwood, and the booing was not the way they wished to be supported. Absolute top-shelf stuff from a team that I used to hate so much, yet now I have a small soft spot for it.
DARCY MOORE (ON THE FIELD)
Now let’s focus on the skipper. Right now, Darcy Moore would have to be the front-runner for the All-Australian full-back position, and not only that, he’d nearly be the clubhouse leader for the AA captaincy as well. Let’s take today as the first main example. Jesse Hogan kicked three goals and looked threatening for most of the afternoon. But thanks to Moore, no other Giants forward got anywhere near it.
Himmelberg was a non-factor and was only sighted when he was the relieving ruckman. Aaron Cadman looked a mile off it, barely touching the ball and only doing so further up the field, and Matt Flynn was all over the shop when resting forward. But for the good defensive work, Moore did in quelling GWS’s forwards, his rebounding work was just as spectacular. Producing 18 disposals, at 94% efficiency, 11 one-percenters, 10 contested possessions, nine marks and five defensive rebounds, Moore was at his best both attacking and defending.
But we can’t talk about Moore without addressing his captaincy as a whole. It was always going to be a mammoth task being the guy after Scott Pendlebury. And in the first few rounds, I’d forgotten that a captaincy change had even been made. But that ANZAC Day speech more than made me change my tune. For the first time since the changeover, I now saw that this was Moore’s team, and the way he spoke from the heart, but managing to find the right words for everyone involved was nothing short of mesmerising. Darcy Moore, take a bow.
When Sam Taylor went down with a long-term injury, it was the last thing Adam Kingsley needed. Taylor has become GWS’ most important player, so to lose such a valuable commodity in the back half would’ve brought nightmares to the Giants’ coaching room. That is, until Jack Buckley arrived on the scene. In what is now his sixth year at the Giants, 2023 has become the young defender’s career-defining season, playing every game, and stepping up marvellously in Taylor’s absence.
GWS certainly has experience in the back half, but those names tend to venture further up the ground, and with Taylor behind them players like Whitfield and Haynes could rest easy knowing the last line of defence was under control. Whatever stresses they had without Taylor are all but gone now, because Buckley looks to have taken it upon himself to not only fill Taylor’s defensive shoes but his leadership ones as well. Buckley marshalled the troops as best he could, and he matched up against Brody Mihocek, keeping him to eight disposals and two goals. Collingwood’s spread proved too much for GWS as a whole, but Buckley fought hard all day, doing everything he could for his team.
THE AMERICAN PIE
Has Mason Cox played a better game than the one he did today? Richmond supporters may point to his heroics in the 2018 Preliminary Final, but for my money, game 98 was undoubtedly Cox’s finest. With Brodie Grundy at Melbourne, Darcy Cameron and Billy Frampton in the casualty ward, and Aiden Begg and Oscar Steene not quite ready, Collingwood has, or rather had, a ruck crisis on its hands. With Cox at the helm, that problem has more than been solved, it has now become its diamond in the rough.
Cox was everywhere, with 19 disposals, 25 hit outs, four clearances, and two goals. But it was his work above his head that stood out the most. Simply put, no one could stop Cox when he put his hands above his head, and his nine marks all came at crucial moments. He was there as a get-out-of-jail card in defence. He was there in the goal square for the long option inside 50. Need someone to take a grab on the half-forward line to send the ball forward, there was Big Cox.
When Cox first came to Australia with nothing more than a fleeting dream to play our great game, no one would’ve imagined that he’d; A) get to the 100-game milestone, B) get there playing such excellent football, and C) do it as one of Collingwood’s most important players. But Cox has achieved all of those things, and so much more. We are extremely lucky to have someone like Cox, representing our game so brilliantly, and taking his experiences to the international stage.
TOM GREEN (NO, NOT THE FREDDY GOT FINGERED WEIRDO)
Full disclosure, I don’t love Tom Green as much as some of the other Mongrel boys (looking at you Hodgey), and he will never replace Zakky (Butters) in my heart. But when GWS traded out Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper, the Giants effectively pushed Green into the spotlight, and he’s taken the baton and run with it, both literally and figuratively. I thought Green was just a contested ball beast, an inside clearance specialist who gave off to others to do the bulk of the damage. But I have been proven wrong this year.
Green is the prototype of the modern-day midfielder. We know he can do the job on the inside, that’s been obvious since day one. But with Taranto and Hopper both gone, Green has also added the outside movement to his game, and when thinking about tall, game-breaking midfielders, only Marcus Bontempelli and Jordan Dawson are playing as well as Green. Soon enough, Green will become a top 10 player in the competition. Honestly, it may have already happened.
It must be such a treasure that for all of Collingwood’s scoring power, it seems that none of them are out-and-out superstars. Brody Mihocek. Jamie Elliott. Bobby Hill. Ash Johnson. Will Hoskin-Elliott. Beau McCreery. Jordan De Goey. Jack Ginnivan. Eight players, each of which is crucial to Collingwood’s forward set-up, and more than a few who can also rotate through the midfield.
De Goey is the most high-profile player of the bunch, and is on track to earn a maiden All-Australian blazer, and Elliott and Ginnivan have enjoyed their moments in the spotlight, but all eight fly under the radar, and all contribute to a forward structure that has so many strings to its bow that no team defence can stop at full flight. In Mihocek, Johnson, Hoskin-Elliott, Hill and McCreery, the Magpies have found so many diamonds in the rough, and have managed to turn them all into the more precious of gemstones.
Call me crazy, but when I watch Collingwood, I want to watch them at the best time of the weekend. I understand that you can’t gift one team every marquee timeslot, and with all due respect to the Giants, their fan base is one of the smallest in the league, but Sunday early evening is not the time to take a peek at the Black & White avalanche and the Orange Tsunami.
Having said all of that, looking at the Round 9 fixture, I couldn’t find an appropriate game to swap with this one, without those sides feeling shafted for absolutely no reason. The easiest solution is to take West Coast and Gold Coast away from Friday night, moving that game to Sunday twilight, and Collingwood/GWS takes the Sunday mid-afternoon slot. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being pedantic. But putting the right games in the right spots is key to an always exciting fixture. The AFL got this one slightly wrong.
ADAM KINGSLEY’S COACHING
I understand that moving the magnets around is a hard ask. But watching on I couldn’t help but think that Adam Kingsley was thoroughly out-coached today. We’ve seen the damage that Nick Daicos can do, he’s a 20-year-old Rolls Royce. And it also stands to reason that whenever Naicos gets tagged, it frees up Collingwood’s other array of midfielders to do what they do best. But seriously, two weeks ago, Adelaide should’ve beaten the Magpies, and a significant portion of their plan was stifling the young superstar, which worked to great effect.
You’d think GWS would’ve seen that plan, and at least attempted to follow it and add their own spin to it, but Kingsley was content to watch Naicos run around with his own football, linking up between defence and attack time and time again. But it wasn’t just Naicos they let off the leash. Tom Mitchell, Jordan De Goey, Josh Daicos, John Noble and Steele Sidebottom all had a ridiculous amount of time with ball in hand, and despite the onslaught that was sure to arrive, Kingsley didn’t seem to have a plan B or C in quelling the influence of Collingwood’s midfield brigade.
When we look back on this game, we certainly won’t be remembering much of it. Collingwood was at its barnstorming best, and try as they might, GWS just couldn’t go with them. There was no Toby Greene magic, although the Daicos boys and that American Pie did manage to light it up for the Magpie faithful. Aside from the score line, which blew right out at junk time, this was the most expected of performances.
Collingwood will take away four points, and the knowledge that their best football is equal with anyone in the competition. The Giants will take many lessons back to Western Sydney, knowing that they had a few key players out and that they are a young side that is rebuilding itself back to the glory years of 2016-2019.
But this is about the ladder leaders. There will be more victories on the horizon, and if all goes to plan, McRae and Moore will take the Magpies back to the Promised Land. And on these performances, it will be a cakewalk, for the good old Collingwood.
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