Ah, Preliminary Final weekend. What a great time to take a couple of weeks off week to concentrate on all things footy, am I right?
You’re still going to work every day? Oh, I’m sorry about that. Really, truly, sorry. However, given you’re all probably way too busy with emails and meetings, staff and crappy managers, subbies and apprentices, I’m guessing you haven’t had the time to sit and digest the ins and outs of tonight’s game with the attention it deserves?
Well, that’s what I’m here for. I’m also here to eat the remains of an old family block of Milky Bar chocolate all by myself that I found in the cupboard. Shhhh... don't tell.
The Tigers have got the Magpies twice already this season, crushing them in the last quarter of both their encounters. There are a few differences this time around, but if you’re a Richmond supporter, you’d be feeling pretty confident that you’ve got enough firepower to cover whatever the Pies throw at you.
But finals are a different ball game, and outside one good year, Richmond are not what you’d call a finals specialist. One good year, coming from 13th on the ladder the year before. That’s what Richmond were in 2017, and it’s what Collingwood are in 2018. Can the Pies cause the upset? Let’s have a look at some of the things that have piqued my interest as we head into this monstrous game.
JORDAN DE GOEY V DYLAN GRIMES
We wrote about this earlier this week… and then a heap of others wrote about it and I thought “damn it!”
But despite the near-saturation coverage, this clash remains pivotal to the contest. De Goey had his way last week when he found himself matched up against Matt Buntine… yeah look, I have no idea why Leon Cameron thought that would be a good match-up. De Goey was clearly too quick and clearly read the ball so much quicker than Buntine, but anyway…
This week he will have one of the game’s premier defenders on him, in Dylan Grimes. Whilst Rance wore the All-Australian blazer once again, it is Grimes who has started turning heads. He is wonderful in the air and has a surprising turn of speed, which makes him the ideal opponent for the rampaging de Goey.
What interests me the most in this game is whether a Collingwood forward can get off the chain and really sow the seeds of panic in the usual unflappable Richmond back six? We saw both Kennedy and Darling do it as a team in round 9. We saw Josh Jenkins do it in Round 2, but since then, it’s been slim pickings.
De Goey looks the most likely to unleash at this point of the season. He has the same effect on play that Dustin Martin has, inasmuch as the crowd rise when he goes near the ball. He has a presence, an aura about him. He has the potential to take the game by the scruff of the neck and shake the life out of it… only there’ll be Dylan Grimes, prying his hands off the game, and doing what Dylan Grimes does – win or halve contests. It may be one of the other forwards that bobs up and makes a stand against the Tigers, or, in the worst case scenario for the Pies, it could be none.
Regardless of the outcome, the game within the game of Jordan de Goey v Dylan Grimes will make for enthralling viewing.
CAN COX BE A FACTOR?
Has there been a bigger non-factor in the 2018 finals series thus far than Mason Cox?
He was terrible against the West Coast Eagles, and though he was better against GWS, his influence has been minimal at best. He had 11 touches against the Giants, with a couple of nice marks at half back late in the piece. I will happily concede that part of his role is to bring the ball to ground, but the other part is him being a marking target, and he is not doing that.
In his two finals games this season, he has taken one contested mark. He has been knocked out of contests too easily, and seems to think that he’ll be given the benefit of the doubt by the umpire when a stronger player uses his body better and gets rid of him – we saw this paid against Phil Davis last week in a disgraceful decision. I don’t think he is going to get the rub against Rance/Grimes/Astbury (if he comes up).
Mason Cox has made enormous strides in the AFL this season, but this is where you earn your keep and repay the faith. If he is going to be a legitimate forward target for the Pies, he has to do it in big games, against good teams. He has to stand up tonight to make the Richmond defenders accountable. There is no bigger game in his short career. This is the stage he needs to perform on. Otherwise… he’s a taller Jesse Hogan.
Yeah, it’s a corkie. We’ve all had them (unless you’re a massive softie who never went after the contested ball) but apparently it’s bled into his knee, and that can cause probl… ahhh, who are we trying to kid here? Dusty is going to play, he’s going to play well, and he is going to do what great players do in the finals.
He is going to play through a bit of pain.
Speaking of pains, there is a bloke named Levi Greenwood who will get the job again on Martin. I say “again” because he had the job in round 19, as the Tigers rolled over the Pies and Dusty snagged three goals. If Martin is hurting a little bit, I fully expect him to drift forward at points and take whoever is opposed to him right to the goal square, where he becomes an absolute nightmare.
If Greenwood is to be effective against Martin, he is going to need someone to zone off and aid him when Martin drifts forward. Leaving them to battle one-out is like leading Levi to slaughter.
Nathan Buckley will be well aware of the Dustin Martin forward presence that can, and has, provided a huge headache, and he has to put something in place to counter it. If Dusty gets a hold of Greenwood up forward, we might be set to see one of the all-time great Martin games.
THE ROLLS ROYCE OR THE BULLDOZER?
There are so many differences between Scott Pendlebury and Dustin martin, but let’s concentrate on a similarity for a moment.
The Norm Smith Medal.
Both these guys have one that I am sure is tucked in a drawer, or in the possession of a proud parent or grandparent. It is proof that when the big games come around, you don’t go missing.
The Pendlebury medal was now eight years ago. Wow… it seems a lot more recent than that. In the grand final replay, Pendles was amazing. He gathered 29 touches and six clearances, and he’ll need to do something similar against the tough, hard Richmond mids.
Dusty’s Norm Smith-winning efforts are still fresh in our minds, ramping up his last quarter efforts to secure the medal ahead of Bachar Houli, Martin put an exclamation point on his amazing season with the best on ground award in the biggest game of the year.
Pendlebury is a smooth mover, darting in and out of traffic without getting out of second gear at times. In contrast, Martin is more the foot-to-the-floor, “get out of my way or I’ll run you over” kind of vehicle.
These two will play wide of each other, with Levi Greenwood probably getting the role to quell the influence of Martin, if possible, but whoever of the two has a significant say in proceedings, may go a long way to securing a win for their team. A Rolls Royce on one team, and a Bulldozer on the other. On face value, you take the bulldozer, but they aren’t renowned for their manoeuvrability, and on a night where there’ll be plenty of traffic, you wouldn’t want to be driving a bulldozer if one of the wheels is a little iffy.
So, the last time these teams collided, Sidebottom had the lazy 38 touches. Yep, just wandered about collecting the ball like it was an Easter Egg hunt and he was allowed in a minute or so early.
But it didn’t matter. The Tigers were too good despite Sidey and Pendlebury combining for 75 touches. What else can he do?
Sidebottom will need to be daring tonight. Against GWS he was able to use the ball exceptionally, putting players into space and making his teammates look better in the process. Sidebottom doesn’t need 38 touches. He needs 20-25 of the highest quality touches. He needs to be creative and he needs to provide the kind of touches that see the Pies go forward meaningfully - not back and to the side like a gunshot at the JFK.
Whether Sidebottom gets the time and space to do this will largely depend on his teammates working hard for him to free him up, but if he does get the space he needs, he can hurt Richmond with his delivery. Sidebottom to de Goey gives teams nightmares. Collingwood have to make it happen to topple the premiers.
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CAN THE PIES ARREST THE LAST QUARTER LANDSLIDE?
Here are the cumulative last quarter scores of the two previous Richmond v Collingwood encounters. Pie fans… you may want to look away.
Ugly, huh? There is no question that the Pies, if they are to have even a sniff of beating Richmond need to a) be in touch at three quarter time, and b) not fold like me playing poker as soon as the pressure comes.
The last time the teams met, the Pies were without both Jordan de Goey and Adam Treloar – two vital pieces to their puzzle. Whether or not those tow will play a role in stemming the yellow and black tide remains to be seen.
The thoughts of the last quarter smashings must dwell somewhere in the minds of the players. Surely they have to be aware. If the Tigers are trailing or have a slight lead, knowledge that they’ve got the runs on the board against this mob must buoy them. On the flip side, it must niggle away at the Pies. It reminds me a little of the Hawthorn v Geelong situation.
During the “Kennett-Curse” era it seemed as though Geelong always knew they were in with a chance going against Hawthorn in the last quarter, irrespective of the score. It took an extraordinary effort in the 2013 preliminary to break the curse and finally eke out a Hawthorn victory. Who will be Collingwood’s equivalent of Shaun Burgoyne tonight? Who will stand up when the pressure comes… and it will come? Who will take the responsibility, raise their game, accept the Richmond challenge and overcome it?
If no one puts their hand up, and no one takes the game into his own hands, we will sit here on Saturday morning wondering who will win the right to face the Tigers in the 2018 Grand Final, and Collingwood fans will be lamenting the inevitable “what ifs…” that accompany a Preliminary Final loss. Someone has to stand up. Someone has to stop the rot.
There’s been a ripple this afternoon that David Astbury has been sent home with a case of gastroenteritis.
Isn’t that enough to give you the shits? Would it make Terry Wallace want to spew up? Seriously though, we’ve seen this sort of thing in our lives, right? One member of the family gets it, then the next, then everyone is thankful that we bought the house with two toilets.
Footy clubs are like big families. If Astbury has “the squirts” let’s hope the Tigers weren’t all hanging out together over the last 24 hours, at least not excessively so. If there’s one thing that could derail the Tiger Train, it’d be something like an outbreak of gastro.
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WHO BLINKS FIRST?
This was the most compelling aspect of the last Collingwood v Richmond game. In the third quarter of their Round 19 clash, Tiger big man, Toby Nankervis took a seat on the bench, and Brodie Grundy sensed opportunity.
Grundy went on to have a dominant third quarter. He was everywhere, easily the best player on the ground in that period, dominating the ruck, moving around the ground unimpeded, and dragging his Magpies back to within striking range. Still, Nankervis sat on the bench.
Commentators started to question whether Nankervis was injured, and whether it was a case of him not being able to re-join the fray.
But the real story at that point was playing out in the coaching boxes. It was Damien Hardwick eyeballing Nathan Buckley. It was the Tigers’ coach daring Buckley to make a move. “Your big guy is getting tired, Nathan. You sure you don’t want to give him a break? Go on… halt your momentum.”
And at the same time, Buckley was challenging Hardwick. “We’re getting closer. Are you going to throw your big man back into the fray to stop this momentum? Are you going to allow us to run over you?”
Hardwick refused to back down, refused to look away. He stared straight back at Nathan Buckley, knowing that the game wasn’t being won in the third quarter – it was being lost.
Grundy couldn’t go with Nankervis in the last quarter. He’d given all he had in the third, and had just one touch in the last quarter as the Tigers destroyed the Pies.
Who will blink this time? Will Bucks have something a little different up his sleeve, or will he test the mettle of the premiership coach again?
THE SIX DAY BREAK
Ohhhh, all is quiet on this front right now, but believe me, just under the surface, there is an angry Collingwood president just waiting to explode.
Even before the Magpies qualified for this game, Big Eddie was complaining about the team facing the Tigers getting a rough deal with the finals fixture. He wasn’t wrong.
Whilst the Tigers have had two weeks to rest and recover, the Pies will have had six days to nurse their wounds. If you see a fourth quarter fade out from Collingwood again, expect a tirade from Maguire against the AFL and Travis Auld.
In truth, the AFL did botch this fixture, but if you’re good enough you’ll win. And if you’re not good enough, you can always fall back on the six day break as an excuse. I reckon Ed has the bullets in the gun regarding this, and at about 10.30pm tonight, we’ll see who he aims at and pulls the trigger.
COTCHIN, MY COTCHIN
It was this time last year where the football world went into meltdown.
Remember when Trent Cotchin went in low and hard against Dylan Shiel, and sent him off the ground not only with a bung shoulder, but with concussion as well? People wanted him hung, drawn and quartered for what was a great football play. He got hard and low, and he won. End of story. It was indicative of the Cotchin attack on the ball and the man we’ve seen all this season, and that kind of attack will be prevalent again tonight. You see, when the ball is there to be won, Trent Cotchin simply does not back down.
Cotchin was voted the best captain in the AFL this season, but he was voted as such not just for his deeds on the field. He was voted as best captain due to the way he puts his team first. Whether it is picking up the rubbish in the rooms after the game so the cleaners don’t have to, or whether it is standing at the top of the race, acknowledging everyone as every teammate walks past him.
He spoke about the staff, the club, and the volunteers as he accepted the award for best captain. He spoke about everyone but himself, and that’s what makes him such a great leader. It is about the collective – not about him.
There will come a time in this game where the ball is in dispute. On one side there’ll come Cotchin, head down and focused on the footy. There is no question as to whether he will put his body on the line to gain a miniscule advantage for his team. Will his opponent do the same? With Cotchin, you don’t have to ask the question – he asks it of others.
So, who does the Old Mongrel think will win? It’s too hard to go past the Tigers. For my own amusement, I’d love to see Collingwood get up and blow the race to the flag wide open, but I think it’ll be the Tigers. The gap between their best and their worst is far smaller than that of the Pies. They’d need things to go terribly wrong to miss slotting into their second straight Grand Final.
That said… I do love a good upset.
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