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Match of the Day: Finals dicey for Demons as Pies pounce

That’s the ball game: Will Hoskin-Elliott seals victory for Collingwood with a goal late in the last quarter against Melbourne. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match of the Day: Finals dicey for Demons as Pies pounce

Rohan Connolly    

After more than a decade without a finals appearance, Melbourne fans knew not to take a berth in this season’s playoffs as a given, even if the rest of the football world seemed to be.

That caution proved to be well-founded on Saturday at the MCG against Collingwood. And now it’s going to be another very anxious 24 hours spent praying either for an Adelaide win over West Coast, the narrowest of Eagle victories or a shock Essendon loss to Fremantle.

For Collingwood, it’s been another year of frustration and a fourth free of September action. But the Pies may have some reason for hope as they ponder one of their better wins of the season. They also might well have saved coach Nathan Buckley’s job.

This 16-point win saw Collingwood at its best, even without some key hands. With the shackles of expectation seemingly released, the Pies played with an enterprise and sense of adventure strangely lacking for much of 2017. And not for the first time, the willingness to take risks with ball in hand paid off.

You knew something was up pretty early. Collingwood hit the start of this game with a zest and an intensity Melbourne didn’t match.

They put it on the scoreboard, too, the Demons already in trouble after less than 10 minutes, by which time debutant Kayle Kirby had his first couple of touches, Josh Daicos has kicked his first AFL goal, and Brodie Grundy taken a big pack mark and converted appropriately.

Predictably, as they have for most of the season, the Magpies were leading the contested ball count. But unlike other occasions, this time they were more intent on moving the ball on at speed and less simply about retaining possession.

Christian Petracca broke Melbourne’s drought 15 minutes into the opening term, but that proved not a game-changer, merely a momentary interruption, Collingwood answering with another run of three goals in under 10 minutes.

Jamie Elliott was on fire, winning a heap of ball and incredibly dangerous with it, not to mention a trademark “hanger”, this one the second leg of a spectacular double, Jeremy Howe latching on to about his 200th mark of the year candidate only seconds previously.

Steele Sidebottom roved a pack and raced into an open goal, and when Tim Broomhead bounced one through, Melbourne was in all sorts, 32 points in arrears.

Melbourne needed a response pronto. Coach Simon Goodwin got one, Jeff Garlett in under 30 seconds of the restart, Jack Watts dobbing one from the 50. At this point, not many Magpie fans wouldn’t have harked back to last week, when the Pies also booted six in the first term only to add just another three for the rest of the game.

But the Demons were wasteful with their window of opportunity. Garlett missed one he should have kicked. So did Max Gawn. Then, an even bigger blow, spearhead Jesse Hogan limping off with a hamstring injury.

Collingwood was able to steady the ship. Elliott booted his second after a mark in the pocket. Taylor Adams snaffled another goal from a stoppage, and when Elliott pounced again for his third, all the Demons’ efforts had essentially come to little.

Collingwood was back with a 28-point lead, and critically, 1.7 points had been shaved from Melbourne’s percentage, now hovering only fractionally above West Coast’s and that long-awaited finals appearance now very much on the line again.

By the time the Pies had another trifecta of goals early in the third term, it was 41 points the difference and as good as game over. Suddenly, and perhaps by now unexpectedly, Melbourne found something.

With Hogan hobbled, Goodwin threw Tom McDonald and Jake Melksham forward in search of a spark. It worked. And there was more to be had from further afield.

Jayden Hunt’s drive from half-back had been missing. Now it re-emerged, the dashing runner with 11 third-quarter possessions. Clayton Oliver broke the shackles of Brayden Maynard and Nathan Jones and Jordan Lewis exerted more influence as the Demons finally got on top of the contested ball and clearance stats.

And some genuine class shone in the form of Petracca. The sublimely-skilled youngster not only found a lot more of the pill, but used it incisively. It was his long ball through the middle that ended up putting Neal-Bullen into space for his second of the term.

That followed a badly-needed goal from Melksham, who himself had a second after a chain of handballs put him into some space, banging one home from the 50-metre line on the run, the Demon faithful finding voice for the first time.

And Petracca, inexplicably left unattended inside 50, marked and coolly slotted another. Now that gap had shrunk to just 18 points. It was game on again.

Collingwood was under relentless bombardment early in the last term even after a steadier from Mason Cox made it 25 points again. After another run of three Melbourne goals, it looked the tide was going to wash completely over them.

Mitch Hannan dobbed one on the run, Melksham had his third, and when Hunt launched another Demon drive which finished with Cam Pedersen strolling into an open goal, it was down to eight points, still nearly 10 minutes left to play and surely the team with the chance to lock in finals set to triumph.

Not this time. Collingwood had made the running in this game with some well-timed rediscovery of its attacking instincts. Its resilience, however, could not be questioned this season. And again it kicked in when it mattered most.

The Pies hung in there, Melbourne hardly helping itself. Tom McDonald turned the ball over on two critical occasions. Gawn gave away a very untimely 50-metre penalty. And Will Hoskin-Elliott clinched the deal with a goal square snap.

End of season victories without any material reward at stake can be hollow affairs. This one wasn’t. When it clicks for Collingwood, the Pies are capable of pushing the best, something to ponder as the senior coaching position and the senior list are debated and deliberated on over the next few days and weeks.

Melbourne has some pondering to do as well over the next 24 hours. And probably a fair bit of praying, too.

COLLINGWOOD 6.5 9.6 12.10 14.15 (99)
MELBOURNE 1.3 4.8 9.10 12.11 (83)

GOALS – COLLINGWOOD: Elliott 3, Phillips 2, Cox 2, Hoskin-Elliott 2, Daicos, Grundy, Sidebottom, Broomhead, Adams. MELBOURNE: Melksham 3, Garlett 2, Neal-Bullen 2, Petracca 2, Watts, Hannan, Pedersen.

BEST – COLLINGWOOD: Elliott, Adams, Hoskin-Elliott, Sidebottom, Treloar, Howe, Grundy. MELBOURNE: Oliver, Petracca, Lewis, Melksham, Jones, Hunt.

UMPIRES: Rosebury, Deboy, Pannell

CROWD: 51,223 at the MCG

  1. im frustrated as a pie fan with sidebottom.he seems lazy and laconic .
    has elite fitness and skill set yet some of his disposals are just shabby.

    i also mark down treloar for his penchant to handball without looking or thinking as first option.

    2 guns that are not quite what they could be

  2. generally, a thorough & good summation

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