COLLINGWOOD has set up an interstate semi-final showdown with West Coast after demolishing Sydney by 38 points on Saturday night in the second elimination final at the MCG. It was the third time the Pies have beaten the Swans this year, although this result presents as the most significant as it ensures the 2005 premiers and last year’s Grand Finalists will not progress beyond the first week of finals for the first time since 2002.
After getting off to a commanding start, the game ebbed and flowed with the Swans mounting periodic challenges, and threatening to claim the momentum and steamroll the home side. But the Pies finished off in the same sterling fashion they started in, and with a five-goal final term sent the Swans packing 18.17 (125) to 13.9 (87) to move beyond the opening week of finals for the first time since 2003.
It was a stunning result for the side that was bundled out of last year’s race by the Western Bulldogs in the opening week. With Nathan Buckley back and clearly enjoying his football, the Pies were a team-oriented and switched-on unit that systematically dismantled the formerly suffocating Swans.
While they didn’t have a player worthy of criticism, it was midfielders Dane Swan and Scott Pendlebury who helped instigate the Pies’ drive into attack, while forwards Anthony Rocca (six goals), Sean Rusling and Travis Cloke (three each) dominated the game. They set up with an impressive forward structure, with Rusling starting deep, Rocca midway up the 50 and Cloke at centre-half forward, while either Paul Medhurst or Leon Davis roamed dangerously.
It was a structure that worked, and their start was consequently set at a cracking pace. They held their biggest lead of the opening term – 31 points – as the quarter-time siren sounded. Rocca’s performance was nothing short of heroic after the spearhead went off late in the second term with what appeared to be a serious knee complaint. But he reappeared with the team after the main break and went on to be the Pies’ leading goalscorer. He had perhaps his best first term for the season with seven touches, five marks and two goals, while Alan Didak was explosive coming off the bench to pick up seven possessions and one goal.
With a convincing lead and an opposition that appeared out of sorts, the Pies entered the second term brimming with confidence, but the experienced finalists in the Swans again displayed their never-say-die attitude. The Swans lifted, and by scoring the first two goals of the term had culled the Pies’ lead to under four straight kicks. But, the home side rose to their challenge and regained their ascendancy through Davis and Rusling. As the quarter see-sawed score-wise, the Swans became more convincing regarding their pressure. They kept the Pies honest in the midfield and drew themselves closer with inside 50s, and the result had them within 16 points as the term wore down.
A pair of unfortunate events had the Pies’ lead reduced to just 10 at half time. Just before Jude Bolton popped through the goal that settled the half, Rocca sent a scare through the Pies’ camp when he hyper-extended his knee. The game seemed set to continue to go Sydney’s way when O’Loughlin opened the scoring with a goal just after the re-start in the third quarter but the Pies’ defensive pressure stepped up and forced the Swans into costly turnovers. This eventually paid dividends as Collingwood put together five goals to one for the remainder of the term.
With Rocca clearly forgetting his sore knee, he again stood up and made the third quarter his, while Rusling continued to present and Swan started to find plenty of the ball. The difference was 28 points with a term to go, and with the sun soon to set on one team’s 2007 seasons, the respective huddles consisted of plenty of intense discussion. Whatever Buckley said to his troops worked a treat, as they refused to concede any ground to the Swans in the deciding term, and consequently won a trip to Perth to meet the wounded Eagles.
COLLINGWOOD: 6.5, 8.9, 13.12, 18.17 (125)
SYDNEY: 1.4, 7.5, 9.8, 13.9 (87)
GOALS – Collingwood: Rocca 6, Rusling 3, Cloke 3, Didak, Pendlebury, Davis, Swan, Buckley, Medhurst
Sydney: O’Loughlin 4, Davis 2, Malceski 2, Kirk, Fosdike, Schneider, J. Bolton, Hall
BEST – Collingwood: Rocca, Buckley, Rusling, Cloke, Swan, Pendlebury, Davis, Didak, H. Shaw
Sydney: O’Loughlin, Goodes, Kirk, J. Bolton, Malceski
INJURIES – Collingwood: TBA
Umpires: McBurney, Stevic, McInerney
Official crowd: 64,645 at the MCG