“In his series Race Relations, John Safran took part in a devotional crucifixion. Safran was crucified just outside of Manila along with three other men and one woman. He had nails driven through his hands and feet and hung on the cross for five minutes before being taken down and given medical treatment in a nearby tent. In 2010 Race Relations was nominated for a Logie Award in the category of Light Entertainment.”

(Wikipedia)

A GRAND Preliminary

Long gone are the days of the final four and final five when dominant teams had Preliminary Final week off and sat back on banana lounges and beanbags laughing at the spectacle of their prospective Grand Final opponents destroying each other.

Now every team has to earn its spot in the Grand Final. And the winner of tonight’s  Preliminary between Collingwood and Geelong will have really earned it.

They were meant to meet in the Grand Final as the system is engineered to bring about a decider between the two best teams. For a very brief moment, with Ling pumping his arms and Goddard screaming at the rain, it looked like it had gone to plan. But a rejuvenated and relentless St Kilda  showed everyone that engineers have no part in a brutal classic final.

Geelong and Collingwood are clubs proud of their heritage. The Cats celebrate their provincial status and persist with the daggy hooped jumper and socks (North Melbourne got rid of them  in the 1880’s). When a team is unsuccessful such an outfit can make it a figure of fun –   like the Blinky Bill, or was it Caramello Bear? – of the Brisbane Bears.

Certainly no one is laughing now at what this great team is wearing.

Collingwood, to the chagrin of AFL promotional event organisers, sponsors and other clubs, views its stripes as sacred and propagates an affinity with the working class despite the suburb’s working cottages now being million dollar homes and many of its supporters residing very comfortably in the eastern suburbs.

To the many people who love it, and the even greater number who loathe it,  Collingwood’s  modern incarnation is inextricably linked with the enigmatic figure of president Eddie McGuire.

The son of a coalminer, McGuire has achieved a lot. An affable buffoon of morning radio, a bringer of riches to poor people with good memories on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, the ruthless CEO of Channel 9, and the earnest patriarch of Australia’s most famous sporting club.

I remember McGuire as a young Channel 10 reporter in 1987 brazenly jumping the fence at Victoria Park with his microphone and approaching the training group like an excited kid. He doesn’t look so young now, is more serious, self entitled and annoying, but he certainly knows what he wants, and loves the club.

Collingwood  has the form, beating Geelong comfortably in Round 19 and was the best in the competition for inside-50s, contested possessions, tackles, and number of goal kickers .  It swarms at the contest with players of varying builds and styles. They are lighter limbed  than the bully boys of Corio Bay. They are  younger and, with the exception of Dane Swan, fresher faced. But appearances can be deceiving. The Pies captain Nick Maxwell who looks like the newly appointed school prefect, is actually older than Gary Ablett. For a powerfully built side Geelong are exceptionally skillful and quick.

Amazingly the minor premier has the worst goal conversion rate with 49.4%. The competition average is 52.6%.

Matthew Lloyd was one of the first commentators to show frustration at what he saw as poor  set shots at goal by all clubs. Although conversion rates haven’t altered greatly over the past twenty years it appears most modern players, who can hit a teammate sprinting across their  path forty metres away,  struggle on set shots at the stationary 6.4 metre gap between the goal posts. As Essendon great Paul Salmon noted: ”It [goal kicking] is a very unique thing. It’s very much a specialist role,  and there’s only a handful that can do it with any degree of success.”

Kelvin Templeton who had the unbelievable conversion rate of 92% practised some form of  meditation while lining up and Jason Dunstall simply aimed for the goal umpire. Perhaps Travis Cloke should talk to these two before one of his shanks costs his team a chance to play in a Grand Final.

Personally I want an old-fashioned, self obsessed goal hungry bastard to win the match like Kevin Bartlett who single-footedly won Richmond the 1980 flag. Goal hunger is a characteristic that fell out of favour but the game is beginning to appreciate it again.  I had that trait and during a Preliminary Final had a teammate handball to me on the boundary to kick the winning goal which I did without any thought at all of kicking it to a player in a better position. I do despair when Didak or Johnson look to centre the ball instead of bending it through the sticks. It denies us one of the great spectacles and if they do give it to someone else that person usually misses the set shot because they’re busy looking left and right, hoping to give it off themselves to avoid the responsibility of scoring.

And I’m sure Geelong haven’t forgotten the ’05 semi final against Sydney that was stolen from them 30 seconds from the end by Nick Davis’s miraculous snap.

Some great goal sneaks are still present in this series and Milne showed his worth against Geelong.

Will it be a player like Didak, Johnson or Stokes who puts his team into the Grand Final? I hope so.

Collingwood is looking to reverse its 2007 and 2009 Preliminary Final losses to Geelong.  Despite this year’s achievements its mental response to those losses (a motivation or a haunting) may decide the outcome.

Geelong want to win this to gain an opportunity to impose themselves on the history books:-

In twenty years time when a child is looking at this:-

PREMIERS:-

2007 GEELONG

2008 HAWTHORN

2009 GEELONG

he may question the title of GREAT.

But with a consecutive presence he’ll be convinced:-

2010 GEELONG

A characteristic of great teams is that other sides don’t beat them, they beat themselves. Geelong aren’t the team of 2007 but they still believe they’re good enough to control their own destiny. After the loss to Collingwood in Round 19 Matthew Scarlett said: “We didn’t want it…what we served up was despicable”. Severely self-critical but also tinged with a deserved arrogance.

Not as arrogant and self-assured as their predecessor Brisbane who let the other teams engage in the undignified scrap for the Golden Tickets to the finals. Then one by one, each team eliminated itself through a weakness of character until there was only one left. Ecstatic, they would enter Willy Wonka’s office to claim the prize only to find Brisbane had taken over the place: “You LOSE. You get NOTHING. GOOD DAY SIR!”

Usually teams only have two gargantuan efforts in them for the finals. To win the Premiership Geelong will have to summon a third. Their second is tonight and I’m sure St Kilda, confident of inflicting on the poor Bulldogs its  sixth Preliminary Final loss since 1992, will be sitting back in their Sortino leather lounges splitting their sides with laughter as the Pies and Cats tear each other to pieces.

Has Geelong Just Handed Collingwood The Premiership On A Platter?

It may have only lost by four points to last year’s fellow grand finalist but has Geelong just handed Collingwood the 2010 Premiership?

Mark Thompson’s ignoble and prolonged criticism of the free kick that cost them the game suggests the answer is yes. 

Winning a Premiership, even for a great side that remains undefeated during the finals, is a tortuous assignment. If it loses its first final you can bet it won’t make the grand final.

Since 2000, when the current finals system was instigated, five top 2 teams have lost the Qualifying Final and only one has made it to the big day. That was West Coast in 2006 when they hung on to win it by a point. 

These teams failed to resurrect themselves because losing a first final exacerbates the problems that caused the loss: injuries, lack of form and confidence, and the weariness brought on by sustaining excellence throughout the regular season.

By losing they are also forced to play a semi final, which they must win, only to     confront the competition’s next best team (which has had a week off) in the Preliminary Final; not the Grand Final as the system had planned. 

Finishing second, Geelong was immediately on the back foot  because it meant a sapping Grand Final replay in the first week. For Collingwood, the Minor Premiers, there was just a practise match to breeze through against the disintegrating Bulldogs.

After last Friday’s Qualifying Final it was the St Kilda players wearing most of the bandages but their demeanour showed a strong self belief.  Geelong trudged off the MCG looking like they are done with carrying the burden of Great Team.

They accounted  for the precocious upstarts Fremantle last Friday because “we got our structures right”. It’s only an  inexperienced, overawed opposition that allows you structure in a final; otherwise it’s a brutal chaotic dogfight. St Kilda gave them that and  Collingwood, the Premiership favourite, has promised another for the Preliminary Final. 

 Form aside, which has included recent comfortable victories against the Cats and Saints, why should Collingwood win the Premiership? The failed Grand Fnal teams of 2002 and 2003 were not dissimilar in style or talent. The major difference is that eight years ago they met one of the great modern sides at their peak and it was a testament to their determination and Malthouse’s astute coaching that they got within nine points of toppling them.  

This year’s team retains some experience from those games with Prestigiacomo, Johnson, Davis and Didak as well as having excellent older recruits from other clubs like Leigh Brown, Darren Jolly and Luke Ball.  More importantly, Malthouse has since blooded and developed numerous youngsters often by rotating them between the senior team and the VFL.  The result has been an unusual blend of the exciting and the unspectacular with  champions like Heath Shaw, Nick Maxwell, Scott Pendlebury, Travis Cloke, Dale Thomas, and Dane Swan.  Swan might look like a HQ panelvan on its last legs but he is the club’s most dominant midfielder since Buckley.

Alan Didak is 27 but plays with the enthusiasm of an annoying smartarse kid in the park,  those toddler’s legs of his snapping goals at ridiculous angles.

Another batch of youngsters,that included Steele Sidebottom, Jaxson Barham (when you have a Steele and a Jaxson you know the new generation has arrived), Dayne Beams and Brent Macaffer, debuted last year and it looks like  Jarryd Blair ,who only played his first game  two months ago, might have a Premiership medallion soon. 

When a coach has a side he thinks can win him a Premiership he won’t change it. And sadly, when Malthouse stopped the rotations, Tarkyn Lockyer, Josh Fraser and Shane O’Bree, young guns of the ’02 & ’03 sides but now old men, were on the outer. 

Poor O’Bree left Brisbane for Collingwood in 2000, despite Leigh Matthew’s protestations, losing twice to his old club in consecutive Grand Finals. Criticised throughout his career for  lack of pace and class he nevertheless established himself as a vital player in the team for a decade; only to be spurned on the eve of his Premiership redemption. 

You couldn’t really blame the three veterans for secretly hoping Collingwood doesn’t win it.

And who knows, perhaps it won’t.

Prominent Diners

The Age’s Epicure has a piece on the favourite restaurants of “prominent Melburnians”.

These prominents include celebrities, identities, personalities, a gynaecological oncologist who lunches at The Italian, a horse trainer who feeds at The Fleece, and the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne (Hell’s Kitchen & Hot Grill). There is the odd genius like Barry Humphries; and then there is Ken James and Kate Ceberano.

Kate, who used to sing but now models Playtex bras, is Queen of Moomba and self promotion.  Kate is rightfully proud of her full figure and is often seen filling it at Spoonful (Prahran) while talking, between spoonfuls,  about herself: “As someone with the body confidence … oooh isn’t this pate  divine?… who wouldn’t shy away … and mmm the veal is soooo tender!… from being the woman she is …WAITER, more sweetbreads!”

There are no current politicians. Apparently Julia Gillard was approached but on hearing her  favourite dish was beef and black bean at the Dragon Temple in Altona, Epicure cut her from the list.

There are a few surprises too like imagining Humphries in a Cantonese restaurant (Lau’s Family Kitchen), and realising that the least prominent, Ken James, had chosen the best restaurant – Bistro Thierry.

Next week Epicure will list the favourite eateries of non prominent people like single mum Chartreuse from Fallingwater Estate, Pakenham:  “My sons Jaxson, Colt, and Magnum [her fourth, AK 47, is due in a month] love Hungry Jacks but since they’ve brought in that Angus beef sh*t I’ve told the boys it’s KFC or nothin’ “.