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.