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by Kim Densham, in Melbourne, reporting for AFANA

During the week, the build up to the Queen's Birthday clash between the Melbourne Football Club and Collingwood, dominated the media,  the rumor mill was rife that Paul Gardner was stepping down as Melbourne's chairman, to be replaced by Irish import and club legend Jim Stynes. They  had been spotted at Gardner's, St Kilda Rd offices. The meetings, we were told, were regular sessions between the two and that Gardner, also met regularly with other interested Demon luminaries. In addition, AFL chief Andrew Demetriou warned Melbourne supporters, that the Queen's Birthday match was not a permanent Melbourne FC fixture and that if fans did not turn up in numbers, it could be forfeit. The Queen's Birthday long weekend also heralds the opening of the Victorian Ski season, a favorite past time of the Melbourne FC members, who are renowned for their 'après ski' lifestyle. This weekend would prove to be a dilemma between the 'footy and the snow'.

Today though, the approach to the ground was reasonably heavy. The celebrations had started early in the morning, with a cooked breakfast at Federation Square, along with appearances by past club legends. This was followed by the walk of champions to the 'G' culminating in a 'lap of honor'. Making my way into the ground, I  headed for the Collingwood Social Club or city end to find a seat amongst the Collingwood cheer squad and supporters. As a neutral today, I wanted to feel the cauldron that was the 'Magpie Army'- the games most feral, one-eyed and parochial fans - for the first quarter, without the pressure of my antagonistic 'Bombers' colors. Also because today was a potential season upset, the Dees had beaten Collingwood in the past 4 Queen’s Birthday clashes and emotions would be running hot. The game started with Collingwood kicking to the Punt Road end and as the pre-bounce preliminaries got underway, with the player match ups flexing muscles, burning testosterone and spreading intimidation, the murmur, in the Collingwood outer, went from a rumble, to roars of support, as the Magpie defenders wrestled and jostled their Demon opponents. The atmosphere in the cheersquad was electric, intense emotion singularly focused on their team, roars of "Ball!" and boos on the umpires for any decision not awarded Collingwood’s way.
At ground level the games was a blur, flags, pennants and banners waived non stop, with the slow, long cheer of "C-o-l-l-i-n-g-w-o-o-d" punctuated with roars of approval or disapproval , depending on the decision. Despite the action in the stands, it was a pretty equal quarter of football, with Melbourne ahead by 5 pts. The second quarter was a goal for goal affair, each time the Pies gained ascendancy, somehow a Demon team effort pulled one back. Frustration on the ground fueled by some smart reading of the play, off the ground by Austin Wonaeamirra and the holding of Travis Cloke, spilled out into some serious 'jumper punching', the grinding of foreheads and the spilling of some "claret', to the roar of approval from fans. It seemed that both Osborne and Cloke had taken their 'angry pills'. With 35 seconds remaining, the ball was punched out of defense, the long ball kicked to Nathan Jones, whose goal, brought the Dees to within 7 pts, Mel 7.4-46 to Col 8.5-53.

After the main break, the Pies opened the scoring - AFL round 10 rising star winner - Brown, slotting home a major.   Immediately followed by a ’Neon’ Leon Davis goal in his 150th match. Brock McLean responded and the dogged Dees went about reducing the Magpie lead  to a point midway in the 3rd. However at the change, Collingwood was up by 23 points, with a 5 goal to 2 quarter and  6-1 uncontested marks. Collingwood did not dominate play but rather took their chances whereas Melbourne were woeful in front of goal. Mel 11.9-75  Col 15.8-98. Even as the 3rd quarter siren drifted across the ground, an animated Mick Malthouse, strode onto the MCG and began his three quarter time address ... uhm, ’roast’, animated and pointed. He delivered his gesticulated address for the best part of the break. Clearly he had something to say!

The bake paid off; from the opening bounce the Pies dominated play, keeping the ball in their attacking half, 'Neon' Leon scoring his second, along with some peppered behinds. The Dees caught their breathe and buoyed by the after the siren goal at the end of the 3rd, applied forward pressure of their own and pulled back 2 goals, however despite Sylvia's second and Austin’s magic, the gap remained. Collingwood then played 'kick to kick' in an effort to wind down the clock. In the end a pleasing result for Collingwood assistant coach, Guy McKenna, who had not won a Queen’s Birthday clash since joining the Magpies in 2003. With both teams missing key players through injury, Melbourne was gallant but in the end the class of Collingwood prevailed.

I took one last look at the City end of the 'G' and watched as the jubilant Magpie Army, left the ground singing...."side by side we stick together...good old Collingwood!"

Article last changed on Thursday, June 12, 2008 - 1:35 AM EDT

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