This was supposed to be a one sided affair. The in-form Collingwood taking on the injury hit and sixth seeded Greater Western Sydney Giants with the result surely leading to a Richmond vs Collingwood Grand Final, to the delight of the AFL and Melburnians. The only problem with this narrative was that the Giants didn’t read the script.
In one of the biggest surprises in recent Preliminary Final history, GWS stunned the locals by first taking a big lead, then by defending grimly when a late Collingwood surge looked like taking the Magpies back to the Grand Final in consecutive seasons. The end result shows the Giants winning by just 4 points, but so much happened throughout this game. A frantic last quarter, that a crowd of mostly 70,000 strong Collingwood fans were left as empty shells in a roller coaster of a final.
The game opened under dark skies with persistent rain testing the skill level of the AFL’s best and conspiring to keep the contest tight from the opening bounce. Collingwood drew first blood through Jamie Elliott after a pinpoint pass from Jack Crisp, with Elliott nailing the resultant shot from 35 meters out. Jeremy Finlayson replied for the Giants with a long set shot from almost 50 meters out and the contest continued to ebb and flow, with the Giants having the better of the possession game but failing to gain ascendancy on the scoreboard. In the space of a few minutes, things took a turn for the worse for the Giants as key back Phil Davis limped off with a calf injury and Jaidyn Stephenson dashed forward to scrap a clever goal for Collingwood to give them the lead. The Giants had more chances than the Magpies early on but were less effective in front of goal and trailed at the first break by three points. Despite doubling the amount of inside 50 meter entries than their Collingwood counterparts, they didn't see the results.
The second quarter started with Collingwood stretching their narrow lead as Ben Reid goaled shortly after the break. Davis returned to the field for the Giants from his calf complaint, only to leave the ground shortly after with a shoulder issue. Jeremy Cameron hit the scoreboard for the Giants with a goal after some great work by Harry Perryman, playing one of the best games of his short career on the biggest stage of the MCG. Cameron’s goal would be the last of the half as each team registered a solitary goal in a scrappy second quarter. Collingwood had a Scott Pendlebury goal overturned after official video review. The Magpies went into the main break holding a slim three point lead.
The mood around the overwhelmingly Collingwood crowd was one of nervousness but with a quiet confidence that the Magpies would turn things around after the main break. The opposite happened. As the weather cleared, the dominance of the Giants in general field play started to turn into positive results on the scoreboard. Brent Daniels, the hero of the Giants last gasp win over the Brisbane Lions, was first to goal with a brilliant snap after some nifty handballs from a stoppage in play. Just two minutes later, Zac Williams moved forward from his customary defensive post to gather a loose ball and snap another. Tim Taranto added a third sending the crown into a stunned silence save the handful of Giants faithful waving their flags furiously behind the goals.
The silence of the Collingwood army turned to a cacophony of booing as Jeremy Finlayson got away with a blatant push against Collingwood ruckman Brodie Grundy and then grabbing the ball and launching a sensational checkside goal to give the Giants a 21 point lead. As the quarter wound down, Jeremy Cameron added another to give the Giants a 27 point lead that looked to be a match winning margin.
The final quarter started much the same as the third quarter ended, with Jeremy Cameron goaling in the first four minutes to stretch the Giants lead to 32 points and send some of the Collingwood fans heading for the exits. They shouldn’t have. Jaidyn Stephenson goaled at the seven minute mark sparking a chain of amazing events up 'til the final siren. Just over a minute later, Josh Thomas seemingly hit a goal but the video replay showed what looked to be a certain touch. The touch was missed by the video replay bunker and the goal stood. With a 19 point lead, a fired up crowd and plenty of time on the clock, the Giants all of a sudden looked vulnerable. Chris Mayne goaled five minutes later and a scrap developed as the Giants tried to lock things down.
Collingwood were relentless, as the ball spent almost the entire last eight minutes locked inside their forward line. At the 22 minute-mark Thomas added another goal, crumbing from a contest and the margin was just six points with still seven minutes remaining. It was harder and harder to see a scenario where the Giants could hold on. A rushed behind [a point conceded for defensive reasons] to Collingwood at the 26 minute mark had the margin down to five, then Taylor Adams snapped a kick and the crowd held its collective breath…. but the ball cannoned into the post for a single point. Just four points in it as time ticked away. For the second game in succession, despite being under siege, the Giants killed the clock to perfection, playing to the boundary and locking in the ball to create stoppages.
The Giants didn’t manage a score after Cameron’s goal at the five minute mark, but it was enough. The siren went after numerous stoppages to drive the final nail into the Collingwood coffin and the faithful that saw their team fall agonizingly short of making the big dance. There were so many heroes for the Giants in the final quarter it is hard to single them out individually, as to a man they showed amazing resilience and resolve when they looked like being run over. Leon Cameron’s men performed valiantly and realistically deserved the win. Their small but enthusiastic band of fans will be ecstatic to now be in the Grand Final for the first time after falling short at the last hurdle twice before. For a club in just it's eight season, they now get a shot at the Premiership Cup.
The Grand Final matchup is set. Richmond, a team established in 1885 and with 11 premierships in the trophy cabinet will take on the AFL’s expansion project in the GWS Giants, only in the league since 2012. Given the twists and turns of season 2019, it would take a brave soul to try and pick a winner.
Scoreboard: Collinwood: 2.0 3.2 3.5 7.10 (52) Greater Western Sydney: 1.3 2.5 7.7 8.8 (56) Best Players: Collingwood: Crisp, Grundy, Pendlebury, Maynard, Wills, Howe, Treloar Greater Western Sydney: Williams, Taranto, Haynes, Perryman, Cameron, Kelly, Finlayson
Article last changed on Monday, September 23, 2019 - 1:09 PM EDT