Pre-game nerve settlers at the Prince Patrick with my mate ‘Tarpey’ (as in the battling backman from our Vic Park days) are generally reserved for auspicious occasions such as Prelims and Grand Finals. It’s ANZAC Day 2016 but those heady days of Magpie relevance are fading into the mid distance. Even the pub is further than I recall from the ‘G.
Such is Bucks’ failure to instil cohesiveness, passion and belief into this year’s playing group, not to mention ongoing selection maladies and question marks over recruitment and player development, we conclude if Essendon Lite is too strong for us then our Dolph Lundgren jawed hero should honourably discharge himself from service.
So despite the brilliant autumn rays it was a rather sombre march to the stadium as we considered the fallen and he who might be felled. Today seems anything but auspicious, with the non-selection of Travis Cloke feeling like a risk more sizeable than the Collingwood 7 footer replacing him, Mason Cox. If ever Cloke was going to rediscover his mojo then surely Essendon’s undermanned defence was the ideal opportunity.
The Magpie brains rust must have breathed a sigh of relief when just minutes after the last post the game’s first post was scored by the debutante Yank, scooping up Moore’s pass before converting with a copybook drop punt.
Selection already vindicated as ecstatic teammates climb Cox like a radio tower, with the gusto one might reserve for Miss America.
All right, I want the young American. Cue Bowie on sax.
This was the early spark the Pies so desperately needed, but crucial to an emergent game plan is reward for effort. To that end Oxley, Fasolo, Moore (brilliant mark), Howe and Sidebottom (x3) capitalised on Treloar, Adams and Pendles’ work further afield, pouring on eight goals to the Bombers one by the change. Whilst the opposition was poor and the true extent of Collingwood’s transformation difficult to read, at least some confidence and verve was unearthed.
In the shadows of the Ponsford Stand Collingwood continued in emphatic fashion, Cox enabling Sidebottom to skid through his fourth just 90 seconds into the second term. What had been so gut wrenchingly difficult now appeared straightforward. A smarter set up at contests and stoppages saw a player hang back to guard space, then motor from the outside if the ball was won. Gone was the panicked handball and comedic kicking, players lowering their eyes to find targets or when the time was ripe going fast and long to the hot spot.
Whilst The Replacements had exceeded expectations thus far in 2016, one wonders how long the likes of Daniher, Zaharakis and Goddard can absorb the pressure over the course of the season. The latter two plus Kelly and Fantasia all battled manfully but with Joe off his tucker there was no aerial threat to worry the overly equipped Magpie defence boasting Reid, Brown and Frost.
Realistically, a win was non-negotiable and 50+ points was the pass mark, even accounting for the Woods’ own long list of unselectables. Thus a 76 point half time lead really should have realised a triple figure hiding. To their credit, Essendon showed some spirit as Collingwood lapsed a little, unable to maintain the same killer instinct. The game danced around the margins, ultimately finishing at a mildly satisfying 69.
The jury remains out, however at least the story of the day would be the players’ rather than the coach’s execution. Cloke and several of his embattled teammates could learn from Cox’s uncomplicated approach to the contest. After just 12 months the Oklahoma engineer is already the most effective tap ruckman at the club, with even more upside as a forward.
On the train home a 20-something lad zeroed in on an attractive young lady with the requisite chemistry. He alighted at Thornbury, and like his team, scored a handy number to call upon. It’s remarkable what a direct and focused approach can achieve when time is on the wing.
COLLINGWOOD 8.4 14.6 19.8 22.10 (142)
ESSENDON 1.1 2.2 7.4 11.7 (73)
Collingwood: Sidebottom 4, Fasolo 4, Blair 3, Howe 2, Moore 2, Greenwood 2, Cox, Oxley, Smith, De Goey, Adams
Essendon: Grimley 2, Fantasia 2, Langford, Brown, Daniher, Stokes, Kelly, Cooney, Merrett
Collingwood: Sidebottom, Pendlebury, Treloar, Fasolo, Reid, Adams
Essendon: Kelly, Fantasia, Hartley, Zaharakis, Goddard
Umpires: O’Gorman, Schmitt, Jeffery
Crowd: 85,082 at the MCG