A fortnight ago, Collingwood were not even in the top four. Now the Magpies are the first team into a preliminary final, after a 10-point win over Geelong in front of 93,436 at the MCG.
The margin flattered the Cats, who trailed all game and only made things interesting with a late run in the final quarter.
Collingwood skipper Scott Pendlebury was chaired off a winner in his 300th game, while Chris Scott’s men now have to West Coast in a cut-throat semi-final in Melbourne next weekend.
Pies grab their opportunity, Cats leave it too late
Geelong finished on top of the ladder with 16 wins, but there were still some who doubted whether the Cats were the real deal going into finals.
They met Collingwood — fresh from a final round jump into the top four after West Coast’s loss to Hawthorn — and the Magpies took their opportunity with both hands, winning 9.7 (61) to 7.9 (51).
According to the classic phrase there are lies, damn lies and statistics.
In every one of those 16 wins, Geelong had won contested possessions. In the six games they lost, they finished behind in that metric.
Against Collingwood, the Cats trailed for much of the match in contested ball, as the Pies got more men to the drop and were fiercer when it counted.
As Geelong rallied late in the game, they ended up winning the stat by a clear 21 contested possessions, however it didn’t make the difference on the scoreboard.
The Cats played a slow, conservative style of football, while the Magpies took the game on and ran at their opponents.
They looked more aggressive in attack and more likely to kick goals. By quarter-time it was 4.2 to 1.2 — with all four Collingwood majors coming from stoppages — and the questions were starting already about Geelong.
The Cats struggled in the second term but a late goal kept them in it at 19 points down at the main break.
They made no progress in the third quarter, with Collingwood extending the lead to 26 points at the final change.
Patrick Dangerfield (32 disposals) and Tim Kelly (28) had plenty of the ball, but Kelly lacked impact for much of the game, and Dangerfield played a bit of a lone hand.
The pair kicked back-to-back goals in time on in the final term, but the Cats never looked likely to get over the line.
The injury toll was significant.
Cats midfielder Mitch Duncan left the game with a suspected damaged medial ligament in his left knee.
The winning side did not escape unscathed, with X-Factor Jordan de Goey missing the majority of the game with a hamstring problem.
Only time and scans will tell whether it is tightness or a strain. But if the Magpies have to do without the dynamic attacker for finals, that will be a big blow for the Black and White.
Utility Levi Greenwood also missed the second half with a knee injury.
On the plus side, Jaidyn Stephenson returned to the senior side after a 10-game gambling ban, and had 18 disposals, four inside 50s, two goal assists and a goal.
If de Goey is absent, the Pies will need Stephenson and Jamie Elliott (two goals) to fill the gap.
For Geelong, the question after this game is where to now?
The slow and steady approach didn’t work against Collingwood — now they have to face the defending premiers West Coast in a week with the Eagles’ attacking game in fine working order.
On this performance, the home advantage (as significant as it is) may be the only thing in the Cats’ favour.
They will need to fix the forward line before they take on the Eagles. Tom Hawkins kicked 0.4, and Luke Dahlhaus, Gary Ablett and Esava Ratugolea also finished goal-less.