A final quarter comeback
By: Glenn McFarlane of the Herald Sun
It was 23 minutes into the third quarter of Collingwood’s round four Easter Monday clash with Richmond in 1987, and more than a few frustrated Magpie fans began to make their way towards the Waverley Park exits.
After three successive losses to start the season, a fourth seemed a foregone conclusion for Leigh Matthews‘ Magpies.
The scoreboard showed the discrepancy; but general play seemed to make it look ever worse. And when David Palm kicked the Tigers’ 14th goal at that stage, the difference was out to 51 points.
So you could hardly blame some sections of the crowd from trying to cut a break early from the ‘notorious’ car park at what was then VFL Park. Blue coats were always aplenty in the lead-up to matches at the venue, but they were almost non-existent when it came time to go home. And few thought they were going to miss much on that public holiday Monday as Collingwood’s injury-riddled, young team appeared to be headed for defeat.
The Magpies had not been able to take a trick in the first month of the season as injury after injury had hampered their preparations, and allowed a host of fresh faces to be tried out of necessity than willingness.
Those who came to watch the curtain-raiser at least had the chance to watch Peter Daicos make his return from a troublesome foot injury.
He did well enough to suggest a senior recall sooner rather than later, saying immediately after the match: “I had 16 or 17 touches in the first half, I was reasonably happy.”
Eleven of the 20 players who took the field for the VFL match against Richmond that day had played 26 games or fewer. Eight of them had played less than 10 games – interstate recruits Michael Christian, Craig Starcevich and Grantley Fielke, as well as home-grown Magpies Gavin Brown (Templestowe), Jason Croall (Bundoora), Terry Keays (St Marys), Paul Rizonico (Bundoora) and Matthew Ryan (Eltham).
The powerfully-built Keays was playing his first game that day, in the No.60 jumper. His grandfather, Fred, one of 57 ANZACs to have worn the Black and White before and/or after World War One, played three games with Collingwood in 1922, joining the club after two seasons at Fitzroy. Incredibly, Terry Keays was less than two weeks out from his 17th birthday when he ran out against the Tigers, even if he looked considerably older.
And three Magpies to take the field had originally played with Richmond – Cloke, full-forward Brian Taylor and defender Michael Lockman, who started on the interchange bench before playing a big role in the game.
Taylor, who had kicked a century of goals a year earlier, was playing his 88th VFL game. But he had been soundly defeated in the opening half by first-year Richmond defender Michael Laffy, failing to register even a kick let alone a goal until midway through the third quarter. In fact, Taylor had even been dragged for a period at one stage of the second term.
His frustration, and the frustration of others, boiled over in the shadows of three-quarter-time, and it would prove to be the spark that the Magpies, and their forward, needed to launch a comeback from the dead.
The fight had come almost from nowhere, and the pushing, shoving and whatever else lasted almost five minutes before the umpires could restore some order. Taylor was, according to one journalist, “right in the middle of it” and with his blood pumping again, he was in the thick of the action when the play resumed. He took a strong mark to set the scene and two goals to Collingwood in the dying moments cut the difference to 39 points.
No Collingwood team in history had ever trailed by as much as three-quarter-time and come back to win. Still, that wasn’t a part of the message Matthews gave his young team before the resumption in the last term.
The Age’s Harvey Silver could sense a momentum shift. In his match report, he noted: “: “If a turning point had to be found, it was probably the brawl which erupted in Collingwood’s forward zone.”
All of a sudden there was hope, but it was only a flicker.
Those who had already left the game, and were listening on the radio on their way home, felt no compulsion to turn around and come back again.
Still, Matthews spoke passionate to the Collingwood huddle, expressing a belief that a few early goals could turn what had looked like a disappointing defeat into the most unlikely of victories.
But did they believe him, and believe enough in each other? That remained to be seen. But Matthews made a few changes to try and dull the Tigers’ dominance. He switched Paul Morwood onto Terry Wallace and used Shane Kerrison on Dale Weightman. And the coach knew that the fight had lifted the spirit of his team, saying later: “Sometimes it takes something like that to change the course of the game.”
And Matthews’ words gained more traction when Taylor, revitalised after being in the middle of that third term stoush, kicked the opening goal of the final term to give the Magpies a sniff of what was to come.
But Richmond’s Maurice Rioli pushed the margin back out to 40 points with a fine goal at the seven-minute-mark as a quick reply to Taylor’s opening major of the final term. It would, however, be their only goal for the quarter. Collingwood was on its way to kicking nine for the term, leaving those who had left early to avoid the traffic snarl cursing their impulsiveness.
A few flashes of brilliance for Collingwood helped to spark the revival – a smart intercept and some strong play from Darren Millane, Lockman’s hard work in defence after coming off the interchange bench, some clever play in attack from Starcevich and Rizonico, and the powerful work of Taylor deep in the forward line.
In his first year at the club, Starcevich launched a long bomb from half forward that looked for a moment as if it had been touched by Taylor in the goal square. Fortunately, the umpire said he hadn’t, and in the days before goal reviews, the six points were on the board. The margin was now back to 33.
Lockman set up a chain that provided the next goal, with a clearing kick from half back finding Starcevich, who handballed off to Paul Morwood. He then ran forward and gave it off to a clear Fielke at half-forward, and he had a bounce and spotted Ryan at the top of the goal square. Ryan’s goal brought the Magpies to within 27 points.
It wasn’t quite game on, but the momentum was in Collingwood’s favour at the 10-minute-mark of the final term. There was still plenty of time to spare, too.
Millane was stiff not to be paid a holding the ball decision, but never gave in. He fought hard to win the ball back soon after, and his long boot into attack ended up in the arms of Taylor, who made no mistake from 50m. It was the full-forward’s 350th VFL goal, and it reduced the margin even further.
Collingwood’s desperation levels were ramped up in the belief it could now win this game. One of Rizonico’s long kicks deep into attack gave Taylor the opportunity to take a spectacular mark, dragging it in at the second attempt. He kicked truly to make it a 15-point margin at the 19-minute-mark.
Cloke’s aggression with David Palm in one passage of play showed just how much Collingwood meant business, although it ended in a free-kick to the Richmond player. But a crucial miss from Weightman a few moments later left the door ajar, and the Magpies were intent on barging straight through it.
Lockman, in only his third game for Collingwood, played inspired football, continually running the ball out of defence. And Cloke was enormous against his old side. He took a strong mark from a Richmond kick-in, and drove it long, with Fielke roving and giving it off to Ryan on an acute angle. Ryan’s snap from an almost impossible angle produced his second goal for the quarter, cutting the margin back to nine points at the 23-minute-mark.
A minute later Taylor lost his mouthguard in a passage soon after, and the ball funnelled out to Rizonico. He ducked and weaved around an opponent, and steadied himself from 45 metres and nailed the goal.
Three points was the difference; there was still time left on the clock.
Richmond went forward and Maurice Rioli looked as if he was a chance to get one back the other way. But two Collingwood players, Ryan and Paul Morwood, made a desperate lunge to stop him. Two things happened. Rioli was stopped, and the collision between the three players saw Ryan, fall to the ground, with blood streaming from his mouth, and his sternum injured.
As the Magpies cleared the ball out of defence, Ryan remained on the turf. Croall took a strong mark and gave off to Mick Gayfer, who handballed to Jamie Turner. His kick landed in the arms of Starcevich at the other end of the ground. The West Australian missed, and the margin was two points, as Ryan was assisted from the field.
The ball was up for grabs in Collingwood’s attacking zone when Graeme Atkins found space. His right foot snap brought the crowd to its feet, putting his team in front again from what had been a hopeless position.
Collingwood fans danced on the Waverley seats, the Magpie players rushed to Atkins and Paul Morwood who had taken a critical mark a few moments earlier after the ball appeared destined to sweep out of the zone.
The Pies were four points up at the 28-minute-mark, with only a few minutes remaining.
Trevor Poole tried to rally the Tigers and sent the ball long, only to see it marked strongly by Millane. There would be no passing him in this instance. A long kick by Starcevich found a pack of players including Taylor, who read the ball superbly, and out the back, snapped around his shoulder. It was Collingwood’s ninth goal, and the sealer. And it was Taylor’s sixth goal – all of them in the second half, including four in the last term.
Taylor had been, according to Silver, “possibly the worst player on the ground for almost three quarters, (but) his form epitomised the change in Collingwood.”
Keays had the ball when the final siren sounded, symbolic of the fact that the Magpies’ younger players had played a strong role in the comeback victory. He booted it high in jubilation as fans stormed out onto the Waverley Park ground to greet their heroes on their way to the dugout change rooms.
The Sun said: “Move over Lazarus”. And when he was introducing the replay for the ABC, who had the sole television rights that season, Tim Lane didn’t cop any flak for suggesting: “Now for the comeback almost as big as the one that prompted the day that we celebrated yesterday … Easter Sunday.”
Richmond coach Tony Jewell was devastated by the result, describing the loss as “sickening”.
Leigh Matthews was happy, but still mindful that 1987 – the year of the VFL expansion, which included the introduction of West Coast and Brisbane – was going to be a tough year for the young Magpies.
He said: “As a team, we have a long way to go. One performance does not make the season, but at least the players will gain confidence. One terrific quarter has got us four points, and it will help club morale.”
It would end up being a difficult season for Collingwood, but that 10-point victory over Richmond still sits as the club’s best last-term comeback – and a great memory for those who were out at Waverley that afternoon.
Collingwood 2.4, 4.10, 7.11, 16.14 (110)
Richmond 3.5,7.7, 14.8, 15.10 (100)
The Herald Sun’s best
Best – COLLINGWOOD: Ryan, Millane, Starcevich, Cloke, Turner, Taylor, Lockman, Atkins, Fielke
Goal kickers: Taylor 6, Ryan 2, Starcevich 2, Banks 2, Atkins, Fielke, P Morwood, Rizonico