Rocca's Long Bomb
The 2000-strong crowd attending Collingwood’s final training session at Victoria Park before the club’s 2002 preliminary final with Adelaide got a glimpse into the not-too-distant future.
Just moments after the fans had cheered the players off the training track, a few eagle-eyed observers noticed three familiar figures heading towards the Yarra Falls end.
Coach Mick Malthouse was one of them. So, too, was ruck coach Peter Moore, who despatched himself deep to the square, to officiate as the goal umpire.
Anthony Rocca was the third, and he had a Sherrin in his hands, with a few more on standby. After a few moments of discussion with Malthouse, the Magpie forward launched two torpedos towards the goals, both spiralling out of control, missing their mark.
Then Rocca stepped up for another torp. This time he nailed it straight off the boot from 60m out, and it sailed through the goals post-high, eliciting a massive roar from those watching on.
Fast forward a few days to the 13-minute-mark of the third quarter of the finals clash with the Crows. After trailing by a goal at half-time, the Magpies are swiftly on the march and Rocca has the ball in his hands again. He is well outside the 50m line, at the tip of the centre square, leaving him almost 70 metres from goal.
The roar of the 88,960-strong crowd sounds like a sonic boom to those on the field, and Nathan Buckley maintains that day provided the loudest noise he had heard from the Collingwood faithful.
The difference was 12 points, now in Collingwood’s favour, and the Magpies were on the march towards what would have been considered an unlikely Grand Final berth only weeks ago.
If Rocca could nail this goal, it would tilt the scales even further for his team.
The passage of play that had led to Rocca standing there – with the ball in his hands and with his left arm shielding the sun from his eyes – was a like a piece of art, crafted almost from scratch.
There had been a ball-up deep in the Crows’ attack. Ben Johnson sensed an opportunity and attacked the ball at the contest, then swept his way past a handful of unsuspecting Adelaide forwards.
It was part instinct; part planned.
Johnson had the space to give off a handball to the running Ryan Lonie, who seemed to have a paddock of room in front of him, the perfect scenario for a speedster who liked to take the game on.
He had two bounces initially – and very quickly – before taking a quick survey of what was up ahead of him. Still with time and space in his favour, he took two more bounces. As he passed the centre circle in the middle of the ground, he launched a precise left foot pass to the leading figure of Rocca. Arms out front and held up high, he took the mark ahead of his closing opponent Nigel Smart.
“Lookout, because this is his range,” former Magpie great Peter Daicos said from the Channel 10 commentary box. It was precisely what everyone in the crowd thought without necessarily saying aloud.
Rocca had missed a shot from 35m during the second quarter and knew the pressure was on him to nail this kick, even if it would require a clean strike of the ball.
He would explain after the game: “I leant back a bit and it (the first shot) came off the side of the boot, which was unfortunate.”
“Straight away after the first one I knew what I had done wrong, so it was not like I was down on confidence.
“I am pretty comfortable kicking long, so it was good to get on to one. I just thought I’d have a go.”
On cue, Rocca stepped up to launch his right foot into the ball, just as he had done on his third kick at the last training session. The sweet connection saw the ball spiral magnificently and almost from the time it left the boot, it was always going to go through the goals, post-high.
It landed more than 10 rows back into the Collingwood crowd, having travelled more than 70 metres from point to point.
“I was pretty happy with it,” Rocca would say. “Mick (Malthouse) is happy for me to have a shot, if I think I am a chance, so it was good to get one.”
Most of the crowd concurred.
The big forward leapt in the air and gave off a one-fist salute, having put the Magpies in front by 18 points, and giving the black and white fans one of their most memorable finals moments.
As the Herald Sundetailed, “Conservatively, it went 70m. But if you said it went 80m few would think you’d exaggerated … the fans were back in full voice and the noise became deafening … the goal seemed to lift the Magpies even further.”
A breathless Daicos added: “If that can’t lift you, nothing will.”
It was one of six goals to Adelaide’s one in the third term, which helped turn the match in Collingwood’s favour, and ultimately propelled the Magpies into the 2002 Grand Final.
Collingwood narrowly outscored Adelaide in the final quarter and went on to win by 28 points.
Rocca had only had eight disposals in the game, but his booming goal had been the defining moment of the contest.
But he would go on to kick four goals the following week in Collingwood’s brave nine-point loss to Brisbane in the Grand Final, which was a huge performance.
If you believe anyone who saw it live, or the man himself, or even president Eddie McGuire, who was right behind its path, it should have been FIVE goals, with a controversial goal umpiring decision going against him, and the club, at a critical stage.