The day the Pies cut the Power
By: Glenn McFarlane
One of the slogans that has helped to push Collingwood to record memberships is: “It’s Us Against Them.”
It’s powerful, provocative and a perception that has been a part of the Magpies’ make-up for as almost as long as the club has been in existence.
But there was a time not that long ago when Collingwood was seen by some as the last bastion between keeping the premiership cup in Victoria, or losing it interstate.
And that meant a number of people – but certainly not all of them – who had previously hated the black and white stripes actually supporting them for the sake of the state.
As unpalatable as it might have been for some, that’s what happened on preliminary final weekend of 2003. Collingwood, Port Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane were the last four sides standing.
At that stage, there had never been an all-interstate Grand Final – that would come a year later – but the Magpies had to contend with the Power in one preliminary final, while the Swans and reigning premiers, the Lions, squared off in another prelim final a few hours later.
Then Victorian premier Steve Bracks, a Geelong supporter, called on all Victorians to cheer for the black and white in late September 2003. Some did; others found that task too tough.
Controversial Carlton ex-president John Elliott stirred the pot, saying he wanted the Pies to beat the Power – “I want to see them make the Grand Final and get annihilated.”
Then TV personality and Hawthorn fan Steve Vizard said: “In a way, it’s a choice between hell and purgatory. Collingwood is purgatory.”
And Melbourne supporter and radio veteran ‘Dr Turf’ had the perfect answer when asked if he would be barracking for the Pies in the preliminary final – “Not even if they were playing against Afghanistan.”
The truth was Collingwood didn’t want or need the support of others. There was enough genuine support to make plenty of noise in this town.
The excitement levels were high given the club’s fans felt that the brave effort in the previous year’s narrow Grand Final loss to Brisbane had steeled the team for the real thing in 2003.
The signs were good. Having beaten Brisbane in the qualifying final, and had the week off, the Magpies looked to be in good shape heading into this game.
The omens were good, too, with Nathan Buckley – the man who will coach the Pies against the Power on Saturday night – inaugural AFL Players Association award in the lead-up to the game. Within a week he would add the Brownlow Medal as well.
Mick Malthouse, in his fourth season as coach, urged Collingwood fans to get behind the team as it effectively took on the rest of Australia.
In the lead-up to the preliminary final, he said: “The (Collingwood) army will be there. And they will be waiting (for Port Adelaide). Make no mistake about it.”
He was right.
A crowd of 77,405 fans – don’t forget the MCG had a reduced capacity that year – turned up on the day and the overwhelming majority of them were wearing black and white.
The gamesmanship between Malthouse and Port Adelaide coach Mark Williams that had started 12 months earlier were renewed.
Williams insisted the pressure was on Collingwood in terms of its losing finals record, conveniently forgetting to mention his own club’s miserable AFL finals record at that time.
Williams said pre-game: “I spent more time at Collingwood than Mick Malthouse and I know what it’s like when you don’t win finals at Collingwood. I know what pressure Collingwood will be under.”
Malthouse just smiled and moved on.
What he did do was make a few bold selection moves. He welcomed Brodie Holland back from a suspension and took a gamble on bringing Leon Davis back for his first senior game in 84 days.
Port Adelaide had almost the perfect start, kicking the opening two goals of the game, through a long bomb from Byron Pickett and a strong mark in the goal-square to Che Cockatoo-Collins.
Anthony Rocca looked set for a big afternoon. He kicked the Magpies’ opening goal of the game, typically from outside 50m.
It was one of six opening-term goals for Collingwood. The others came from Chris Tarrant (two days after his 23rd birthday), Josh Fraser (a soccer off the ground), Ben Johnson (on his trusty left foot), Alan Didak (from well outside 50m) and Ben Kinnear (thanks to a great Holland shepherd).
The difference at quarter-time was 20 points in Collingwood’s favour.
But there was a painful sense of déjà vu for Collingwood supporters. A year earlier in the preliminary final, an incident resulted in Jason Cloke being reported and missing the Grand Final. This time it was Rocca, who was reported by umpire Hayden Kennedy 23 minutes into the opening term when his elbow made contract with Brendon Lade.
It unsettled everyone involved with Collingwood, including Rocca, whom the Herald Sun said: “once he was told he had been reported at quarter-time, he barely touched the ball for two quarters.”
The first term had yielded nine goals and a controversial report, but the squeeze was well and truly on in the second quarter.
Scott Burns kicked the Magpies’ only goal in that half hour, and it brought the crowd to its feet. He was the recipient of a fine pass from Holland, then baulked around an opponent before slamming home a goal to put his team 16 points ahead.
A free kick against Buckley for holding the ball saw his tagger Stuart Cochrane move the ball on quickly. As the clock ticked to half-time, it ended up with Pickett, who went back to take his kick with two seconds left.
Malthouse came down to the boundary line, furious that his team had coughed up a crucial goal so close to half-time. The difference was only 11 points.
The coach should not have worried. Within 30 seconds of the second half starting, Collingwood had kicked its first goal, thanks to a brilliant centre break tap from Josh Fraser, and ending with a goal from Holland.
Enter Leon Davis.
In his 68th game, and his first since Round 13, the 22-year-old kicked his first goal of the game. In fact it was his first touch of the day, as Channel 10’s Anthony Hudson said: “And what a touch it is … it’s a goal … what an inspired selection.” He had gathered a loose ball and screwed it around his body from outside 50m.
By the end of the match, Davis would have three goals.
Port Adelaide did not score a goal in the third term, adding only five behinds, as the Magpies kept piling on the pressure with two more goals to Tarrant and Holland.
The Power’s third term ended with a poster to Gavin Wanganeen, leaving Collingwood’s lead at a comfortable 31 points.
Within a minute of the final term, Heath Scotland pushed that margin out to 37 points with a long goal outside of 50m. That was, in essence, the ball game.
Yet the Magpies were not finished with it. They kicked the next three goals – two of them to Davis – to stretch the lead out to 55 points.
Warren Tredrea could barely get warm in the first half, but he did manage two goals in the last term. Still, the Magpies scored again with goals to Burns and Tarrant.
When Holland held the ball as the siren sound, Hudson said: “Get ready for the thunderous roar”. The margin was 44 points. And the crowd was roaring.
Licuria had a game high 27 touches, while Buckley had 26, breaking Cochrane’s tag. Davis and Tarrant kicked three goals each.
There was a mixture of elation and emotion after the game, with Collingwood qualifying for its 40th Grand Final.
Tarrant said: “You can’t really describe how you feel after the siren, knowing you are going to be playing in a Grand Final. I can still remember last year’s Grand Final pretty vividly and we want to turn it around this year.”
Malthouse was delighted with his team, saying: “I think we are better side than we were last year … I know my players will give 100 per cent.
“You can only win it when you are in it.”
Buckley added: “The whole finals journey is something we experienced last year. And last year it was an unknown. But it feels different this year because we know what to expect.”
The emotion for the Wakelin family was mixed.
Parents Chris and Libby, and brother Michael, had travelled to the game to watch twins Shane (Collingwood) and Darryl (Port Adelaide) fight it out for the chance to play in the Grand Final.
Libby said: “I just dreaded it, and we did shed a few tears. It would have been good for South Australia but then Shane has been so close to a Grand Final win, so it’s good for him.’
Shane saw his brother on the field. He said: “I didn’t say anything to him, actually. We just looked at each other and we pretty well knew what each other thought, I was disappointed for him, but at the end of the day, I’m playing in a Grand Final next week, but that’s footy.”
Shane would retire without a premiership medal; his brother would win one a year later.
Rhyce Shaw was desperate to atone for his father Ray’s disappointing Grand Final record. “I can’t wait to go one better than my old man and actually win one,” he said.
Shaw would have to wait another nine years – and do it at another club – to claim what his father sadly couldn’t.
But as the players and fans dreamed of playing off in another Grand Final, Rocca was consoled in the rooms by his parents, and his brother, Saverio, then with the Kangaroos.
“He is not too sure how he will go,” Saverio told reporters.
Collingwood had club advocate Sean Carroll pour over the video in the rooms after the game. The plan was to launch a defence suggesting that contact was not severe enough to cause any serious injury to Lade.
Magpies assistant coach Brad Gotch said: “I think Lade has been fairly promising to him about what he thought happened.
“He (Lade) said he faked for a free kick more than anything and if you look at it, he goes down like he has been shot.
“If he (Rocca) had hit him there with an elbow, it would have nearly knocked him out. I think it sort of brushed him.”
Sadly for Rocca, and Collingwood, the tribunal didn’t agree. The star Magpie, so crucial to his team’s premiership prospects, would be suspended and miss the Grand Final.’
And just when the Magpies were geared themselves up to potentially take on Sydney, their nemesis Brisbane finished over the top of the Swans, and booked a third straight Grand Final appearance.
The Lions would turn party poopers for the Magpies for a second straight year, this time by a much more definitive margin, 50 points.
As tough and gritty as those 2002-2003 Collingwood sides were, they just couldn’t quite get the prize they chased so desperately, albeit not from a lack of trying.