MELBOURNE: An old-fashioned fairytale-cum-morality play unfolded
before a packed house at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday. Eventually, the
good guys won-just-but not before a nerve-tingling final 15 minutes which
suggested some involvement from Agatha Christie.
Collingwood, appropriately enough, wore black-initially just their shorts,
socks and half of their guernseys-but later the rest of their bodies, the
result of the sustained trench warfare on the centre wicket area and in its
Merri Creek soil.
Their opponents, St Kilda, have Aboriginal players-Nicky Winmar, Dale
Kickett and Gilbert McAdam-in their team, West Australians all and supremely
Collingwood captain Tony Shaw went on the record last year to say that he
was not above using racial insults to distract opponents and help his team. Shaw
is many things: a leader, a trier and a winner; a man with a chronic back
injury and no obvious physical talents who has risen above it all-or most of it.
As the teams left the ground at half-time, with St Kilda leading by two
goals, it appears he kept talking. The Saints' Stewart Loewe asked him to
desist, as it were. Shaw didn't, and one thing led to another.
The brawl that followed saw 34 of the 36 players on the ground involved.
Order, of sorts, was eventually restored with both teams heading to their
dressing-rooms under the Great Southern Stand. McAdam, one of the Saints' best
in the first half, had to be ushered away from the Collingwood players' race by
coach Ken Sheldon.
In their absence, the chant began: "Collingwood ... Collingwood ...
There have been grand finals of recent years that have been played and
watched with less intensity than this particular game.
For all that, it would be unfortunate if this match is to be remembered
only for those few minutes. What followed was hardly the stuff of individual
highlights, but more of a sustained chorus in the way every player from both
teams rose to the expectations of the 80,000-strong crowd at the game, and then
somehow managed to exceed them.
The lasting impression of an unforgettable contest will not be of Craig
Devonport gambling and winning all with the snapped left foot goal that put St
Kilda back in front for the last time, 20 minutes and 20 seconds into the last
quarter, but the sight of his teammate Russell Morris fumbling an impossibly
heavy, slippery ball, and then scrambling after it on hands and knees, trying
somehow to keep control of it or at least keep it away from the opposition in
the last minute of the game. The siren sounded with the Saints in attack. They
won by a point, 10-17 (77) to 11-10 (76).
Black and white are undoubtedly the most appropriate colours for the
'Pies, whose very existence fuels strong emotions. Typical was the comment, from
an Essendon supporter, heard above the uproar after the siren: "I love it when
Collingwood gets done."
An expatriate Sydneysider took all this in and laughed. They just don't
understand up there.
Because St Kilda and Collingwood are traditional rivals-an enmity that
goes back to the 1966 grand final, which the Saints also won by a point-anything
else in Melbourne, especially a match at Waverley between Hawthorn and
Adelaide, was always going to be an afterthought.
By the numbers, it probably was, with barely 21,000 venturing out to VFL
Park. What they saw was no less than that which was savoured at the MCG, with
the Hawks, the reigning premiers and 1-10 favourites in this match, upset by a
point by the Crows, 15-13 (103) to 15-12 (102).
After trailing for most of the day, Adelaide closed to within five points
at the start of time-on in the last quarter, and then hit the front three
minutes later. The ball was on the Hawthorn forward line for the last 90 seconds
of the match; that the Hawks made nothing of this opportunity speaks volumes
for how far they've slipped in the past nine days.