Goodness gracious. Where do you even begin with a performance like that?
There are so many areas to highlight, but perhaps the best way to start is with a quote from Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley.
“It was plain for all to see. There was one side that bodylined the ball and ran hard and straight. Then there was another side that got out of the way a few times. It’s not easy to say, but it’s the reality. There’s a question that rightfully should be asked.”
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When Collingwood pummelled North last year, it was largely due to two areas – murdering the midfield on the spread, and then a wide-open forward line to run riot in.
With North’s pressure of recent weeks, the hope was for the Pies to have no spread. It only took a minute to get the answer:
It’s hard to accurately capture how important this early moment was to set the tone. Immediately Collingwood know there are no easy possessions to be had, and North is up and about with the captain setting the tone.
In some ways the game against the Giants proved instructive, because North were able to apply their on-ball pressure against a better midfield group than the one Collingwood rolled out on Saturday night.
Logically, bringing the same pressure – easier said than done – would reap greater rewards against the Pies. The difference between Collingwood and GWS told in the stat sheet early.
The Giants were still able to get the ball outside to tick over their uncontested possession tally, but Collingwood could do no such thing.
Collingwood were actually +9 in contested possessions in the first quarter, but -28 in uncontested possessions. That North pressure meant they were unable to get the ball outside, and also forced the likes Pendlebury, Treloar and company into more handballing than they would have liked.
A simple comment from Jack Ziebell in his half-time interview was revealing in how Rhyce Shaw’s message is getting through to the group.
When Collingwood are up and running, they’ll kick sides to death (with the football, not literally). If you stop that, you’ve got every chance.
And with those half-time interviews, the players are often running on auto pilot so they’ll default to whatever’s been drilled into their heads. Ziebell going straight to a key point of Collingwood’s game means everyone is crystal clear in their roles.
At half time, Collingwood had 92 kicks to 98 handballs, their lowest kick to handball ratio in some time.
A programming note for future posts; we’ve all heard the Brady Rawlings news and his upcoming appointment as the head/GM of football. I’ll have a post on that whenever it’s officially announced, but nothing beforehand so we don’t tempt fate. Spoiler alert though: I’m a big fan.
And another one which ultimately depends on how good the footage I find is; it’s probably time to take a look at Ben Brown’s set shots and why he’s missing more often in the last few weeks. It’s hardly crisis but it seems to be on the way to becoming a thing.
Sometimes if you hit teams hard enough for long enough, they’ll respond. Other times, they’ll break.
So the natural questions at half time were whether North could maintain the manic full-ground pressure, and if Collingwood’s second half would be like the Giants, or Richmond.
To use another blunt quote from Buckley: “The white flag went up from us.”
There were two long passages of play where Collingwood tried to get their kick-mark game going – and at times North has been known to fall back and allow sides to rack up the uncontested marks.
But this time a string of five to six marks in a row saw Collingwood still well in their back half, with no outlets looming at all. Frustration led to long kicks to contest, and the game was back on North’s terms with no scoreboard change.
Shortly after those passages was essentially the game clinching play, halfway through the third quarter. TV cameras don’t do it justice, but the way North surrounded Pendlebury and gave him no room to move was brilliant:
When the pressure is so good it forces Scott Pendlebury to panic, you know something is going right. He coughed it up, Ziebell goaled and that looked like the moment the ‘white flag’ went up, as Buckley said.
While everyone’s favourite North Melbourne fan Terry Wallace genuinely said, ‘Collingwood have found a way to beat themselves’ (my game day notes had this line, followed by ‘lol’), this was simply a case of North beating up and bullying one of the premiership favourites.
This was a monumental effort by Scott Thompson. It’s another case of TV cameras not telling the entire story, because at the ground it looked like a Collingwood scoring shot for all money.
Instead Thompson single-handedly slowed the forward rush down, multiple efforts allowing his teammates the time to get across and help win possession.
It’s impressive how Shaw has been able to get his message through to the players, and how quickly they’ve taken to it and implemented it.
There appears to be a real appetite for the physical, and to go above and beyond to impose a North style which will leave an opposition battered and bruised.
Even in periods of play where the opposition has begun to get on top, the effort and intent has never wavered; so I’ll finish on a discussion point I’ve been pondering for a little bit that I’m not sure of the answer to.
Earlier in the season there were plenty of instances where a good quarter wasn’t capitalised on, and North folded when the opposition made a run.
In these last two wins at Marvel Stadium, there have been those same good, inaccurate quarters. Yet the response has been to keep going and lift the performance even further. Intangibles, hey?