When a game is so close and so tense for so long, it all comes down to moments.
Each team had their time with advantage in general play; each team had their time of being forced to hold on for dear life.
Instead of going through each key moment one-by-one, today’s post is going to be all about Max Holmes’ game winning goal and what caused it.
As we’ll find out, the pattern of play wasn’t an isolated one.
Every final this year is getting the ‘North Melbourne match review’ treatment, for lack of a better term.
Essentially, everything I do there is transported into September, with the obvious difference of looking at a game from both teams’ perspective instead of just one.
It replaces the Notebook in the $5+ spot for Patrons. Each review will be posted the morning after the game, with early access to Patrons until the evening when it becomes free for all.
To provide proper context for what I’m about to explain, we need to go all the way back to Round 1. In the first look at Craig McRae’s Collingwood, I wrote the following in the Notebook (lightly edited for clarity):
A feature is how high the Pies defend, obviously a drastic difference to previous years under Nathan Buckley. When it clicks, the key is in chaos created and forced turnovers. Friday night was like watching a game in 1.5x speed from start to finish.
When Collingwood got it right it was exhilarating in one half of the field; when they got it wrong it was exhilarating in the other half, because this was a game played completely at their preferred speed.
It’s all part of the natural growing pains in adjusting to a style so different from the last decade. If it’s a fraction off, Collingwood leave players out the back easily but when the Pies get it right, opponents won’t be able to clear it past halfway barring a miracle.
Part of defending high means Collingwood try to get their half backs close to play as often as possible and aim to have their wings in attacking positions. We’ve seen it all year with Nick Daicos and John Noble; once Collingwood win possession they instantly feed it back to one of those two and with options in front of the ball or to the side, off they go.
Here’s an example from early on. You can see Daicos sitting defensive side, and then eventually the ball is fed to Noble:
It helps Collingwood offensively and defensively – extra numbers around the area naturally make it harder for opponents to break through their pressure.
One way to counter it is by having faith in onballers to deal with the pressure. If you do that, there’s the luxury of placing your remaining forwards in an aggressive position in front of the ball.
Sometimes it can be those direct matchups for the half backs. Other times it’s as simple as using those forwards to space play out, giving the big guys one-on-ones.
For Geelong’s first goal we saw it play out from a stoppage. Gryan Miers and Brad Close got themselves goal side of Daicos and Noble. Patrick Dangerfield’s rushed kick fell to Miers, who handballed to Jeremy Cameron and the Cats were on the board.
That first goal – after the Cats had a 20-minute speed run of qualifying final horror shows from years past – set the tone in open play for the day. Collingwood wanted to establish their style and swarm around the ball, while Geelong saw an avenue to goal by exploiting that method.
Posts are coming thick and fast at the moment. If you’ve missed anything over the last week or so, here are links to catch up:
Sunday 4th: Elimination Final Analysis: Fremantle v Western Bulldogs
Saturday 3rd: Qualifying Final Analysis: Melbourne v Sydney
Friday 2nd: Look Back/Ahead: Adelaide (14th, 8-14, 86.7%)
Friday 2nd: Match Analysis: Brisbane v Richmond, Elimination Final
Thursday 1st: Look Back/Ahead: Essendon (15th, 7-15, 83.2%)
When Geelong asserted themselves around contests, forcing turnovers and streaming forward, they were able to trouble Collingwood…
… but when Collingwood were on, they had their half backs coming up to cause an outnumber, causing Geelong to cough up possession and defend grimly.
Each side had enough success with their preferred method that there was no point changing. It was going to come down to a single moment – and it came with two minutes remaining. From here I’ll go the rest of the way with largely a Geelong perspective…
As we’ve covered, when Tom Stewart gets the ball here he knows he’ll have an option outside the initial layer of Collingwood defence. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and claim he wanted this stumbling kick to go directly to Cam Guthrie…
…and as the umpire calls play on, this frame encapsulates the push and pull of the match. Collingwood have players ready to swarm, Geelong have players over the top in pockets of space.
Because Collingwood don’t achieve their aim – forcing a turnover – Geelong achieve their aim – exploiting the space left over.
That two-on-one starts a chain reaction, and we all know what happens next.
Now the Cats have a week off before playing either a banged up Melbourne or a Brisbane side committed to all-out attack and minimal defence. They’ll like their chances against both.