When Collingwood trail at three quarter time and hit the turbo button, it always makes for a fascinating final term.
So it proved at Adelaide Oval, the Pies kicking 6.3 from 13 inside 50s to turn a 17-point deficit into a two-point win in my game of the season so far.
But it shouldn’t obscure Port Adelaide’s approach in the final 30 minutes, as they clearly had plans at the ready to counter.
Today’s Notebook is going to focus purely on Saturday night’s last quarter and both teams’ setups.
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So much of a Collingwood final quarter comeback is about overwhelming the opposition. To oversimplify a touch, it’s done in two ways: speed and numbers.
The former gets past a defence before they’re set, and the latter is based on being predictable to each other. If everyone knows their ball movement and running patterns, there will always be an option to use.
Let’s look through a couple of examples to illustrate the process.
First up, it’s speed – and with it extra risks. From the very first centre bounce of the final term, John Noble and Sam Powell-Pepper come up to the contest … kind of.
Powell-Pepper goes to try and impact once he sees the ball spill loose, while Noble deliberately sits out and wide waiting for the receive.
Both players are playing to instruction, and it can be argued Noble is taking a far greater risk by allowing Port to have an extra at the contest, gambling on his teammates to still win at the source.
But of course, because it’s Nick Daicos closest to the ball, Collingwood win the contest and the risk pays off. Noble runs and goes long to earn valuable territory and set the tone.
Talking about speed, extra risks, and aiming to overwhelm, Collingwood’s first rebound 50 of the term is a perfect example.
There are 19 minutes remaining and just an 11-point deficit, but Jeremy Howe decides to boot it off the ground as far as possible.
The next kick in the chain comes from Lipinski who just picks it up and belts it forward as far as he can, as if there are seconds left in a Grand Final.
Just to repeat here, there are 19 minutes remaining and only an 11-point deficit. Who on earth plays like this?
Collingwood play like this.
And the results are instantly clear. From Lipinski’s kick, Aliir is way too overzealous in blocking out space and concedes a free kick.
The error comes because Aliir feels under immense pressure from what’s coming his way.
Next up, the numbers.
This is the scene from an inside 50 kick just ten seconds after a centre bounce. In theory it’s still even numbers around the field.
But the two extra closest players to the drop are Magpies, because they know exactly where to move:
Speed, numbers, and of course a slice of individual brilliance with some of the unreal goals that were kicked in the final term. It’s a powerful combination. However…
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On the flip side of this, the process can be exploited at times. (I’m aware that falls in the much easier said than done basket, no need to remind me).
An example here is after Mason Cox’s toe poke forward. It’s a contest of even numbers, three on three, but momentarily there’s set to be multiple Pies swarming.
Just before that happens, Lachie Jones wins the contest and looks for options. As the camera pans out to reveal what’s ahead, we see an easy kick over the top of those Pies, averting a crisis by a matter of moments.
And because Collingwood defend so high, aiming to swarm and cause turnovers in dangerous positions, it can leave them vulnerable if they’re a fraction off and/or a side is good enough to move the ball quickly.
Case in point from this kickout at the halfway point of the term. Two things happen:
1) Jamie Elliott is a moment slow in realising Ryan Burton is looking for a one-two, allowing Port to pierce the initial layer of defence
2) The contest on the wing isn’t spoiled front and centre
And because of that, Collingwood’s aggressive positioning becomes a weakness. Power players are out everywhere and it’s coast to coast for a goal.
It feels like an extremely strange thing to say given they coughed up a 17-point three quarter time lead in front of a rabid home crowd, but to me it felt like Port Adelaide were one of the better prepared sides at dealing with what was coming.
Holding structure ahead of the ball allowed the Power a get-out option at all times, and they usually looked a threat going forward. It was just the issue of whether their defence would hold up well enough, for long enough under the weight of a swarm.
Because while Port felt equipped to counter Collingwood’s turbo button, anyone who’s played a video game in their life knows the turbo button is a powerful thing.
And with four minutes to go it was a five-point game…
If you’ve missed any of the individual team deep dive posts this season, here are the five to catch up on:
How Port Adelaide’s midfield works in tandem (after Round 14)
The tweaks to Fremantle’s ball movement (after Round 12)
How sluggish ball movement is holding Carlton back (after Round 8)
St Kilda, an AFL team’s litmus test (after Round 6)
How a contested ball dominance is fuelling Collingwood’s leap forward (after Round 3)
Elliott’s goal to win the game was incredible. But to finish we’re going to focus on the passage leading up to that shot.
Remember at the start of the piece how I mentioned being predictable to each other? It pays off in the biggest moment of the game.
From a stoppage at half back with four minutes remaining, let’s head to the tape:
That wasn’t defended at all badly from Port Adelaide. Rozee initially going over to help was surely to instruction and Horne-Francis was in the right spot defensively looking after N Daicos, before leaving there to help on Pendlebury.
Most non-Collingwood players in Mihocek’s position either bang it on the boot or allow tackle pressure to take them over for a reset.
Here, Mihocek knew there’d be support runners. There always are. And most importantly, where support runners would move. Both areas are always covered, as illustrated earlier. When you need someone in a moment of need, who better than Pendlebury to move to the exact spot he’s required?
And the rest is history. Because when the process is carried out well by both teams, it comes down to individual brilliance to decide a game.
The logical conclusion is a game between both sides at a dry MCG on Grand Final day turns out differently.
But if both sides can make it there fit and firing, I’d love to see how it plays out.