It came right down to the final seconds – just like last year’s classic preliminary final between these two teams, although the stakes and the spectacle didn’t compare this time around.
“It was a really gutsy win,” coach Leon Cameron said. “They’re one of the better teams in the competition and clearly we’d been down for a couple of weeks and trying to find our feet since we resumed play.
“To find a way with a couple down in the last quarter was really pleasing.”
It was Collingwood’s first loss of the season and the only blemish on their 2020 record so far, aside from their eerie round-two draw with Richmond.
Worse still for Pies fans is the prospect of losing Jeremy Howe for an extended chunk of the season. Howe was involved in a bone-rattling collision with Jacob Hopper in the final term, his knee bending at all sorts of unnatural angles.
Howe was helped off the field and took no further part, with coach Nathan Buckley declaring the early diagnosis was that the star backman had injured both his medial and posterior cruciate ligaments.
Collingwood’s only goal of the last quarter was a set shot from Mason Cox, which cancelled out a long-distance pearler from Jeremy Cameron that should have been a moment for the Giants to rally around.
In truth, GWS should have skipped away much earlier. The sides were all square at half-time but GWS opened up some much-needed breathing space in the third term by kicking four of the next five goals.
The chain started with Toby Greene’s third of the night, before his almost-namesake Tom Green chimed in with his debut AFL goal in just his second game for the club.
It was followed up by Harry Perryman, who extended his own unlikely lead at the top of the Coleman Medal leaderboard with his ninth for the season, and then Callan Ward, who stretched GWS’s lead to 19 points.
They should have gone on with it from there but some poor choices and squandered opportunities let Collingwood back in. Greene had another chance for the Giants with a point-blank set shot but instead chose to dish off to a running Cameron, who missed the target.
It was one of two moments that swung the momentum the other way – the second was Davis’ hamstring injury, which ruled him out of the rest of the match and changed the dynamics in the forward 50 for the Pies.
They took immediate advantage, piling on three goals of their own at the end of the quarter – two from Tom Phillips and one from Brody Mihocek – to close to within one point, but Collingwood couldn’t go on with it.
“When you get away against a top-four side or grand final side last year with their backs against the wall, we knew what we were coming up against,” coach Nathan Buckley said.
“There’s no easy games in the AFL and you need to keep earning your opportunities to move forward and we spoke about that leading up to the game. We invested enough from a physical standpoint, but we just weren’t clean enough.”
Jaidyn Stephenson gave the Pies a bright start with a two-goal opening term that gave them a five-point lead at the first break.
Greene returned fire for GWS with two of his own – the first goal after what appeared to be a well-worked set play executed by Cameron that caught the Collingwood defence napping, and the second a cheeky over-the-head snap in the middle of a crowded pack.
It wasn’t the only bit of vintage Greene for the quarter. Cox stuck out his boot in a centre bounce contest with Jeremy Finlayson – a clear attempt from the American to keep his opponent away from the ball, and straight from the Greene play-book. Somehow, it wasn’t penalised.
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.