The last term was two punch-drunk boxers going toe-to-toe. And the final siren signalled a wave of bodies collapsing to the turf.
Who was more relieved and who more disappointed? Collingwood, said the tide of play, the stats and the inaccurate scoreline, should have won.
But perhaps that’s doing an injustice to the size of St Kilda‘s heart, magnificently symbolised in the Norm Smith Medal performance of Lenny Hayes. For the Saints had a little over three quarters earlier looked like they might be on the wrong end of a grand final belting.
Collingwood couldn’t have asked for a better start. Dane Swan won the first clearance of the game, Scott Pendlebury popped a handball over Alan Didak’s head, and after running on to the bouncing ball, fired a quick handball over to Darren Jolly, who snapped from close range, but a tightish angle. Goal. In just 22 seconds.
The Pies had far more opportunities, and three goals in the next five minutes really hammered home the Magpie advantage, Jarryd Blair, Didak and Dale Thomas outstanding in the early going, all helping to push the margin out to 19. Things for St Kilda started to look grim.
St Kilda hung tough, hoping for a break. It got two very late ones in the first term. First Nick Riewoldt, having worked hard without exerting any meaningful influence, ran on to a pass from Sam Fisher and nailed the shot.
Less than two minutes later, Adam Schneider’s snap sailed through, and for all Collingwood‘s dominance, the margin was only six points.
That would become the prevailing theme, and when the Pies do reflect on the second term, they’ll wince. Collingwood‘s dominance by now in general play was absolute, but again they’d pay for their wastefulness. It was three goals to one for the quarter, but it should have been more, 3.6 another tale of scoring woe, the inside 50 count for the quarter a staggering 21-4.
The Pies’ midfield was everywhere, Thomas playing one of the games of his career, Swan and Pendlebury their usual prolific selves, Steele Sidebottom a real thorn in the Saints’ side, while skipper Nick Maxwell, allowed too much latitude early, mopped up everything across half-back. At the same time, St Kilda had Hayes, Fisher, Brendon Goddard, and not much else.
Travis Cloke might have finished the contest even before the half-time siren, but a set-shot miss from 25 metres out and then one when an open goal beckoned, both after the 30-minute mark, left the door ajar. And St Kilda didn’t need much of an invitation to charge through.
Hayes had kept his side afloat. Now, he would lead its charge back into the contest, setting the tone in the first minute of the second half by claiming Swan in a huge tackle, one of his dozen for the afternoon. The skipper jumped on board with the first goal. Goddard had the second. By the time Sam Gilbert, thrown forward to curb Maxwell, snapped another, it was back to just seven points. Blair hit a post, Thomas missed a sitter, and Collingwood muscles tightened a little further in anxiety.
The finale was truly epic. Leon Davis, virtually unsighted for a third grand final in his career, weaved out of traffic to put Collingwood 14 points up. One more would just about do it. But Hayes wouldn’t let it happen. It was he who took Schneider’s pass just outside 50, gathered himself, and bombed the reply. Milne’s next had definite overtures of hands-in-the-back on Harry O’Brien. But it levelled the scores with just under 10 minutes to play. And what minutes they were.
Goddard took, in the context, a mark of the year candidate every bit as good as his one earlier in the season, 20 metres out. He slotted it, and the Saints led for the first time all afternoon, by six points, with just under seven minutes left. Now St Kilda had to score just once more. But before it could, the Pies had one last effort left.
The chastened Cloke wound up, and his speculative bomb to the goal square was thumped through. Five points the difference, six minutes left. It had got down to three-and-a-half when Maxwell’s huge grab repelled another St Kilda thrust. The Pies went forward, Heath Shaw flew, Chris Dawes, sitting on his backside in the square, managed to dish off a handball to Cloke, and from point blank range, even he couldn’t miss.
Collingwood led by one point, the irony of a potential “reverse ’66″ obvious. Which made the tying score from Hayes, kicked from close to the same spot and bouncing the same path as Barry Breen’s famous point of 44 years previous, mind-boggling. The final 90 seconds were frenzied, the ball glued to the members’ wing boundary, before 40-odd players dropped to the ground as if shot.
What a sensational game. What an outcome. And what a treat next week. If encores are good enough for mere old rock concerts, why not one for one of the greatest grand finals ever played?
4.2 7.8 7.13 9.14 (68)
3.2 4.2 7.5 10.8 (68)
Collingwood: Cloke 2, Didak, Macaffer, Jolly, D. Thomas, O’Brien, Blair, Davis.
St Kilda: Goddard 2, Riewoldt 2, Milne 2, Schneider, Koschitzke, Hayes, Gilbert.
Collingwood: Thomas, Maxwell, Shaw, Swan, Sidebottom, Pendlebury.
St Kilda: Hayes, Goddard, Fisher, Riewoldt, Schneider, Gwilt.
Collingwood: Prestigiacomo (adductor) replaced in selected side by N. Brown.
St Kilda: Gardiner (leg).
Chamberlain, Rosebury, S. Ryan.
100,016 at the MCG.
With Collingwood one point in front, and with less than two minutes left, Lenny Hayes desperately slammed the ball on his boot near the 50-metre line. Teammate Stephen Milne and opponent Ben Johnson ran at it, the ball bounced over their heads, looked like it was going through, then broke to the right for the drawing score.
St Kilda ran out for the second half chastened and determined to atone. Hayes set the example in the first minute when he nailed Dane Swan in a tremendous tackle, to send the Saints forward. The Saints lifted immediately, and ended up kicking six of the last eight goals of the game.
Goes without saying, doesn’t it? Two grand final draws in 113 previous seasons wasn’t a huge strike-rate, and the last was 33 years ago, so perhaps we were due. The stunned mullet reactions, however, not only of the bedraggled players, but much of the crowd, suggested no one beyond Geelong’s Harry Taylor, who tipped a draw on Friday night, saw this coming.
ROHAN CONNOLLY’S FIVE BEST
LENNY HAYES (9/10)
One of the great individual grand final performances. The St Kilda hard man of the midfield dragged his entire team along with him with 32 disposals, five clearances and a dozen tackles.
DALE THOMAS (8/10)
Tremendous game for the Magpie midfielder, plenty of run and plenty of toughness when it was needed, set the tone for his team and provided run consistently throughout the entire game.
BRENDON GODDARD (8/10)
The Saints’ most creative player was terrific off half-back, midfield and creeping forward, where two towering marks produced two critical second-half goals for his team, almost getting it over the line.
NICK MAXWELL (7/10)
The Magpie skipper was a rock when required, and a real architect of the Pies’ drive when allowed. Marshalled his troops well and took a vital mark that ended up leading to the Pies’ crucial final goal.
SAM FISHER (7/10)
Was terrific for the Saints in defence, created a ton of drive with 12 rebound-50s, and finished with 25 disposals and eight marks to provide exactly the sort of drive his team was looking for.