A CRACKER FROM Aker. In the dying moments of the 2002 grand final between Collingwood and Brisbane, the Lions held a narrow three-point lead in what had been a pulsating arm-wrestle of a game. But it took a moment of brilliance from one of the league’s most mercurial, if polarising talents, the peroxide-haired wunderkind, Jason Akermanis, to put the game away. Aker’s left-foot snap from 30m out with 24 minutes on the clock, would give the Lions a nine-point cushion they would take to the siren.
That goal will be in the minds of many Collingwood supporters tomorrow, when the two teams, who were the league’s best all year, meet in this year’s AFL grand final.
While many Melburnians might have have hoped for a classic Collingwood v Carlton match-up, which would have been fitting given the recent death of Ron Barassi, who coached the Blues to arguably the greatest ever grand final victory back in 1970, when Carlton were down by 44 points at half time. But the Lions and Pies have their own history.
The last time these two teams met back in The Big Dance was in 2003, when the Lions boasted one of the greatest teams of the modern era. Led by Michael Voss, the star-studded outfit included Jonathan Brown, Nigel Lappin, Simon Black, Alistair Lynch and, of course, Akermanis, who built on the legacy of his winning goal the year before, to kick five, while Black racked up a record 39 possessions to win the Norm Smith Medal. Together, they helped the Lions seal their third successive premiership with a 50-point walloping.
Losing two successive grand finals would be devastating for any fan base, but Collingwood fans know the pain better than most. The Pies have played a record 44 VFL/AFL Grand Finals (including rematches), winning 15, drawing two and losing 28 (also a record). They lost by a kick to West Coast in 2018, in another thriller, while they last took home the silverware in 2010, in the infamous grand final rematch against St Kilda, winning by 56 points after drawing the week before.
The Lions, meanwhile, would fail in their bid to win four in a row in 2004, falling to Port Adelaide after the teams were level at half time. The Lions would endure some lean years thereafter but have been a finals contender each year since 2019.
This year the sides have been the league’s two most dominant teams. Collingwood finished top of the ladder but the Lions bested the Pies both times the teams played this year. Here’s a look at the factors that could decide the match.
Collingwood’s rebound efforts
To win, the Lions will need to crack down on Collingwood’s supreme ability to turn defence into attack. The Pies have taken an impressive 41 intercept marks in their two finals thus far and since Round 21 are ranked No. 1 in the competition for points from their defensive half.
The Lions’ forward line
The Lions’ big three of Joe Daniher, Charlie Cameron and Eric Hipwood have all booted over 40 goals this year and together represent the most formidable forward line in the league. In the two matches against the Pies this year the Lions kicked 116 and 124 points on them.
Of the star trio, Cameron looms as the danger man for the Pies. He’s kicked 56 goals already this season—just one shy of his all-time career best—and in the Lions’ two victories over the Pies, kicked 10 goals across the two games. A similar haul tomorrow would go a long way to securing a Lions’ victory.
There’s no doubt the Lions are at a disadvantage playing at the G. They’ve lost 14 of their past 15 games at the venue with just one win since 2014—last year’s shock 13-point semi-final victory over Melbourne, which, if nothing else, shows they can do it.
Since that 2003 Grand Final win, the Lions have played the Pies just seven times at the MCG for three wins—making it one of the club’s better winning percentages against an opponent at the ground. And of course, this is Collingwood, if any team was going to choke when it matters most, it’s the black and white brigade.
Who are the Norm Smith Medal favourites?
If Cameron kicks a bag, he’ll obviously give himself a chance.
When Carlton got on a roll in the opening quarter of last week’s preliminary final, it was the Lions’ captain, Andrews, who helped turn the tide, ensuring that while the Blues had 22 inside 50s for the term, they only managed six shots at goal. He’s been Brisbane’s No. 1 rated player over the last six weeks and has collected a mammoth 142 spoils for the year, to lead the league.
The former Lions’ skipper and serial pest is playing his 250th game on Saturday. A big match player, a premiership and a Norm Smith would be a nice way to mark the occasion.
One of the sons of the Macedonian Marvel, Peter, had a strong return after seven weeks out with a fractured knee in the preliminary final against GWS, with 28 possessions. AFL boss Gillon McLachlan joked at a pre-game function that a Collingwood supporter told him Nick Daicos’ return was bigger than Jesus. With a game under his belt, collecting a Norm Smith Medal would be some resurrection.
Jordan De Goey
The bookies’ favourite was best on ground against GWS in the prelim final with a career-high 13 clearances to go with 34 disposals. Easy to see him wreaking havoc around centre bounces tomorrow.
Why not? His confidence will be sky-high after taking home his second Brownlow on Monday night. If he can pull it off, he’ll join Dusty Martin, as the only players to win the Brownlow, Norm Smith and premiership in the same year.
Collingwood. The Lions’ hoodoo at the G and the roar of Collingwood’s rabid supporters will be too difficult for Brisbane to overcome, allowing the Pies to exact revenge for those back-to-back losses 20 years ago.