It was a fortnight of contrasts as we kicked off our 2019 campaign, beginning with a disappointing narrow loss to Geelong before turning things around in exceptional fashion against fellow flag favourites Richmond a week later. The difference between both contests was immense, as we looked rusty and rather pedestrian against the Cats but then won instant redemption by conjuring an exciting yet clinical dismemberment of the Tigers.
When recently writing of the season that just was, I mused about the possibility of writing a piece exploring our history of Grand Final defeats. Admittedly, it was never a piece that I was in a rush to get to, especially not at a point when our most recent loss was so raw. However, being a little further removed from that most recent of wounds has perhaps allowed time to act as a salve of sorts, at least enough to dampen the sort of emotion that might plague such a discussion.
It has been a few weeks now since the trade period ended, meaning that yours truly has been customarily tardy — but better late than never, as they say. This year’s trade period shaped as an interesting one given the amount of movement amongst established players: GWS were faced with another salary dump fire sale; Gold Coast’s co-captain bookends decided to head south simultaneously; and of course, there was the eleventh hour confirmation of the desire of Dayne Beams to return to Collingwood.
I confess that ahead of the Grand Final, a big part of me was hoping that when I did get around to writing an article about our season, it would be something bordering on epic, perhaps even akin to hagiography. As the season unfolded, I was increasingly taken by a heady emotional cocktail: a mixture of pride, humility and the surreal. That the Grand Final unfolded as it did has, not surprisingly, knocked some of the wind out of my sails and made for a heavy comedown.
Having clawed our way into second spot on the ladder, we’ve now managed to fend off our fellow climbers to maintain our position just shy of the summit for yet another week. To be fair, our footing is precarious and on the weekend we did rely quite heavily on some superhuman efforts from our leading Sherpas in Pendlebury, Grundy and the emerging De Goey to kick free of the Bombers, but once more we have done what was required to get the four points — for the seventh round in a row.
The closest a Collingwood supporter might get to Manichaeism is when our club lines up against Carlton. A victory is that much more euphoric when it comes at the expense of such darkness, a confirmation that all is right in the world; defeat however might induce a nightmarish fever dream, a catalyst for eternal night until the next opportunity to correct the balance arrives.
We rode a wave into the mid-season break this year, building a winning streak which culminated in a performance that may have supplanted our victory on the road against Adelaide in terms of excellence by putting an end to Melbourne’s streak in emphatic fashion.
A fortnight ago, I suggested that the coming month shaped as an important one in gauging our progress thus far in 2018. The Saints and the Bulldogs have been struggling this year, but nonetheless such opponents had a habit of knocking us off in previous seasons, as we tended to put in one of our all-too-familiar dysfunctional performances that would open us up to playing a team into form, or merely just giving a similarly middling team’s fans something to cheer about. So I’m glad that, two weeks later, we’ve managed to bank 8 points and sneak back into the top eight.
The last two weeks have seen us triumph against Brisbane in a free-scoring affair at the Gabba, only to come unstuck against Geelong on Sunday in a low scoring tussle that, quite honestly, wouldn’t have entertained too many neutral onlookers. As a Collingwood supporter, it was particularly difficult to watch and this wasn’t simply because of our error-riddled performance, but also because of how reminiscent our form was of previous years.
After a three game winning streak, Sunday provided a reality check for our club — but not an unwelcome one. Despite the final margin, our performance throughout most of the game was encouraging and one might even argue that we may have gotten more out of Sunday’s loss, than out of any of the wins that preceded it.