There was a lot of talk last week before the grand final about who neutral supporters should follow in the contest between the Melbourne team, Collingwood, and the team from interstate, the West Coast Eagles. A few naïve souls, as well as many hopeful Collingwood supporters, proclaimed that as Victorians we should set aside our tribal hostilities and barrack for the local team. Fat chance that. Those tribal hostilities trump any regional loyalties, slim as they are, and it’s odd to me that anyone might think different.
We love our football teams, we identify with the history, the guernsey, the colours, and the players. Over time rivalries blossom as our team takes on others, and tribes clash. A great part of the joy of following a team is in getting the better of bitter rivalries. We take great joy from our team’s success, but we also celebrate the failures of our rivals. It happens everywhere, in every sport and in every land. It’s human nature.
That’s not an issue for the inoffensive teams in the comp. That’s why most of Victoria plumped for Footscray a couple of years ago. Perennial losers, no-one was about to get their nose out of joint if they won for a change. And certainly, in that case, we would support the local team over the interstate.
That was never a chance this year. Every right thinking Victorian hates Collingwood – the wrong think Victorian’s barrack for them. The thought that Collingwood – a team I don’t mind – could very well win gave me goosebumps. But I note that Fremantle captain when asked who he wanted to win said “anyone but the Eagles.” See, it cuts both ways.
In fact in the lead-up to the game I postulated my ideal outcome: Collingwood lose to a kick after the siren from a dodgy free kick. And, you know what, that’s just about what happened.
It was a great game. Probably the best grand final since 1989. The maggies got out of the blocks quick, as they have all finals series. They led by up to 28 points in the first quarter, before the Eagles got the last two, very important goals. From their on in they gradually ground Collingwood down. They hit the lead briefly in the third quarter and scores were level at the break. Collingwood jumped quick in the last again, kicking two goals in a minute. The Eagles pegged one back before Collingwood got another – all in the first five minutes. From there on in though the Eagles took a stranglehold.
Had they kicked the goals they should the Eagles should have taken the lead with ten minutes to go. As it turned out the game was much the better for their inaccuracy. A extraordinary passage of play with about ninety seconds to go led to a mark taken by Sheed on the boundary. It was a low percentage spot to kick a goal from. Maybe one in twenty would be kicked normally. On this occasion Sheed’s kick was dead straight and the Eagles took an unlikely lead. They were never threatened after that, and so went the premiership.
It was a just result. The Eagles were clearly the better team on the day. They were jumped early, but controlled the game thereafter.
The contention regarding the goal was regarding an alleged block that allowed Sheed to take the mark. I thought the umpiring was excellent throughout the game (not something I’ll say often). They let things go, which always makes for a better game. It was a borderline free in my view. Given that there’s about a 50/50 split in opinion I think it’s fair it was let go. In the wash-up the Eagles were disadvantaged by the free kick count, but it’s gratifying to hear the Collingwood fans squeal, and to see fat Eddie (a great reason to dislike the pies) go red in the face.