COLLINGWOOD has hung on to defeat a wasteful but fast-finishing Melbourne by seven points in the qualifying final.
The Pies kicked just two points to the Demons' 3.2 in the final term, holding firm in the final minutes to win 9.6 (60) to 7.11 (53) in a somewhat spiteful affair.
MAGPIES v DEMONS Full match coverage and stats
Melbourne – which blew an inside-50 advantage of 69-37 – will now face the winner of the elimination final between Carlton and Sydney next week, while Collingwood will enjoy a week off and has qualified for the preliminary final.
As dysfunctional as Melbourne's forward line had been for three quarters, it sprung to life in the final term, with goals to a rusty Tom McDonald, Joel Smith and Bayley Fritsch chipping the margin down from its three-quarter time break of 25 points. Fritsch also nearly missed his boot in a set shot that harmlessly sailed out on the full.
Pies skipper Darcy Moore, on return from a hamstring injury, was simply superb in the final quarter, saving his side time and time again with well-timed spoils and intercept marks.
The tone was set from the opening bounce, when Mason Cox – starting in the ruck – got his knee up high and into the chest of Max Gawn, flooring the Melbourne captain.
With all players on edge early with finals nerves, the tinder sparked when Brayden Maynard jumped high to spoil Angus Brayshaw, charging out of the stoppage. He brought his hands down as he landed, his shoulder collecting Brayshaw's head, the Dee appearing to be knocked out cold before being taken off on a stretcher.
It resulted in close to an all-in brawl; Maynard never one to take a backward step, and Jack Viney particularly keen to stick up for his mate, losing his jumper in a second instigation.
Meanwhile, amid the wrestling players, Jordan De Goey limped from the field, having hyperextended his knee slipping over while changing direction at that same centre bounce. After a brief period down in the rooms, he emerged with it strapped up and appeared uninhibited for the remainder of the game.
Cox dominated the ruck early, winning the first nine hitouts, and the Pies skipped to a 20-point lead at the first break, with Bobby Hill kicking the first two goals of the game.
Melbourne finally broke through for its second goal 15 minutes into the second quarter after Kysaiah Pickett took a clever juggling contested mark.
It was a period of control for the Demons – who won the inside-50 count 20 to eight – but they only added 1.4 to trim just three points from the margin.
The match broke open somewhat in the third quarter, Dan McStay recovering from a knock to the head to kick two goals, while centre clearance wins almost guaranteed a goal as the teams traded majors.
In the absence of Brayshaw, Christian Petracca spent more time in the midfield and tried his best to haul the Dees back into the game in the fourth term.
Steele Sidebottom had the better of Ed Langdon on the wing, particularly in the first half, setting up the Pies time and time again.
Nervous MRO wait for Maynard and van Rooyen
The Maynard incident on Brayshaw – ostensibly a football action that went horribly awry – will be the subject of discussion for days to come. The decision between a careless and intentional classification will be a major factor, with there being no doubt of the incident being high contact and severe impact. Melbourne forward van Rooyen caught McStay with a glancing elbow, seeing the Pies forward undergoing a concussion test but returning.
Gawn does it all
There were pre-match concerns Collingwood had gone into the game too tall, with its two recognised rucks to Melbourne's one in Gawn, but the Pies didn't appear to be too slow around the ground. However, it takes more than two rucks to defeat Gawn in a final. Smoked in the hitouts early, Gawn's work around the ground (31 hitouts, 27 disposals, 10 clearances) was second to none, and he also ran hard to block up the Pies' attacking lanes.
Third-quarter coach killer
Fritsch won a free kick in a marking contest and stopped dead, holding his hand in the air – as if in a classroom – for a good 10 seconds. Meanwhile, the ball had dribbled forward, with Langdon casually ambling towards goal and taking advantage, but was bumped off his kick and scored a point. It was a blown opportunity late in the third quarter that could have turned the game, and was emblematic of the wasteful and clunky Melbourne forward line throughout.
COLLINGWOOD 4.2 5.3 9.4 9.6 (60)
MELBOURNE 1.0 2.4 4.9 7.11 (53)
Collingwood: Hill 3, McStay 2, Mihocek, De Goey, Crisp, Cameron
Melbourne: Fritsch 2, Sparrow, Smith, Pickett, Neal-Bullen, McDonald
Collingwood: Sidebottom, Crisp, Quaynor, Hill, Moore, De Goey
Melbourne: Petracca, Gawn, Oliver, Viney, Pickett
Melbourne: Brayshaw (concussion)
Collingwood: Jack Ginnivan (replaced Darcy Cameron in fourth quarter)
Melbourne: Bailey Laurie (replaced Angus Brayshaw in first quarter)
Crowd: 92,636 at the MCG