COLLINGWOOD has booked a blockbuster preliminary final against reigning premier Richmond at the MCG next Friday night as it hunts a first Grand Final berth in seven years.
The Magpies dominated semi-final opponent Greater Western Sydney early on Saturday night, but were horribly wasteful and found themselves in a dogfight at three-quarter time.
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But a three-point Collingwood edge at the final break blew out to 21 within five minutes as goals to Travis Varcoe, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Jordan De Goey – his third – snuffed out the Giants' hopes.
The pro-Magpie crowd of 72,504 erupted when the siren confirmed a 9.15 (69) to 9.5 (59) triumph that earned Nathan Buckley's men a crack at the all-conquering Tigers.
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"We didn't get it perfect and we will learn from that," Buckley said afterwards.
"I did say at the box at the end, 'Can you be dissatisfied with a finals win?'. I don't think you can, but we can play better than that.
"We should have kept GWS to a lower score than 59. We defended well, so there's still a lot of upside from what we saw."
De Goey threatened all night to be the match-winner, with neither an outmatched Matt Buntine nor a leg issue that forced him off the field in the opening quarter curbing his influence.
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His slick handball to Varcoe kick-started the final-term splurge, while Hoskin-Elliott was another hero when it mattered and the hard-running Adam Treloar amassed 12 of his 29 disposals in the last half an hour.
GWS kicked the last two goals of the game to slash the margin, but never recovered from Collingwood's five-minute blitz.
Steele Sidebottom (equal game-high 31 disposals, six inside 50s and five clearances) capped his All Australian season with another magnificent display, while Jeremy Howe was a rock in defence.
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Howe also took a skyscraping mark over Giant Harry Himmelberg to add to his extraordinary highlight reel.
The Toby Greene-Brayden Maynard match-up dominated pre-match discussion, but was ultimately a fizzer, with the Pie restricting Greene to a scoreless nine possessions.
GWS coach Leon Cameron bemoaned his side's start and the opening minutes of the last quarter, as well as the final 158-136 contested possession count in Collingwood's favour.
"The first 10 minutes of the game and the first 10 minutes of the last quarter they imposed their will on us, and we are disappointed we didn't respond, so credit to them," Cameron said.
"We were a little bit lucky to go into quarter-time probably 18 or 20 points down.
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"We fought our way back in the second and third (quarters) and even to the end … but we gave them too much momentum at times, which gained their ascendancy on us and that was the disappointing part.
"But on top of that, you can't win finals if you're negative-25 in contested ball.
"That's been the thing we've hung our hat on in the back half of the year – we pride ourselves on that – and … you can't get any field position if you can't win the footy."
GWS loomed ominously when Jeremy Cameron's sole major gave the visitors their only lead inside the first six minutes of the second half.
The Giants had kicked six of the last seven goals at that stage and seemed set to punish Collingwood for not knocking them out in the opening term.
Instead, De Goey bobbed up to nail a set shot before mature-age rookie Brody Mihocek slotted a superb checkside goal to steady the ship further.
The Magpies jumped out of the blocks, but repeatedly turned the ball over going inside 50 – Taylor Adams was one of the chief culprits – and sprayed many of their scoring chances.
A dubious free kick that gifted Hoskin-Elliott a goal after the quarter-time siren improved Collingwood's tally to only 3.6 compared to GWS's two behinds.
It was a surprising turn of events, given the Pies entered the night as the AFL's most accurate team in front of the goals.
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The Giants were incredibly fortunate not to be further behind, after a series of panicked defensive kicks saw the Sherrin come right back.
But GWS willed itself into the match through the ever-reliable Stephen Coniglio and midfield bulls Dylan Shiel and Jacob Hopper, while Lachie Whitfield was outstanding all night at half-back.
They helped address the significant opening-quarter discrepancies in clearances and contested possessions, and soon the scoreboard was corrected, too.
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Rory Lobb became the man of the moment.
The Giants ruckman pulled down a towering pack grab and kicked truly, only to drop a similarly difficult mark down the other end that enabled De Goey to swoop and goal on the half-time siren.
Ex-Giants Adams and Adam Treloar's decision to let Lobb know all about it sparked an all-in melee that ignited the crowd.
Collingwood: Jordan De Goey pulled up slightly lame after marking on the lead in the first quarter, and went into the Magpie rooms for treatment shortly after. But he was back to wreak havoc again about seven minutes or so later. Brayden Sier tried to play through a corked thigh in the second term, but eventually wilted. He started the second half on a stationary bike, briefly came back on, went back into the rooms then returned for good. Scott Pendlebury also went off in the final quarter with a left leg injury.
Greater Western Sydney: Phil Davis emerged cradling his right arm after a marking contest against Magpies Mason Cox and Jack Crisp early in the second term. The Giants' co-captain previously underwent surgery on the same shoulder because of a dislocation. Davis returned with heavy strapping. Toby Greene also disappeared into the rooms in the same quarter for a right ankle issue.
The Pies, who won their most recent flag in 2010, will try to reach their first Grand Final in seven years when they face reigning premier Richmond at the MCG on Friday night. The Giants' streak of preliminary final appearances ends at two.
COLLINGWOOD 3.6 4.9 6.12 9.15 (69)
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY 0.2 4.2 7.3 9.5 (59)
Collingwood: De Goey 3, Thomas 2, Hoskin-Elliott 2, Mihocek, Varcoe
Greater Western Sydney: Coniglio 2, Griffen, Himmelberg, Lobb, Cameron, Langdon, De Boer
Collingwood: De Goey, Sidebottom, Howe, Treloar, Maynard, Adams, Langdon, Phillips
Greater Western Sydney: Whitfield, Coniglio, Lobb, Shiel, Williams, Davis
Greater Western Sydney: Davis (shoulder)
Umpires: Chamberlain, Findlay, Ryan
Official crowd: 72,504 at the MCG