JORDAN De Goey thought long and hard about his future at the end of last season. The midfielder almost had his head turned by a big offer from St Kilda after the most challenging year of his career. But he chose to remain loyal to Collingwood, signing a five-year deal to end months of speculation in the days after last year's Grand Final.
Almost 12 months to the day he put pen to paper, De Goey showed why that signature was so critical in Friday night's thrilling one-point preliminary final win against Greater Western Sydney.
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De Goey has repaid the faith by producing his best season to date – he was included in the All-Australian squad and was in Brownlow Medal contention before he got suspended in round 12 – and he stepped up in one of the biggest games of the year.
The numbers catapult off the page.
He had 34 disposals – one off his personal best – 17 contested possessions, 13 clearances (five centre clearances) and 463 metres gained. But it was about much more than numbers.
De Goey played like someone else was playing as him with a PlayStation remote. He exploded out of the centre all night. He surged out of stoppages. He inflicted maximum pain by foot in a masterclass.
It was a night to remember in a game that was the opposite result to last year's preliminary final when the Magpies were denied entry into the Grand Final by the same margin.
A year on from that heartache at the SCG, 97,665 people crammed into the MCG on Friday night for another final to remember if you are of the black and white persuasion.
Jack Crisp – the man who was involved in the Dayne Beams trade that secured the pick used on De Goey – had massive moments in the second half, reigniting the Magpies after a nightmare second quarter where Collingwood kicked 0.4 to 4.1.
If Collingwood is to go all the way next Saturday afternoon, the 2014 off-season will be a key reason why. Not only did the Magpies secure De Goey and Crisp, they landed Darcy Moore at pick No.9 before selecting Brayden Maynard at No.30.
Maynard had endured the most challenging period of his playing career since his last visit to the MCG in the qualifying final, when his hit on Melbourne midfielder Angus Brayshaw resulted in a trip to the AFL Tribunal and more than a week of intense focus.
The Magpies faithful made their support for Maynard known from his first involvement in the game until the end. Maynard played with his trademark ruthlessness to propel the Pies into the final game of the season.
Friday night was the 30th final of Scott Pendlebury's decorated career. The champion midfielder moved past AFL icons Leigh Matthews, Lance Franklin and Wayne Schimmelbusch into outright seventh all-time. Only Joel Selwood (40 finals), Michael Tuck (39), Shaun Burgoyne (35), Tom Hawkins (32), Harry Taylor (31) and Gordon Coventry (31) are above him.
Nick Daicos won the race against the clock to be fit in time after missing six weeks with a hairline fracture and worked his way into the game, ending his fourth final with 28 disposals and 520 metres gained, playing all over the ground.
Craig McRae couldn't have wished for a better gift to celebrate his 50th birthday. The second-year coach marked the milestone with a milestone win. After falling at this stage last season, the three-time premiership player will now return to the same stage he made his name at Brisbane.
But De Goey was the difference. After appearing at the crossroads at different times across 2022, the midfielder laid the foundations for a career-best 2023 over summer. Now he returns to the grandest stage of all.