Craig McRae after the 2023 Grand Final between Collingwood and Brisbane at the MCG, September 30, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

SATURDAY is a day Craig McRae will remember forever. 

Ten hours before the 50-year-old led Collingwood to a record-equalling 16th premiership in front of 100,024 people at the MCG, McRae spent the morning inside St Vincent's Hospital.

It was there, just a couple of kilometres north of the ground, where McRae and his wife, Gabrielle, welcomed the arrival of their daughter, Maggie, shortly before 8am.

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McRae left home in such haste he left his suit shoes behind and had to visit Menzclub on Bridge Road Richmond on his way from the hospital to the MCG. Unfortunately his brother-in-law bought a pair two sizes too big, so they had to dash back to swap them over.


Now, after coaching the Magpies to a four-point victory over Brisbane to win the club's first flag since 2010, McRae is heading back to see his family with the ultimate prize in his possession.

"The tears flowing this morning at quarter to eight. My wife has been remarkable," McRae said in his post-match press conference on Saturday night.  

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"She went into labour and went to the hospital with her sister without me and let me sleep in. I had no idea what was going on. She is just so amazing it will make me cry. I'm so proud of her.

"Quarter to six my wife rang me and she said 'you better get to the hospital because this baby is ready to go'. Thanks to everyone at St Vincent's for making my wife really comfortable. I'm coming tonight and I'm stealing that cup. I'll go and get a photo with my wife and my little girl Maggie with the cup."


Sitting next to his coach in the bowels of the MCG, Norm Smith Medallist Bobby Hill revealed McRae was so excited to break the news to his players in the pregame meeting that he got the gender wrong before correcting himself, much to the amusement of everyone in the room.

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"I was just so excited to get it out," McRae beamed. "The players in their jumpers have the legacy they want to leave. In mine, I've got: 44 sons. They didn't know that. I'll love and support all 44. I said to them I've had a pretty cool morning. I then put a photo up and got it wrong. It’s a girl."

McRae played in the famous three-peat at Brisbane – 2001, 2002 and 2003 – during his decorated 195-game career at the Lions and stopped mid press conference to praise Chris Fagan's side.


"I want to show respect to the opposition," he said. "This is one of the best games of footy I've ever been involved in. What a spectacle. You can have your own take on it, but this was just incredible. Brisbane has had an incredible year this year. There are only small margins. I want to pay my respect to them."

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The senior coach's office inside the AIA Centre is adorned with photos of previous black and white premiership masterminds. Mick Malthouse's photo is there. So is Leigh Matthews' from that famous day in 1990. McRae joked he hopes he doesn't return from his off-season break to find his face on his own wall. But it should be, given what he has achieved across his first 51 games – now up to 38 wins – as a senior coach.


McRae said there is no comparison between coaching and playing in premierships, explaining that he is one cog in an important machine that includes CEO Craig Kelly, president Jeff Browne, the football department, the players, the entire club and the supporter base.

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"It doesn't compare. Leigh [Matthews] said that to me after the game. I had a moment with Leigh and thanked him. It just doesn't compare," he said.

"This is not about me, this is about 106,000 members, this is about the payers and their stories, this is about all our staff. Craig Kelly comes in and does a wonderful job for our footy club, Jeff Browne has been remarkable, I’m just the face of it. As a player, you're not that. this doesn't compare."

Players celebrate after the Grand Final between Collingwood and Brisbane at the MCG, September 30, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Collingwood fell one-point short of reaching last year's decider when Sydney ended the Magpies' season at the SCG. Collingwood GM Graham Wright and veteran recruiter Derek Hine then got to work in October, signing Tom Mitchell, Dan McStay, Billy Frampton and Hill – before adding Oleg Markov during the pre-season supplemental selection – finding the missing pieces for this premiership push.

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"Wrighty is in the room," McRae pointed out. "The acquisition of Tom, Billy, Bobby and those guys. They have made us better. We knew we had to get better. You lose the prelim final by a point, well you have to get better. The competition is already improving. We had to bring in more depth to our list. The work done in the off-season is ultimately why we are sitting here."


Nathan Murphy was substituted out of the game at quarter-time after presenting some concussion symptoms on the boundary after being inspected in the rooms late in the first term. The key defender ended up with a premiership medallion, but McRae's heart went out to injured pair Taylor Adams and Dan McStay, as well as John Noble, who was dropped on the eve of September after playing 83 consecutive games.

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"There is always a story on Grand Final day. What about Tay? What about Dan McStay? What about Johnny Noble? We're not here without those guys. The work they put in and the training. These medals and memories are as much theirs as ours. The game doesn't recognise that, but we do."