IT WAS built up like a final. They showed up like it was a final. And it delivered a game that felt like it was worth much more than four premiership points.
Carlton has been the flavour of the month for the past month – and most of 2022 under a new coach and a new regime at Princes Park – but it was Collingwood who produced its best win of the year in front of 80,627 people at the MCG on Sunday.
MAGPIES v BLUES Full match coverage and stats
The Blues kicked the final three goals of the game and finished with a full head of steam, before Jack Silvagni had a snap at goal in the final 30 seconds that narrowly missed. There was another stoppage inside 50 and a non-call for a high tackle before the final siren sounded for a four-point Collingwood victory – 11.13 (79) to 11.9 (75).
Carlton was hit with a major blow in the opening quarter and could be without Jacob Weitering for the foreseeable future after the star key defender – who looked set for a maiden Therabody All-Australian blazer – suffered a shoulder injury, substituted out of the game before the first break.
Collingwood made the most of the missing intercepting star, taking 18 marks inside 50 to nine, following a moment that proved pivotal.
Mason Cox's career looked over a month ago, just like it did late last season when he had to wait until the end of October to find out if he would get another contract. But it is far from over after the American produced his best performance in years.
Everyone remembers Cox's performances against Richmond in the 2018 preliminary final and West Coast in the 2020 elimination final, but with his chances running out – and with Brodie Grundy missing with a PCL injury – the 31-year-old turned the game in a stunning second-half performance.
For those around Richmond and East Melbourne, fans started converging on the area around the MCG from midday – more than three hours before the opening bounce – ahead of the most anticipated clash between these two arch-rivals in a long, long time. Scarves, beanies and guernsey were everywhere.
It is only May, but it felt like a final from the opening bounce. And it didn't take long for it to feel like there was more than four points on the line. Taylor Adams nailed Patrick Cripps in a crunching tackle and they went for each other when they hit the deck in the pocket Wayne Harmes made famous. Moments later Scott Pendlebury laid a strong hit on Sam Walsh.
Collingwood dominated a 20-minute patch in the opening half, but kicked 1.6 in that space with Jack Ginnivan and Ollie Henry wasting opportunities from gettable spots, before Carlton kicked two goals in two minutes through Cripps and Walsh. It changed, just like that. The Blues kicked the final two goals of the quarter to head into the main break with all the momentum.
Then Patrick Lipinski moved to half-forward at the start of the third quarter and kicked the first two goals of the second half. Collingwood dominated the third quarter, holding Carlton goalless for the first time in a quarter in 2022 to march towards the most memorable victory.
But just when the game looked all over, Carlton found a gear late to push the game to its limit, courtesy of Charlie Curnow who found himself involved in a game within the game against Therabody All-Australian defender Darcy Moore.
Curnow finished with 4.2 from nine disposals and four marks in a contest where he narrowly took the points from Moore, moving further ahead in the Coleman Medal to 37 goals after 11 rounds – five clear of Geelong superstar Jeremy Cameron.
Just in case the rivalry between Collingwood and Carlton needed anything extra, it got it. This time it was in the coaches' boxes. Michael Voss and Craig McRae were key players in Brisbane's three-peat under Leigh Matthews between 2001 and 2003. They returned to the same ground they won those premierships on, this time as senior coaches.
McRae got the points first up, keeping Collingwood in the finals hunt at 6-5, level with the Western Bulldogs, who moved into eighth spot after smashing West Coast in Perth. The Magpies have now won as many games as they did in 2021, when they finished 17th on the ladder.
ANOTHER KEY DEFENDER DOWN?
The Blues might need to consider a key defender in Wednesday night's NAB AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft, given they are without Mitch McGovern, Oscar McDonald and Caleb Marchbank, following the departure of Liam Jones during the pre-season due to his decision not to be vaccinated. If the Therabody All-Australian team was picked mid-year, Weitering would have been measured up for his blazer. But now the former No.1 pick could be set for an extended period on the sidelines. Carlton has been able to navigate around the loss of Harry McKay and Marc Pittonet during the early stages of the season. Can they handle the loss of Weitering?
In the same week Collingwood lost another key defender following the retirement of Jordan Roughead, another one stood up and produced a performance that shows he has a future in this backline. Nathan Murphy returned from injury last week in Perth after missing the first two months of the season. With Mark Keane retiring in January and Charlie Dean missing the season to date due to a foot injury, Murphy produced arguably the finest performance of his career to date.
LIFE IN THE AMERICAN?
Cox has always attracted attention since he arrived on the AFL scene. That's what happens when you're a 211cm Texan playing for one of the biggest clubs in the land. Cox returned to Collingwood's 22 for the trip across to Perth last weekend but only lasted a quarter after suffering a dislocated finger against Fremantle. Cox was in doubt early in the week but got up and delivered one of his best performances in years. It wasn’t the numbers, it was the impact. Cox plucked six marks, four via a contest, providing Collingwood with aerial threat. And he laid a massive tackle, finishing with four for the game to go with an important goal in the last quarter.
COLLINGWOOD 3.4 4.8 7.12 11.13 (79)
CARLTON 2.2 6.2 6.7 11.9 (75)
Collingwood: Henry 3, Lipinski 2, Sidebottom 2, De Goey, Elliott, Cox, Brown
Carlton: Curnow 4, Owies 2, Cerra, Cripps, Durdin, Walsh, Motlop
Collingwood: J.Daicos, Crisp, De Goey, Lipinski, Cox, Henry, Noble, Howe
Carlton: Walsh, Saad, Docherty, Cripps, Curnow, Hewett, Cerra
Carlton: Weitering (shoulder)
Collingwood: Beau McCreery (unused)
Carlton: Jack Carroll (replaced Jacob Weitering in the second quarter)