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  1. The coming of Springtime brings about a renewal in the cycle of life in all walks and on all levels. We feel the warmer weather, we work better and the changes affect the way we live and how we rest and play. This includes our pastimes and, in particular, our sports. In the AFL, they say that when the home-and-away season ends, a new season begins. On Thursday evening, Melbourne and Collingwood will embark on this new season in a game that could well be pivotal in determining which of the remaining eight teams will be triumphant at the end of the month on that one day in September. The fact that Collingwood is the minor premier and led the field for most of the regular season to finish on top of the league table is certainly of significance but it’s not as important in terms of finals outcome as the recent form of the respective clubs. So let’s look at how they’ve been travelling in the lead up to the finals? From Round 20 onwards, the Pies lowered their colours on three occasions. They also managed to just scramble in to beat the Cats and they finished with a huge victory over the basket case Bombers in a pressure-free meaningless environment after an opening moments when it was clear they were playing against witches hats. No team in recent memory has won a premiership with a record of so many losses in the run home to an AFL/VFL finals series. While it’s true that, Collingwood will welcome back captain Darcy Moore and Nathan Murphy to add some steel to their often chaotic defensive lineup, the question remains whether the skipper and his offsider will be ready for the pressure cooker conditions of a finals campaign and whether the team can regain the confidence and composure it held over the season and a half prior to its recent form reversal. On the other hand, Melbourne’s recent form has been more impressive with six wins from the last seven matches with the solitary loss in that time coming at the hands of the competition’s form team in Carlton and only after a controversial goal review late in the game. The finals of course, are a different beast and, in that regard, finals experience and particular, a record of high performance in finals is crucial. An index of players at clubs in the finals race with the highest average AFL Player ratings in finals has four Demons in the top eight rankings with Clayton Oliver coming in first at an average of 17.2, Brodie Grundy fourth (14.9), Christian Petracca fifth (14.3) and Max Gawn seventh (13.9) with only two Magpies — Moore (14.1) and Scott Pendlebury (13.8) filling in at sixth and eighth respectively. And on recent form, the latter while still dangerous is slowing down appreciably. Of the Demons in this group, Grundy is only an outside chance to play, but this only highlights the strength and depth of the Demons. In addition to this, is the fact that during Oliver’s prolonged absence due to hamstring issues, Melbourne covered his loss remarkably well. Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw and a number of others stepped up from their comfort levels to fill the breach in the middle and Petracca even went forward with telling effect. The upshot is that we have a Demon midfield that is in no way reliant on one or two star players at the very time when the Magpies are exposed for speed and feeling the effect of the loss of their ace card in Nick Daicos. And meanwhile, Ed Langdon and Lachle Hunter lie in wait for that player’s older sibling on the wings. Much has been made of Melbourne’s supposed forward line woes and the absence of Harry Petty and Jake Melksham who booted ten straight goals in their last full game together. Again, the club’s depth will be tested, but the return of Bayley Fritsch and the likely return of Tom McDonald should be enough to confront the Collingwood defence which, notwithstanding its last up start when it conceded a miserable 31 points to a dysfunctional Essendon forward line, has been problematic in the run home to the finals. I haven’t mentioned Melbourne’s defence yet but it really should be recognised for its strength and effectiveness as demonstrated in its last game, one which had little meaning in terms of where the club was going to finish and who was to be its first finals opponent against a team desperate to win a home final. The high pressure applied by the Demons for much of the game was impressive and a fantastic tune up for September action. Melbourne has timed its run to perfection. It sits in the top six in every recognised premiership indicator and is number one in four of them including inside 50 differential, metres gained differential and inside 50s. The Demons are primed to continue their decades long run in finals of dominance over the Magpies. That run will continue on Thursday night when Melbourne takes its first step to premiership glory with a 27-point victory over the old enemy. THE GAME Melbourne v Collingwood at the MCG, Thursday 7 September, 2023 at 7.20pm HEAD TO HEAD Overall Melbourne 85 wins Collingwood 153 wins 5 drawn At the MCG Melbourne 64 wins Collingwood 85 wins 3 drawn Last five meetings Melbourne 2 wins Collingwood 3 wins The Coaches Goodwin 1 win McCrae 2 wins LAST TIME THEY MET Melbourne 8.18.66 defeated Collingwood 9.8.62 at the MCG in Round 13, 2023 The Pies were off to a flying start with the opening three goals of the game but managed just six for the remainder including two in the final moments to make it a close finish but, in reality the inaccurate Demons were in control for most of the contest. THE TEAMS COLLINGWOOD B N. Murphy D. Moore I. Quaynor HB B. Maynard O. Markov S. Pendlebury C S. Sidebottom T. Adams J. Daicos HF B. Hill B. Mihocek J. Howe F J. Elliott D. McStay J. De Goey FOLL M. Cox B. McCreery J. Crisp I/C D. Cameron W. Hoskin-Elliott P. Lipinski T. Mitchell SUB J. Ginnivan EMG B. Frampton F. Macrae J. Noble IN B. McCreery D. Moore N.Murphy OUT B. Frampton (omitted) F. Macrae (omitted) J.Noble (omitted) MELBOURNE B M. Hibberd S. May J. Bowey HB J. McVee J. Lever A. Brayshaw C K. Pickett J. Viney E. Langdon HF L. Hunter T. McDonald A. Neal-Bullen F T. Sparrow J. van Rooyen K. Chandler FOLL M.Gawn C. Oliver C. Petracca I/C B. Fritsch T. Rivers C. Salem J. Smith SUB B. Laurie EMG B. Grundy J. Jordon A. Tomlinson IN M. Hibberd T. McDonald OUT J.Melksham (knee) D. Turner (omitted) Injury List: Qualifying Final Michael Hibberd - Concussion | Available Bayley Fritsch - Foot | Test Ben Brown - Knee | TBC Luke Dunstan - Knee | Season Blake Howes - Hand | Season Jake Melksham - Knee | Season Harrison Petty - Foot | Season Oliver Sestan - Elbow | Season
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