Standing up: Ben Sinclair kicked three goals for the Pies yesterday. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
COLLINGWOOD 6.3 8.9 10.15 19.15 (129)
MELBOURNE 0.4 3.4 7.7 13.9 (87)
Collingwood: Sinclair 3, Fasolo 2, Jolly 2, Swan 2, Blair 2, Wellingham 2, Cloke 2, Goldsack 2, Beams, Sidebottom.
Melbourne: Clark 4, Howe 2, Dunn 2, Sylvia, Magner, Rivers, Trengove, Blease.
Collingwood: Swan, Beams, Blair, Sidebottom, Wellingham, Sinclair, Fasolo.
Melbourne: Clark, Jones, Grimes, Watts, Howe.
Collingwood: Didak (groin).
Melbourne: Green (groin).
M Stevic, M Nicholls, J Bannister.
CROWD: 64,250 at MCG.
COLLINGWOOD is football's hydra. Cut someone down in black and white and another pops up, hungrier and just as dangerous.
It is the Magpies' method and it is working well enough to put them on top of the ladder.
The Pies went into the Queen's Birthday match against Melbourne without Scott Pendlebury, their starter engine. Within two minutes they lost Alan Didak, who often provides the finishing touches.
They had nine first-choice players unavailable already, and it is the recipe for a disaster that has never afflicted them. ''You hope for the best, and plan for the worst in many situations and scenarios,'' said coach Nathan Buckley. ''That's why you've got a list of 48 players.''
What happened after Didak butchered his first kick and limped off with another groin strain is instructive.
Up popped a cluster of others to get the win. That Dane Swan would have 42 disposals and two goals and be best-afield is no surprise; he is a champion. Nor is there any shock in the continued brilliant form of Dayne Beams (37 disposals) and Steele Sidebottom (36), who have filled the gap left behind by Luke Ball's season-ending knee injury.
But it is around the edges that Collingwood is finding further talent and inspiration, with players like Ben Sinclair, who snaffled three goals yesterday to go with his manic forward pressure.
And Jarryd Blair, the jockey-sized forward who insists he can play in the midfield despite being height-challenged at just 174 centimetres.
Blair played arguably his best game for the club yesterday, with 27 disposals, two goals and a game-high 17 contested balls. He might have popped up from under a sprinkler, but Melbourne certainly knew he was around.
''He's very good at what he does, and what he does is win contested footy,'' said Buckley. ''It just so happens that when the whips are cracking at the end of the year, that's what you need to be able to do. He's a very important player in that regard. The tighter the game got, the better he gets.''
Blair is a bull-at-a-gate; when he came to Collingwood the coaches had to teach him how to spread away from the contest, rather than work in close. Generally, it's the other way with young players.
''You want to have your head in the trough but you've got to get out as well and spread,'' Blair said. ''That's whether you're forward or back. I think fitness has been the main thing for me.''
Thus Collingwood, the sum of so many parts, won handsomely enough, by seven goals. Melbourne played in fits and starts, conceding the first eight goals, then kicking the next four, and making another run in the third quarter.
Twice in the game the Demons threatened to cause an upset but Collingwood stood on their throats again, as though the challenge was enough to bring the best out of them. ''We were expecting a contest, and that's what we got,'' said Blair. ''They didn't roll over at all.''
The Magpies had some issues, notably in defence where Mitch Clark (four goals) was effective all day on Nathan Brown. Buckley was displeased that for Melbourne's 25 forward-50 metre entries in the second half, the Pies conceded 15 scores. But these were spot fires that were correctable.
In the middle Collingwood threw numbers at Melbourne in waves, where Nathan Jones was the only effective Dee on-baller.
Far from being daunted by the challenge of playing as primary midfielders, Beams and Sidebottom are in All-Australian form. The latter's spearing kick for a goal on the run from the boundary in the final quarter was a priceless piece of silk.
''The workload has been spread a bit since 'Bally' hurt himself,'' said Blair. ''That's the sort of footy club we aim to be. It's not 'who's playing the role?' It's as long as the role's being played. As long as guys are doing what's asked of them.''
Buckley's team operates as a squad. Collingwood has played 35 men already, including six debutants. Chris Tarrant patrolled the defensive half for the first time yesterday, and the likes of Pendlebury and Heath Shaw and Ben Reid are to return.
''The baton keeps getting handed over, and the 22 of the day are expected to stand up and take responsibility,'' said Buckley. ''We believe we've been able to share that responsibility across the playing group.''
In the first quarter there was a long delay after Sharrod
Wellingham snapped a goal for the Magpies, and the Melbourne players complained that the ball had rebounded from the goalpost before he collected the loose ball. In this case, the difference was that the all clear had already been given. Replays showed the ball bouncing off the back of Tyson Goldsack's leg and into Wellingham's hands. But there is a sense that the video review system is still not quite right.
Melbourne's supporters did not cover themselves in glory yesterday when Alan Didak pulled his first kick at goal and limped off. Didak had ripped a groin, but the red-and-blue faithful cheered him all the way off, plainly amused that his kick went at a 45-degree angle and out of bounds.
Dane Swan threatened to match the league record 53 disposals. Back in the side from injury, Swan ticked over 20 touches midway through the second quarter and ended up with 42 and two goals. Arguably he took best-afield honours.