COLLINGWOOD 3.6 7.9 10.11 14.12 (96) GEELONG 2.4 6.6 7.12 11.18 (84)
GOALS Collingwood Pendlebury 4, Fasolo 3, Cloke 2, Goldsack 2, Dawes, Swan, Blair. Geelong Stokes 3, Podsiadly 2, Duncan 2, Hawkins 2, Chapman, Motlop.
BEST Collingwood: Pendlebury, Sidebottom, Reid, Beams, Swan, Fasolo. Geelong: Selwood, Enright, Chapman, Bartel, Johnson, Taylor.
INJURIES Collingwood: Swan (hamstring), Reid (thigh). Geelong: Scarlett (ankle) replaced in selected team by Smedts.
UMPIRES Stevic, Meredith, Findlay.
CROWD 75,650 at MCG.
IT WASN'T the grand final replay in any sense. Whereas the 2011 finale featured three scintillating quarters and a final quarter rout by the Cats, this match was a low-standard contest that ended with a dramatic victory by the team that was vanquished in that one day in October.
In a match in which scores were level with barely more than minute remaining, a slumping Collingwood summoned a final effort to outlast a persistent Geelong by 12 points. A goal to Alex Fasolo from a contentious 50 metre penalty broke the deadlock, before Scott Pendlebury - superb throughout with four goals - booted a long shot after the Pies broke into space from the subsequent centre bounce.
Geelong's Josh Hunt was the player who infringed when Fasolo marked about 75 metres from goal. Fasolo waved the ball as if he was set to play on, prompting Hunt to grab him - an instinctive reaction, and one that had a huge bearing on the outcome.
A Mathew Stokes goal with one minute and 42 seconds left had levelled the scores, as Geelong completely dominated the final 15 minutes, locking the ball in its forward half. Collingwood was dead on its legs, having lost Dane Swan and Ben Reid to injuries that kept them from the field for most of the final quarter and which could have major ramifications for next week, when the Pies play Adelaide at AAMI Stadium.
Then Fasolo booted the decisive goal from that 50-metre penalty, Pendlebury's long shot sailed through from outside 50 and the Pies were assured of a significant victory that gives them a 6-2 record and keeps them well in the hunt for a top-four berth.
Geelong's inability to convert was the most important factor in its demise. The Cats booted 4.6 in the final term, despite dominating possession and territory. The toil of Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, Paul Chapman et al was ultimately undone by either shoddy finishing or poor disposal under pressure, albeit the tired bodies played a part.
Collingwood was stout in defending in the final frenzy, particularly given that Reid had been among its best players and had decisively beaten Hawkins - another reversal from the grand final. So, Collingwood, which had appeared to be sailing towards a comfortable victory when it led by four goals, almost turned into yet another great escape by the Cats.
The Pies became nervous and lost the run that had given them the edge for most of the second half. The Pies were on the brink of a disaster, since the loss of Swan and Reid reduced their bench to one - they had already subbed Alan Didak out of the game.
Earlier, Collingwood had been on the brink of busting the game open in the early stages of the third quarter, when a brace of goals to Tyson Goldsack, Fasolo and then Jarryd Blair turned an even contest into an advantage of 20 points. One sensed then that one more goal might sink the Cats who, despite their un-Geelong-like propensity to cough up the ball - by foot and hand - gritted its teeth and raised an effort, as the old hands of Selwood, Bartel, Corey and Chapman became more involved
Alas, Geelong of 2012 isn't as polished as the 2007-2011 versions. In the third term, the Cats had several opportunities to bring themselves back within two kicks, but either couldn't nail the shot or stuffed up by giving the ball off to a teammate in a worse position.
The first half resembled the grand final only in that the scores - Collingwood leading by a kick and a half - were similar. While the grand final of 2011 was three quarters of a classic, in terms of standard, this was quite a few notches below that level.
Turnovers were more frequent than we have become accustomed to from these two proud clubs. There were fumbles and some flat-out poor decisions, including from high-level players such as Heath Shaw, who set the tone for what was to follow when an ill-advised switch of play was superbly smothered by Hawkins, who goaled from the spillage.
Cameron Guthrie's errant kick was marked by Goldsack about 57 metres from goal. Revitalised in his new role as third tall/defensive forward, rather than in defence, Goldsack unloaded a bomb that sailed through.
Amid the scrappy errors and bumbling, Pendlebury stood apart.
Collingwood's classiest midfielder wasn't as prolific as he is wont to be, but his ball use was well above the match standard and he booted three classy goals.
Ben Reid got a chance to make amends after struggling against Tom Hawkins while injured in last year's grand final. It was a good battle throughout, with Hawkins finishing with 2.4 — and Reid off with more injury concerns.
Geelong's injury worries came before the match — Matthew Scarlett pulling out because of an ankle injury. Collingwood's came during the game. Apart from Reid's concerns, Scott Pendlebury needed treatment for a leg concern, but came back on and kicked the final goal of the match. Dane Swan was missed in the last quarter after heading off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
Geelong had peppered away in the final quarter and finally managed to get back to level terms when Josh Hunt grabbed Magpie Alex Fasolo after a mark, leading to a 50-metre penalty and a matchwinning goal from Fasolo.
Last week it was Todd Goldstein in the goal square, spinning like a top in a tackle from Dylan Addison, the ball missing his foot and it was play on. Last night it was Tom Hawkins who was tackled by Ben Reid as he shaped to kick and was spun into a full pirouette and it was play on.
The best coach in football was sitting in the Collingwood coach's box last night - Craig Bellamy, the Melbourne Storm coach, was in the box wearing the full team regalia. He has apparently spent the week with the Magpies.
THE POINT OF IT ALL
The drama is one thing but an interminable couple of minutes were lost while awaiting a video review of whether a ball was out on the full or a point. It swung so wildly from inside to out, and so high, that the hapless umpires had no idea. The man on the video had little more. The probably-correct decision was eventually reached. - MICHAEL GLEESON