Up in arms: Chris Tarrant celebrates a goal. Photo: Getty Images
THE CONNOLLY REPORT
THE AFL weekend provided no shortage of drama and its share of good news stories, too. Karmichael Hunt's match-winning goal in Cairns was the pick and Scott Gumbleton's successful return for Essendon another crowd-pleaser.
But the beginnings of another heart-warming tale were also written at the MCG on Saturday night, this one with potentially far more important ramifications in terms of this year's premiership.
Collingwood had plenty of better performers than Chris Tarrant in its efficient 31-point dismissal of Geelong, but it's doubtful any Pie delivered a more significant game.
For while the rebound of Heath Shaw and the prolific ball-winning of Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury and co is these days a given, it's the 31-year-old veteran who might just prove the structural key to a third grand final and second flag in three years for the Pies.
While they've been impressive enough already in 2012, there's been perhaps two chinks in the Magpie armour, namely their scoring power and their flexibility. Tarrant's presence on Saturday night in only his third senior appearance of the year did much to solve the former issue, and his versatility is a huge ace up coach Nathan Buckley's sleeve on the latter count.
Tarrant's 2.2, one score assist and 11 possessions certainly weren't match-winning, but in light of Travis Cloke's complete shutdown by Geelong defender Tom Lonergan and Chris Dawes' form issues and continued use as a part-time ruckman, the old Magpie offered a genuine target. His repeated hard leading up the ground gave the opposition defence a lot more to think about.
Geelong's defence was spread further, unable to team as effectively as it has for so long now, and the chance to create more contests caused more spills. The likes of Dale Thomas, Alex Fasolo and a very handy defensive forward in Tyson Goldsack were the chief beneficiaries.
On a miserable night, 17.8 was a very handy return for Collingwood, and significant, given the Pies, ranked first in the AFL for scores last year with 118 points a game, have so far this season ranked only sixth with 98.
Almost as significant was the growth in Dawes' confidence the longer the game progressed. The big man has had a miserable year, but clearly enjoyed having someone else take some of the forward line heat.
In terms of flexibility, Tarrant can be the man who fills the role the retired Leigh Brown played so well for the Pies, minus the ruck duties.
As good as Collingwood's back line was on Saturday night, with Shaw and Harry O'Brien back to their rebounding best and key-position men Ben Reid and Nathan Brown holding up well enough, Tarrant can still play a critical role there as well.
You don't necessarily want to mess around too much with a defence that's stable and already functioning well, but Buckley and co mightn't have too much choice come finals time if, say, West Coast bobs up with a forward set-up containing the names Darling, Lynch, Cox and a returned Josh Kennedy, or Hawthorn takes in Franklin, Roughead and Hale.
Even without that array of height, Collingwood could still use Tarrant to take a medium-sized forward, as he has done regularly in the past thanks to his agility.
Maybe Tarrant's emotional worth to the Magpies shouldn't be underestimated, either. He is the one-time problem child who grew up, in every respect, in his four seasons with Fremantle, returning to his original club a far more mature person and certainly a more rounded footballer.
A story that might several times have been primarily about unfulfilled potential now reads a lot differently, the sense of Tarrant's obligation to the Pies obvious in his fine return last year, one good enough to earn him 10th spot in the best and fairest.
You got a sense of how much Collingwood appreciated that commitment in former coach Mick Malthouse's pre-match address to his side on grand final day, when he compared Tarrant's journey to that of relative newcomer Fasolo.
''His has been longer, and a bit harder, and he's had to go through a lot more emotions . . it's been a lifetime coming, hasn't it 'Taz','' the coach acknowledged in front of the team. Tarrant's third grand final appearance had come a full eight seasons after his first two. Sadly, his personal score at the end of that afternoon was 0-3.
Collingwood is already good enough to win this year's flag. But after a year ruined by injury, Tarrant's addition to the mix, with his capacity to play a variety of roles, might just have bolstered those chances again. And fourth time lucky for him would be some sort of premiership story.