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State of mind gives Pies the wood over Swans

Date

Martin Blake

Collingwood's streak over Sydney looms large.

'The Magpies know that it will be tough and attritional on Friday.'

'The Magpies know that it will be tough and attritional on Friday.' Photo: Matt King

COLLINGWOOD'S 11-game winning streak over Sydney is a talking point in the lead-up to the preliminary final on Friday, as it should be. While it is a way off the longest head-to-head streak in the competition's history, it is a lot of games over a long period, stretching back to 2005.

It would appear to indicate some kind of match-up or tactical advantage to the Magpies. Yet that can be questioned since teams change constantly and, in the past few years, both coaches have changed, too.

The rivals will talk down its significance, Sydney because the last thing it wants is for its players to fear a preliminary final; Collingwood because it does not want to be seen to be assuming anything. In the end, Collingwood half-back Harry O'Brien probably puts it best. ''The recent games have been quite close,'' O'Brien told The Age yesterday. ''That 11 in a row can be quite distorted, but certainly I'd rather be on this end of it than the other end.''

In this case, it is not just the 11 straight wins that will be discussed, it is also Collingwood's ability to win at ANZ Stadium, Sydney's secondary home. The Pies have won the past seven encounters between the teams at the Olympic stadium. All of which means they can attack this knockout final without trepidation.

When they met in round 20, it was a dogfight. Adam Goodes had a set shot at goal inside the last couple of minutes to put Sydney in front, but missed. Travis Cloke kicked the game-winner and then in the last few seconds, best-afield Dayne Beams put the icing on it. Collingwood won by eight points and laid 90 tackles, a season-high.

The Magpies know that it will be tough and attritional on Friday. ''The games are always close,'' said O'Brien. ''We know what to expect from Sydney. They play a similar brand to us, they like a contested game. It's predictable, but we think of ourselves as predictable, too. That's probably why Sydney has always been around the mark as a finals team.''

In 2010 it was Cloke (six goals on Heath Grundy) who proved the difference, but only just. A Tadgh Kennelly turnover in the hectic final minutes gifted Collingwood the match-winning goal. The Pies won by six points but could have argued their early inaccuracy kept the Swans in the contest.

Both teams play the contested brand of football and there are other links, such as the presence of two sets of brothers (the Reids and Shaws) on opposite sides, and personified by ruckman Darren Jolly, a premiership player with both clubs. Jolly, who crossed in 2010, is still in touch with former teammates such as Ryan O'Keefe, Goodes and Jude Bolton, whom he was intending to text yesterday with congratulations on his 300th game. ''I'll be out to spoil the party,'' he said.

The ruckman was dismissive of the significance of the streak, saying that players don't have time to ponder it. ''Is it 11?'' he said. ''Bloody hell. To be honest, I wouldn't even know. We match up well against them, we play well in Sydney, we travel well in general. Look, we're not going into the game thinking it's going to happen because of that. Sydney's a different team, it's finals. It's all irrelevant then. It's external talk. We don't talk about it internally.''

The only point he would concede was that the Collingwood players would go in optimistic. ''It gives us confidence going in, knowing we can play well there. We've proven that we can beat them there. It's a little head start, but once the ball's bounced, it's forgotten.''

Jolly, O'Brien and defender Ben Reid made the point that Collingwood's ability to win at ANZ Stadium was not so much an enjoyment of that venue, but part of the club's broader love of the challenge of playing interstate.

''We're a close group,'' said Reid. ''We love getting away together and having some fun. We have a few laughs and it's good company to be in. We enjoy the challenge of going interstate and trying to knock a team over.''

O'Brien said the Pies would come to work, literally. ''We have a great process we follow. When it's away from home, there's an element added. You're on business. That's what we talk about. 'Come in, get the job done, forget the distractions we might have here. Just get in and out'.''

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