Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley noted the game felt like a final, and it certainly bore close resemblance in terms of intensity and the resulting impact on the September picture. Sydney absorbed Collingwood’s increasing pressure as the night wore on and, as they’ve shown they can do, were lethal on the counter attack, showing the Pies a thing or two about making the most of their opportunities.

Clarkson’s cluster? Weagles web? Meet Sydney’s slingshot

Save for the overblown nonsense that can be trademarking a tactical element of a side’s game plan, it was pretty clear Sydney tried to implement a style based around a fast counter attack, and patience in doing so. With the absence of Lance Franklin the Swans were able to play with more freedom, space and flexibility in the forward half, with the likes of Isaac Heeney, Gary Rohan and Adam Goodes – all capable as midfielders in their own right – able to fill the Franklin void, presenting as targets in a general area 40 metres out in front of goal.

A disciplined Collingwood set up meant ball movement was tricky for the Swans – Tom Langdon and Marley Williams were again excellent in cutting off passages before they began – so patience was the key. 17 Sydney players won a majority of possession in the defensive half of the ground, resulting in 275 defensive half possessions – a season high. This led to goals via counter attacks. The best example of these was in the last quarter: Jarrad McVeigh pulled the trigger off the half back flank to hit Kurt Tippett in the middle of the ground, which further transitioned to Lewis Jetta – about 30 metres closer to goal than any Pie or Swan – and an easy goal, giving the Swans a crucial 12-point lead and Pies fans begging for an offside rule.

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley noted his team seemed in control for “90 per cent” of the game, and with the ball tending closer to Collingwood’s goal this is in a sense true, but Sydney’s ability to push numbers back, retain the ball, absorb, compose themselves and wait for the right outlet towards goal must be commended in setting up the victory.

Early pressure the key

The Swans were stacking numbers up and around the ball, and they brought their intensity in the first quarter. The Pies were unable to get clean possession, and this resulted in two things.

One, the Swans were able to create repeat inside 50 entries, heaping pressure on the Collingwood defence,nly inaccuracy prevented a potential three or four goal lead

Two, this created rushed ball movement. The Collingwood forwards could be forgiven for only taking one mark inside 50 in the first quarter – through Alex Fasolo – because Sydney’s clamp on Collingwood’s midfielders forced hurried, high, long balls inside 50, something on which Sydney’s wide range of capable defenders swarmed on, taking six intercept marks. Travis Cloke, Ben Reid and Darcy Moore is an excellent tall trio on their day but Ablett, Dunstall and Lockett wouldn’t have found it easy under those conditions either.

Leading by example and lowering the eyes

After two late first quarter goals, the margin early in the second quarter was flattering and the Pies needed composure on the inside and outside. Enter Scott Pendlebury. The Pies skipper was said to be below his best – an exceedingly high standard of course – but perhaps it was one passage of play that set the tone.

Pendlebury had moved forward for the second quarter and found the ball in the centre square, 75 metres from goal. Steele Sidebottom was in the clear next to him, yelling for a handball. But in eyeing off the handball, Pendlebury forced his opponent to corral both him and his team mate, allowing the Pies captain extra time and space to get further forward and handball off to Jordan de Goey, who had the composure to finish with a goal after his kick was initially smothered.

It was the first moment Collingwood looked to think a little more before they went inside 50 and it set the tone, as they moved the ball with more precision and intelligence for the rest of the night, passing to the advantage of their forwards and giving them the best chance to score. Pendlebury’s switch forward – and Sidebottom later on – gave the Pies more smarts in the forward half and a real opportunity to win.

Skills letting the Pies down

For the majority of the night Collingwood edged general play. They had more time in their forward half, more possession, more inside 50s. But the killer for them was sloppiness. Too often just one possession broke down a promising chain, and too often the likes of Alex Fasolo and Jamie Elliott– among others – failed to convert their chances.

Perhaps Scott Pendlebury’s miss early in the last quarter was the most savage blow of all. It would have given the Pies an 11-point lead early in the last term. Cameron Ling quipped it “could be a costly miss” – a minute later, Tom Mitchell goaled.

The Pies created 11 scoring shots from stoppages to Sydney’s eight. The score from those? 1.10 (16) to 7.1 (43). With a dominance in the middle, especially after Luke Parker’s injury left Sydney bare, the Pies had to take advantage. They couldn’t.


3: Tom Mitchell (Syd)

2: Jarrad McVeigh (Syd)

1: Scott Pendlebury (Col)