In the hearts and minds of every Collingwood supporter over the age of 30, the 1990 drought-breaking premiership win laid to rest a series of heartbreaking Grand Final defeats for the unlucky Magpies.
Between the ‘Pies upset win over Melbourne in the 1958 premiership decider and the 1990 triumph led by veteran Tony Shaw, Collingwood suffered no less than eight grand final losses, as well as the iconic drawn result with North Melbourne in 1977.
Collingwood’s 1990 team finished second on the home and away ladder with 16 wins, one game behind the top placed Essendon. The Magpies holding a superior percentage with the same number of wins to that of the West Coast Eagles, who in an ominous sign of things to come, admirably finished third in Mick Malthouse’s first year in charge of the men from the west.
VFL Park set the scene for the Qualifying Final between the Magpies and the Eagles and after a dour struggle, featuring two of the best finals goals you will ever see from Chris Lewis and Peter Daicos, West Coast spearhead, Peter Sumich marked in the left forward pocket with less than a minute remaining.
With the clock counting down, Collingwood led by one-point, but a successful Sumich kick would see the Eagles advance into the Second Semi Final to take on Essendon, who had the luxury at this stage under the AFL’s McIntyre Final Five system of a first-week finals rest.
Of course as fate would have it, Sumich’s set shot slewed wide and the match was drawn, forcing the two clubs to meet again the next week at the same venue, and stretching Essendon’s week of rest out by seven more days.
This break in playing continuity is sometimes offered by Bomber fans as an excuse for the teams ultimate failures in the minor premiers’ 1990 finals campaign, which of course is always up for conjecture.
However, lets assume shall we that Sumich’s shot was in fact successful and that West Coast actually won the 1990 Qualifying Final.
What would have happened during the rest of the finals series? Would Collingwood still have emerged victorious on Grand Final day? It is an interesting proposition.
Under this turn of events, Collingwood as losers of the Qualifying Final would be forced into a sudden-death First Semi Final encounter with long-time rival Melbourne. The Demons of course won their way through to the second week of the finals via their nine-point win over the reigning premiers in Hawthorn, ending the Hawks quest for a third successive premiership, and seven year record of reaching the last Saturday in September, no mean feat.
Whilst in the other semi final, likely to be played at VFL Park due to the excess drawing capacity of a Collingwood/Melbourne MCG final, would be between Essendon and West Coast.
The Collingwood/Melbourne final would be an interesting contest, for the Pies managed to defeat the Demons easily in their only 1990 home and away meeting in Round 10 by 52 points at VFL Park.
However, each of the previous two seasons had seen Melbourne meet Collingwood in sudden death finals, with the Demons emerging the victor on both occasions, ending the Magpies’ season.
In fact over the two clubs six meetings during the period 1988-1990, Melbourne held a 4-2 win/loss record over Collingwood, and the Demons Elimination Final win over Hawthorn, combined with the Magpies loss actually gave Melbourne the superior win/loss record over the 1990 season of 17-6 compared to Collingwood’s 16-7.
With the Dees’ recent dominance over Collingwood in the pressure cooker of finals football, one could make a very good case to suggest that the Magpies would have in fact exited the 1990 finals series in straight sets, leaving the premiership race to be fought out between Essendon, West Coast and Melbourne.
In the Second Semi Final, Essendon, fresh after their finals rest would have started heavy favourites over West Coast who would be travelling to Melbourne for the second successive week. The Bombers held a 4-1 win/loss record over the Eagles from 1988-1990, with the Eagles last win coming in Round 2, 1988 at the WACA, and in their only meeting in 1990, Essendon defeated the Eagles by 39 points at Windy Hill in Round 11.
So with that, our likely semi-final winners would be Melbourne and Essendon, with the Bombers becoming the first team to qualify for the 1990 Grand Final while the Demons would take on the Eagles in the Preliminary Final at VFL Park for the right to meet them.
In this Preliminary Final match up, the Demons would most likely be favoured to win given their two finals wins, home state advantage, and superior 18-6 win/loss record which compares well to the Eagles who now would be on the road for the third successive week.
Melbourne held a 5-1 win loss record over West Coast in their last six matches and in fact had won both 1990 meetings with the Eagles, most recently by 36 points in Round 20 at Subiaco and again by 55 points at the MCG back in Round 7.
However, this is where our hypothetical finals series becomes just a little complicated, as at this stage, all the evidence for a Melbourne/West Coast Preliminary Final leads us to suggest a Demons win.
On the contrary, when the two sides actually did met in the 1990 finals series, West Coast won the match quite convincingly by five goals, blowing the contest to pieces after kicking 10 goals to the Demons’ two in the first half.
So, in assessing a winner, and thus Essendon’s opponent in the Grand Final, do we follow the actual result of that finals series and see an Essendon/West Coast premiership decider, or do we assume the extra week of travel on the Eagles for a Preliminary Final showdown with Melbourne would wear them down enough for a Demons win?
This is a puzzling conundrum with differing repercussions, given Essendon had played Melbourne twice during the 1990 season and lost both matches, whereas, the Bombers would feel extremely confident in beating the Eagles who they would have defeated in this scenario just two weeks earlier.
Under this hypothetical situation, there are so many variables in which to consider in determining who actually would win the 1990 premiership, with valid cases to be made for both an Essendon or even a Melbourne victory.
No matter who would have played off in our hypothetical 1990 premiership decider, one thing is for sure, that the miss of Peter Sumich in the Qualifying Final not only prompted the league to institute extra time for all minor finals – after the drawn contest extended the 1990 finals series by one week, it may also have extended Collingwood’s premiership drought by at least one more year.