Season 2015 hasn't turned out the way it was planned for the Collingwood Football Club but there is a silver lining and some may not know much about it. The VFL Magpies, Collingwood's Victorian Football League affiliate last week achieved something that hadn't been done for 6 years, a win in a VFL final. In fact if the VFL Pies can pull of an upset win this weekend they will have gone as far as any Collingwood team has in the modern version of the VFL.
The VFL Pies started the season a little slowly with two straight losses to begin the season. After that though they got on a roll and with 4 rounds to go in the season actually looked like securing a coveted top 4 spot and earning the double chance. A surprise loss to North Ballarat at Victoria Park though ended the Pies top 4 chances and they had to settle for 5th with a 12-6 win/loss record. In hindsight that might have been a blessing in disguise, as it meant the Magpies avoided a clash with the rampaging Box Hill Hawks last week and instead got to sing the song after their elimination win over Werribee. The Pies made the finals last season also but due to an extended senior injury list they lost the first final to this week's opponent, Sandringham. The Pies and Zebras met once this season with Collingwood grabbing a 10 point win in a hard fought match at Victoria Park.
The VFL Magpies come into this game in good form off the back of three wins in a row. After that shock loss to North Ballarat the Pies got back on track with a strong win over Richmond in a game highlighted by 5 goals from the big American, Mason Cox, in the last 35 minutes of the game. In the final home and away game Collingwood scraped out an 8 point win over Port Melbourne to end their regular season in 5th spot. That meant that the Pies were matched with Werribee in their elimination final and the Magpies got a few favours before the game even began. North Melbourne, who are aligned both Werribee and North Ballarat decided to rest numerous senior players meaning that the Werribee side was weakened considerably. And it showed, with the Magpies dominating most of the game and running away with a 29 point win.
Sandringham had a remarkable finish to the VFL home and away season. After that loss to the Magpies out at Victoria Park in round 12 the Zebras went undefeated for the rest of the regular season and ended up in 2nd spot on the ladder with a 14-4 win/loss record. Sandy got on a real run towards the end of the year and those 7 straight wins earned the St Kilda aligned VFL side a double chance leading into the finals. On Sunday they matched up against Williamstown at Trevor Barker Beach Oval in the second qualifying final. The Zebras started terribly, kicking against the wind they failed to register a single point and because of this they faced an 8 goal deficit at three quarter time. Suddenly they came to live though, keeping the opposition scoreless in a tense final term. Ultimately though Sandringham came up short and lost the game by 7 points. That's the advantage of earning a second chance though, if you do have an off day in the first final you can bounce back and that's exactly what they'll be trying to do on Sunday versus the Magpies.
The story of the 2015 VFL Magpies has been an enjoyable one to watch unfold. After the first two losses to North Ballarat and Essendon came one of the more remarkable victories of the VFL season. Facing an 0-3 start to the season the Pies ran into reigning premiers Footscray at Victoria Park. The home team got off to an amazing start kicking 6 goals and 2 behinds in the first quarter to lead by 37 points at the first change. The Bulldogs, as expected came roaring back in the second half The Dogs even took the lead late in the game before 2 goals from the Pies saw them get home by 4 points in one of the games of the VFL season. From there the VFL Pies never looked back as they won 12 of their final 16 games to finish the season in 5th spot.
This weekend against Sandringham the Pies will have plenty more selection options then they had in last year's finals defeat to the Zebras. Last year the Magpies went into the elimination final with only 4 AFL listed or rookie listed players. This Sunday they will go in with as many as 16. Amongst that list of eligible AFL aligned players are Sam Dwyer, Brent Macaffer, Ben Kennedy, Jarrod Witts, Ben Reid, Patrick Karnezis and Paul Seedsman, all who have plenty of senior AFL experience under their wings. Reid is unlikely to play though. Also eligible is a bunch of youngsters that represent the future of the Collingwood Football Club. Darcy Moore, Brayden Maynard, Jonathan Marsh, Matthew Scharenberg and Matthew Goodyear are all available for selection this Sunday.
It presents a tough task for VFL Magpies coach Dale Tapping and his selection crew though, even if it's a nice problem to have. Some of the improvement in this VFL Magpies outfit in 2015 has come about due to a better VFL listed representation. This was shown no better then on Monday night when Ryan Pendlebury and Brent Moloney were named in the VFL team of the year. Add the likes of captain Jack Hellier, the dangerous Michael Still, Lachlan Wallace, Ash Close and Jake Williams and the depth of the VFL list is one of the reasons why they have made it this far. No matter what the final 23 selected to run out on Sunday this VFL Magpies outfit will give a good account of itself for sure.
Sandringham were the form team of the competition coming into the finals. That's why their first and third terms against Williamstown came as such a shock. On the back of a strong midfield and a very effective forward line the Zebras had finished the season with that 7 game winning streak and looked a a genuine premiership threat. Worse still was that they earned the right to host the qualifying final yet they blew it. Surely there would have been some soul searching down at Trevor Barker Beach Oval this week and this Zebras team will come out firing on Sunday. Sandringham also has the option to include several St Kilda listed players who played in the final game for the Saints last weekend. How many of those are selected is up for debate though.
The Zebras forward line is a very dangerous unit indeed. Ahmed Saad excels at this level and is as hard to restrict as any other VFL forward. He kicked 29 goals in the 14 games he played in his first season back after a long suspension. Trent Dennis-Lane, Mitch Brown and the possible selection of a few high draftees such as Goddard and McCartin make this one of the areas of strength for Sandy for sure. They face off against a Magpies defense which has stood up well under pressure this season. Pendlebury, Marsh, Scharenberg, Manteit, Seedsman, Wallace and Goodyear are the probable lineup for the Pies down back.
Clinton Jones leads the way for Sandy in the middle. The long time Saints and now Sandrignham listed player almost got an early prize on Monday night too when he fell just short of securing the JJ Liston Trophy, the VFL's best and fairest award. Along with Jones in the middle there's a strong mix of Saints and VFL listed players that drive this side forward. The likes of Templeton, Acres, Verma, Weickhardt and Markworth will compete strongly against a Pies midfield that has been inconsistent at times this year. The addition of Ben Kennedy will help that of course as he joins Dwyer, Moloney, Macaffer and Williams in trying to match the Zebras at clearances. The ruck contest should be interesting too, with Mason Cox and Jarrod Witts from the Pies likely to match up with Tom Hickey and Jason Holmes. That means that at times the two American recruits, Holmes and Cox will face off in a VFL final. All four big men don't gather many possessions as such but they are hard at the contest in the ruck.
The Sandringham backline is up there with the most effective in the league. Tom Simpkin and Luke Delaney are likely to be the main key defenders this week and Mitch Brown able to play at both ends and give assistance if required. There should be plenty of run out of the backline too with Myke Cook, Cameron Shenton and Elliott Le Grice all able to move the ball quickly. They come head to head with a Pies forward line that got stronger last week with the addition of Michael Still. Still along with Ash Close, Patrick Karnezis and Ben Kennedy will provide plenty of worries for this strong Zebras backline.
No matter how many St Kilda listed players Sandringham are allocated for this Sunday's game they will go win with a very strong squad. The addition of even a few Saints players such as Goddard, Holmes and Murdoch will help but they've made it this far with as much a reliance on their VFL listed players as the ones linked with St Kilda. Clint Jones will be the most difficult to stop and should he dominate like he did in the last few rounds of the season it will go a long way to Sandy winning this final. There's no more second chance for the Zebras this week so you'd expect a much fiercer effort at the contest then the one they showed at times last week.
Sandringham will go into this game as favourites and rightfully so after a stellar finish to the home and away season. Last week's loss to Williamstown though showed up a few frailties in the Zebras lineup and with the Magpies coming off a morale boosting win this should be an epic battle. Both teams are certain to field stronger lineups then the ones that played in their respective first finals which makes this an even more mouth watering clash.
In the end I believe the quality of the Magpies backline might be the difference here with the addition of Marsh and Maynard strengthening an already effective outfit. That should restrict the Sandringham forward line enough to give the Pies a shot. The VFL Magpies will win through to the preliminary final in a close, hard fought game.
MAGPIES BY 8 POINTS