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The day we lost to Carlton, but won two stars

Glenn McFarlane, of the Herald Sun  May 16, 2018 12:30 PM

FOREVER: A Pie until the end Kathy Quick and her father used to enjoy a weekly trip to watch Collingwood play at Victoria Park. She attended the 1990 Grand Final pregnant, and would never let anything get in the way of her Black and White ritual.

Every match Collingwood plays feels like it's the most important game in the world.

But the truth is that some games matter more than others. And some have impacts that last for decades, even if that significance isn't always apparent at the time.

So here is a trawl through the history books to come up with the most significant games in Magpie history. These aren't just the biggest wins or the most memorable days, but the games that had a significant influence on the club's history.

We've excluded all finals, simply because otherwise the list would almost be completely taken up with premierships and a few painful Grand Final losses. But the home-and-away games covered in this series have had a huge impact on the club – sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. They've led to club turmoil, coaches being sacked, major changes in the game or sometimes set us on the path to a flag.

Whatever the outcome, these games represent major turning points in our club's story. And they're worth recalling.

The loss which delivered Pendles and Daisy: Round 20, 2005

Early draft picks aren't always the panacea for success as we have seen in recent seasons, but what happened to Collingwood at the back of the end of an otherwise miserable 2005 season played a role in one of the club's most cherished moments five years later.

In the process, it also helped to change the parameters for AFL priority picks.

Back then, clubs who won five or fewer games in a season were eligible for an extra priority pick at the start of the National Draft. That had been put in place to aid teams who had had prolonged periods of substandard performances.

Collingwood hadn't quite endured that. The Magpies pulled themselves off the canvas from a lamentable end to the 1990s by surprising the football world with Grand Final appearances in 2002 and 2003, with playoff losses to Brisbane, one of the greatest sides of the modern era.

But after slumping to 13th in 2004, the free-fall continued the following season, when an injury-raved 2005 sapped the life out of the Magpies as the club crashed right back to earth. Eight consecutive losses rounded out the season, including a defeat at the hands of eventual wooden spooner Carlton in Round 20.

As painful as it was to watch for fans, the fact Collingwood won only five games helped to deliver one of the best draft double-acts the club had attained.

It was one of three clubs – Carlton and Hawthorn were the others - who ended up being eligible for a priority pick at the start of the 2005 national draft.

With those picks, the Magpies were able to secure the two players they craved the most from the draft pool - Dale Thomas and Scott Pendlebury.

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Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas, pictured together in 2011, enjoyed eight years of success together in Black and White. Image: AFL Photos.

Rival clubs weren't happy that Collingwood was the recipient of a priority pick - guaranteeing two picks in the top five - given the club had played in two Grand Finals so recently. As much as opposition clubs bleated, those were the rules, and president Eddie McGuire vehemently denied the club was “tanking”.

The Magpies had won only one of their first eight games that year. Two losses were by a goal or under. One was an embarrassing 112-point loss to Fremantle.

Three consecutive wins came in the middle of the season, and then a win over Port Adelaide in Round 14 provided respite to the frustration of the fans.

That made five wins from 14 games. But the Magpies went the last two months without a win as the club's injury list reached epidemic proportions with many of the stars sent in for surgery, others were out of form and the football world watched on intently.

Collingwood almost made it six wins against North Melbourne in Round 19, losing by a goal. However, a week later, the loss to Carlton, who sat on the bottom of the ladder, was the lowest point.

The match against the Blues was meant to be a big one, with stalwarts Scott Burns and Shane Wakelin playing their 200th AFL games. The teammates had once played cricket as 17-year-olds in South Australia, and shared their milestone matches at the MCG that Saturday night in August 2005.

Burns said he was confident as bad as things had been that year, that "things can turn around pretty quickly ... you never know what's around the corner."

"It (injuries) may have hurt us now, but in 12 or 18 months' time it may have helped us with the way we've blooded the young blokes over the last few years.

"They're probably accelerated in their development - and I've said it a few times, let's hope we've taken two steps backwards to go three or four forward."

Externally, the attention was on whether Collingwood deserved a priority pick, and whether the criteria needed to be tightened.

"You'd be planning everything the way you do to win the game, but deep down you'd be hoping like billyo you didn't," former St Kilda coach Stan Alves said ahead of the Pies-Blues game. "Outwardly, you can't show any sign - amongst the playing group - but I'd be hoping we didn't win to get the priority picks."

Alves said of Collingwood: "They're not where they are (15th) because they've got a terrible squad. It's just that they've been decimated by injury this year."

However, he stressed that the AFL had to review the priority pick criteria, amidst the talk of tanking that was clouded the situation for clubs at the time.

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire dismissed the conjecture and water-cooler discussions, saying some Magpie footballers were playing for their careers.

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Collingwood's starting 22 for a 'Heritage Round' clash with the Blues in round 20, 2005. Image: AFL Photos.

"To be in the rooms after the game in the last two weeks, to suggest that players were doing anything other than having a go is wrong," McGuire said. "You scoff at people for saying, 'Are you tanking?’ for the simple reason I don't think we're in a position to decide whether we win or lose. You just play your best."

This wasn't the most highly-anticipated Collingwood-Carlton clash. Even Channel Ten, who was covering the AFL at the time, sacrificed the game between the two great old rivals in preference to the Showdown between Adelaide and Port Adelaide. The Blues and Pies were put back on Fox Footy.

The Age recorded the different feeling leading into the game: "It was Collingwood versus Carlton, and it meant something. Different things to different people, but something nonetheless."

"For Channel 10, it meant nothing; for the cynic it meant the potential loss of high draft picks but for the players, coaches and crowd of 48,287 at the MCG on Saturday night, it was simply a case of wanting to beat an old and much despised enemy."

From the outset, it wasn't looking good for the black and white fans.

The Blues kicked seven goals to four in the opening term, and led at every change, pushing out to a 42-point lead at three quarter-time. There was no coming back from that. Carlton won by 35 points - their fourth and final win of the season.

Nathan Buckley kicked four goals in the game, used mainly as a permanent forward, given his hamstring issues were making it difficult for him to come up each week. Wakelin (20 disposals) and Burns (21) were strong performers, Tarkyn Lockyer also kicked four goals, but the Magpies had few winners on the night.

Two more losses in the last fortnight of the season - a 110-point thrashing by the Crows, and a 41-point loss to the Western Bulldogs - meant Collingwood would have that contentious priority pick, given the club had only won five games.

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Tarkyn Lockyer reflects on a tough loss to Carlton in round 20, 2005. Image: AFL Photos.

As painful as the 2005 season had been, the silver lining came a few months later, in November, on a day that McGuire described as "a bit like Christmas".

At pick two, the Magpies surprised some people in overlooking Xavier Ellis, instead calling out the name of Drouin teenager Dale Thomas.

McGuire said: "We just decided that Thomas fitted our requirements a little better."

At pick five, they chose one-time basketball prodigy Scott Pendlebury, from Sale.

"We needed some midfield brilliance and some strength, and we've been able to get all of that," McGuire said. "We've got a good bunch of kids now. We're very keen that we'll have a good season next year."

Within four years, those two young stars had achieved the ultimate success, playing a big role in the 2010 premiership triumph. Not long after that, Pendlebury became the leader of the football club.

Those two picks near the start of the draft in that largely forgettable 2005 season continue to pay dividends.

Although Thomas would later leave for Carlton, Pendlebury became one of the most decorated stars to have worn Black and White and continues to play a significant role in Collingwood’s fortunes to this day.

Turning Points
Written by Glenn McFarlane and Michael Roberts

Turning Points: A game of belief.

Turning Points: The first game.

Turning Points: History's ugly repeat.

Turning Points: Honouring the greater good.

Turning Points: A turning point for football.

Turning Points: How was landed McHale.

Turning Points: The comback and the aftermath.