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1958 – The Miracle of ‘58
Oh to have been in the dressing rooms after the 1958 Grand Final.
The Pies had just pulled off the greatest Grand Final heist of all time, in the process preserving the club’s cherished record of four successive Premierships. The emotions and feelings in the rooms that day must have stayed with everyone there forever.
It’s hard to convey just how much this seemed to be ‘Mission Impossible’ for the Magpies. Norm Smith’s Demons were some of the greatest teams in footy history: they had won the previous three flags, two of them over Collingwood. They had not lost to the Pies in 10 outings, and just a fortnight before had thumped us by more than seven goals. Plus captain Frank Tuck was missing through injury.
Almost everyone had Melbourne pencilled in as certainties to win the flag and equal the four-in-a-row record of the fabled Machine teams under Jock McHale.
But the captain of those teams, Syd Coventry, was now the Collingwood president. And all week that ’58 team absorbed the club’s fierce desire to protect that record.
Even so, we were down five goals to two at quarter-time and everything looked to be going to the expected script. But ‘Weed’ and ‘Hooker’ started throwing their weight around, the Demons lost focus and we played with maniacal desperation in the mud and rain. The miracle turnaround saw us two points in front by half-time, then 33 at the final break. Despite kicking only a solitary behind in the last term, we hung on by 18 points to complete the greatest Grand Final upset in history, and preserve the Machine’s record.
And, arguably, annex our greatest ever Premiership.
1970 – Peter McKenna kicks his 100th
Peter McKenna was football’s very own ‘King of Pop’ in 1970. He was arguably the most popular footballer at the time that the game has ever known.
So when he became the first Collingwood player in over 30 years to kick 100 goals in a season, during a year in which the Magpies were flying, everyone knew it was going to be big.
But perhaps not how big.
Victoria Park was heaving that day, with nearly 40,000 fans crammed in. We were up against arch enemies Carlton, who even at that stage looked like the only team who might stop our march to a flag. And we absolutely smashed them, keeping them to a measly 2.12 while we battled inaccuracy to finish with 13.23 to win by 77 points – a good old-fashioned shellacking.
But it was the least spectacular of those 13 goals that brought the house down, when McKenna soccered one off the ground (after Twiggy Dunne had ‘fresh-aired’ it) in the shadows of the Sherrin Stand deep into the last quarter.
Cue mayhem. Thousands and thousands of Magpie fans jumped the fence and sparked the biggest ground invasion Victoria Park had ever seen. The game was held up for ages, as some of McKenna’s teammates surrounded him in a futile attempt to protect him. In the end it took police to escort him off the ground before the game could re-start.
But the result was not in doubt by then, so everyone at the ground could simply revel in the moment. Unbridled joy, riotous celebrations and a big Collingwood win over Carlton. Days at the footy don’t get much better than this.
1974 – John Greening’s comeback game
By 1972, John Greening was one of the most exciting and popular players in the game. He was in career-best form as a ruck-rover, having graduated from the wing, and seemed to be on the path to a Brownlow Medal.
So there was widespread outrage when this brilliant, ball-playing star was crudely belted behind play in the opening seconds of the Rd 14 game against St Kilda at Moorabbin. Greening’s injuries were probably the most serious ever suffered by a Collingwood footballer during a game. Doctors feared for his life: he was comatose for 24 hours, and it was days before he regained full consciousness. He suffered cerebral concussion and was initially expected to be permanently disabled.
But Greening was made of strong stuff. First he survived. Then he recovered. By March of 1974 he was training again. And by Round 9 that year, he was back in the seniors.
Greening’s comeback game was one of the most emotional sporting events of the year. He received dozens of telegrams beforehand, was besieged by well-wishers and spent some time before the game with six blind boys who had been brought to the dressing rooms to draw inspiration from him. He led the team out that day against the reigning premiers, booted a goal with his first kick and finished the game as one of our best players – and with a great mark as well. To top it off, the Pies trounced the highly-favoured Tigers by 69 points.
The rest of John Greening’s career didn’t quite follow the same fairytale script. But no Magpie fan who saw that 1974 comeback game will ever forget it.
1975 – Fabulous Phil kicks 11 in white boots – and creates a legend
Few Collingwood recruits have ever landed at the club as spectacularly as Phil Carman did in 1975.
After years of ‘will he, won’t he?’ to-ing and fro-ing, Carman eventually arrived from SA club Norwood as a 24-year-old – and the brilliant midfielder/forward instantly became the biggest and most popular Magpie, and one of the biggest stars in the game.
After just 10 games he was chosen to play for Victoria, but broke his foot during the game. Collingwood’s fortunes plummeted without him, dropping from third to seventh.
So expectations were building by the time he returned in Rd 19. Could Phil save the Magpies’ season? You bet – and then some.
In his first game back he donned white boots for the first time – an act of brazen showmanship almost unheard of in an era when lime green adidas stripes were about as fancy as boots got. He kicked 6.8 that day against Essendon and was brilliant. But the game wasn’t on TV, so it didn’t garner huge attention.
The following week against St Kilda was a different story. He simply tore St Kilda apart. In a one-man rampage that will never be forgotten by anyone who saw it, he bagged 11 goals, including five in the last quarter alone. In its aftermath Lou Richards branded Carman “the most exciting footballer ever to play with Collingwood … and possibly the best”. And everyone was talking about the white boots.
This wasn’t just a match-winning performance: it was when the whole ‘Fabulous Phil’ legend was born. And while Phil never quite recaptured that ’75 magic through the rest of his career, anyone who saw that performance against St Kilda has never forgotten it.
1990 – Peter Daicos’ impossible goal v WCE helps set up a flag
There was a time, not so long ago, when impossible goals from the boundary line really were impossible.
Then Peter Daicos came along.
Daics made the impossible seem possible – sometimes even likely. But even by his own ridiculously high standards, his goal in the dying stages of the 1990 Qualifying Final against the West Coast Eagles was off-the-charts crazy.
It seemed to defy physics, kicking the ball with the outside of his right boot from the left forward pocket while pretty much facing the boundary line. And not dribbling the ball through, as we see so often these days, but actually landing it on the goal line, virtually at the goal umpire’s feet.
But there was so much more to love about this goal too. There was Darren Millane’s fierce bump on John Worsfold that cleared the initial path, Gavin Brown’s gather-at-speed and calmness as he waited for the right opportunity to present itself, then Millane’s handball (broken thumb and all) over the top to set up Daics’ miracle moment.
It was a perfect team goal, capped off by a moment of absurd brilliance.
Of course, it didn’t win us the game. But it went one better. The draw against the Eagles that day meant a replay was needed the following week, which in turn threw Essendon’s finals preparations completely out of whack. So even more than being one of the all-time great Collingwood goals, Peter Daicos’ boundary line wizardry against the Eagles played a major role in helping to set up the flag that followed a few weeks later.
1990 – The end of the Colliwobbles
For any Magpie fan born after 1958, this was the moment. The end of 32 years of heartbreak and torment and torture. The end of the Colliwobbles – footy’s most infamous curse.
On the scoreboard it looks like a comfortable win. But we’d been burned too badly, and too often, before. Many of us kept waiting for some freak occurrence to rob us of the win – maybe we’d have an extra player on the ground and have our score wiped out? Maybe the umpires would give 17 successive free kicks to Essendon to make it interesting? Maybe a meteorite would hit the MCG?
It was really only when Douggie Barwick goaled after 19 minutes, and then when Leigh Matthews pumped his firsts to the crowd after Monkey’s late goal, that we began to truly believe. And then the emotions overflowed, prompting celebrations the likes of which have rarely been seen in footy.
And for all Peter Daicos’ magic, and Tony Shaw’s heart and drive, it was fitting that the ball was in Darren Millane’s hands when that siren went. Somehow he’d defied the pain barrier to play the last seven weeks of the season with a broken thumb, re-breaking it each week and having it stuck back in plaster until the following week, just to do it all again. Next-level courage, and an inspiration to all his teammates.
It might not have been a single moment, but Darren Millane’s efforts in those couple of months were the absolute definition of Legendary.