Craig McRae reveals wife's role in turning Collingwood around after 'humbling moment'

The Magpies coach couldn't get out of bed after a humiliating defeat to the Western Bulldogs in 2022.

Collingwood coach Craig McRae and wife Gabrielle.
Craig McRae has lifted the lid on a pep talk from wife Gabrielle that sparked Collingwood. Image: Twitter/Getty

Collingwood coach Craig McRae has revealed how a pep-talk from wife Gabrielle sparked him when he was at his lowest in 2022. Speaking on the The Howie Games podcast this week, McRae spoke about the "humbling moment" that Collingwood were thrashed by the Western Bulldogs two seasons ago - a humiliating loss that acted as a turning point.

After a promising start in 2022, the Magpies fell to 11th on the ladder with a 4-5 record. Illness had swept through the playing group and Scott Pendlebury was a late withdrawal, while the Pies were coming off a six-day break for the third-straight game.

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But in his post-match press conference after the loss to the Dogs, McRae called the performance "poor" and failed to resort to using excuses. "I want to be better than that," he said.

Collingwood players, pictured here after their loss to the Western Bulldogs in 2023.
Collingwood players look on after their loss to the Western Bulldogs in 2023. (AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Craig McRae lifts the lid on wife Gabrielle's pep talk

Less than 12 hours later the coach was struggling to get out of bed and trying to figure out how to turn things around. But the words of wife Gabrielle gave him the fire he needed and spurred him to greatness.

"This is a defining moment for this group," McRae recalled on Thursday. "Saturday morning I couldn't get out of bed. I was tossing and turning over what to do.

"My wife comes and gets me, might be around lunch time and said, 'you've got to get out of bed'… and I said, 'I can't'… and she said 'you've got the solutions, Craig, you know what to do. Just be you ... be positive, Craig, it's the only way through.'"

Craig McRae, pictured here with wife Gabrielle with daughter Charlie in 2023.
Craig McRae with wife Gabrielle with daughter Charlie in 2023. (AFL Photos via Getty Images)

After Gabrielle's pep talk, McRae said he had a "moment of clarity" and declared: "This is who we're going to be". He added: "I rang all the assistant coaches and said, 'Don't come in on Monday and tell me what we're not doing. Go and find the evidence of the things that we're going to be.'

"I walked in on the Monday with a complete and utter positivity that the (playing) group weren't ready for. It was the complete opposite of what they were expecting.

"The positivity was something that made the playing group go, 'Oh, okay'. It really drove us to letting things go a bit, and it was probably the start of it (an 11-match winning streak)."

Mentality shift sparked Collingwood to 2023 premiership

The Magpies won their next 11 games straight and surged all the way to the preliminary final, where they only lost by a point. It was a remarkable turnaround after finishing 17th in 2021 in McRae's first season in charge.

But McRae and the Magpies went one better in 2023 and broke their 13-year premiership drought. They will head into the 2024 season as favourites once again, looking to go back-to-back for the first time since 1936.

If winning a premiership wasn't amazing enough, McRae also welcomed a baby girl with Gabrielle on the morning of the grand final against Brisbane. The coach announced the wonderful news to the entire MCG after accepting the trophy on stage.

“I’m such a private guy, and my family are really private," he said last year. "I said ‘I’m not telling anyone today that we’ve had the baby’. And then I started to go, ‘oh maybe I’ll tell the players’. I told the players and there’s footage of me going a bit silly in the rooms.

"And then after the game I’ve told the world and she’s going, ‘what happened?’ There was a moment and (the baby news) did fill the room full of energy and a bit more joy. That was just a perfect opportunity to share it.”

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