High-wire Magpies face stern SCG test

·3-min read

The high-wire act Collingwood has ridden all the way from second-bottom to a preliminary final now faces the ultimate AFL crucible - bloods culture at the SCG.

But the daunting challenge of Sydney at their colosseum - the first preliminary final at the ground since the Swans' pivotal 1996 triumph over Essendon - will not faze these Magpies.

Their stunning rise from last year's doldrums has been underpinned by a streak of narrow wins that has built massive self-belief.

They have defied convention repeatedly, even surprising their coach Craig McRae.

"In your wildest dreams I never thought we'd be in a position to play in a prelim final," the first-year senior coach said this week.

Collingwood have won 13 of their last 15 games and nine of those wins have been by seven points or less.

But their only loss before the finals? Against Sydney in round 22, at the SCG, where Collingwood kicked their lowest score of the season.

"Our best footy is that brand when we're aggressive and we're going at it," McRae said.

"There's parts of that game (in round 22) when they defended really well and didn't allow us to do that.

"We're going to have to find a way through that."

Indeed, this week the Magpies shortened the boundary line at their training ground to mimic the SCG dimensions.

Saturday night's venue is regarded as a "small" oval where the Swans are masters at suffocating the opposition.

"It's got a bit of attention," McRae said of their ground-specific preparations..

"I must admit, we didn't lose to the ground. We lost to the Swans, who played the ground really well.

"I think it's just a subtle little reminder. There's not much to it. I don't think it's a big deal but it's just something we thought may assist (us)."

Collingwood's preparations were not helped when young players Beau McCreery and Josh Carmichael were involved in a Friday car accident on the way to Melbourne airport.

They were not injured, but no doubt rattled.

Still, Collingwood have shown a cast-iron ability over the last 12 months to overcome significant off-field problems - Jordan De Goey twice, board ructions and ongoing racism accusations.

Culture, of course, is the Swans' hallmark. Their origins of their "bloods" philosophy can be traced back to that stirring 1996 preliminary-final win over Essendon.

Just as Collingwood have defied expectations this season, so the Swans have masterfully avoided the boom-or-bust cycle that is the hallmark of AFL clubs socialism.

They, too, have enjoyed a red-hot vein of form in the second half of the season and earned their preliminary-final berth with a masterful upset of reigning premiers Melbourne a fortnight ago.

A feature of that win was Lance Franklin's goalless struggle and now he comes up against Darcy Moore, who is building a strong case to be the player of this finals series.

"Buddy" is not the matchwinner he used to be, but no AFL player loves a big occasion more.

If he somehow gets off the chain, that black-and-white high wire might snap.