Mick Malthouse: Fierce rivals Carlton and Collingwood to resume hostilities

Carlton may hold the ascendancy in the midfield, but coaching great Mick Malthouse says never underestimate the will to win with Collingwood as two arch rivals go head-to-head again.

There’s been a lot of discussion about why AFL crowds are down. Is the game over-umpired? Is it how the game is played or recovery from Covid? But, supporters will find a way to go if the game is good enough and big enough.

Sunday’s Collingwood-Carlton match should, realistically, draw 80,000 people to the MCG.

That is the power of longstanding rivalry.

Rivalry in the VFL was alive and kicking because it was suburb versus suburb.

Players were produced from over the fence and around the corner. And the big clubs detested each other with a passion. There was no middle ground.

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Anthony Rocca (torn jumper) wrestles with Carlton's Brendan Fevola in the middle of the brawl between Collingwood and Carlton in 2004.
Anthony Rocca (torn jumper) wrestles with Carlton's Brendan Fevola in the middle of the brawl between Collingwood and Carlton in 2004.

But as the national competition took off there was a mental shift within the clubs, as much as the physical shift of drafting and recruiting players from all over the country.

It is just as easy now to have a kid from Preston play for St Kilda, and someone from the Western Jets playing for Carlton. And in that sense it has eroded the definitive nature of rivalry.

But it still exists. Particularly among supporters who have years of family allegiance to one set of colours.

Rivalries cannot be manufactured. One that has come about in current times is the Western Bulldogs and Greater Western Sydney, on the back of the Dogs’ close win over the Giants in the 2016 preliminary final. There is a very real loathing there.

So too for cross-town rivals West Coast and Fremantle, and Adelaide and Port Adelaide.

When I coached Collingwood against Carlton for the first time in 2000 — even though I grew up a Magpies supporter — I was surprised at the ferocity of the need to win from the board and the Magpie Army. This was more than suburban warfare.

As a coach and playing group who viewed every team as a rival, we didn’t buy into it as much, but it was clear that we simply had to win. I received a dated and framed photo for doing so.

Collingwood coach Tom Hafey shakes hands with his Carlton counterpart David Parkin during the 1981 grand final parade.
Collingwood coach Tom Hafey shakes hands with his Carlton counterpart David Parkin during the 1981 grand final parade.

When I went to Carlton, although I didn’t sense it from the playing group or match committee, there was an element of “how could a Collingwood man possibly coach the mighty Blues?” from within the board and from former players, so great was their inherent dislike of the Pies. Perhaps some supporters felt the same way. It took Dale Thomas years to win them over.

Today, Brisbane Lions premiership teammates Craig McRae and Michael Voss will feel a similar sense of extra pressure. Both coaches are doing an excellent job.

Simply put, Carlton needs to win to cement its place in the top four. Collingwood needs to win to close the gap with the top eight. So it will be on.

Both teams are missing several key players. Carlton’s Harry McKay the most significant, and Collingwood’s Brodie Grundy and Jordan Roughead.

I say it almost every week, that games are won and lost through the middle. Carlton is served consistently well by Sam Walsh and George Hewett. Hewett’s possessions are generally in the centre of the ground, whereas Walsh’s are mostly in the defensive half.

Alex Jesaulenko after Carlton defeated Collingwood in the 1979 grand final.
Alex Jesaulenko after Carlton defeated Collingwood in the 1979 grand final.
Peter Moore holding his head in anguish after the 1979 grand final loss.
Peter Moore holding his head in anguish after the 1979 grand final loss.

As much as Patrick Cripps has been outstanding, he and Matthew Kennedy and Adam Cerra all went missing in the second half last week when Sydney turned up the heat.

Few sides can score in a hurry like the Blues. In three games this year they’ve kicked 12 goals by halftime — against the Western Bulldogs, Port Adelaide and Sydney. And then fallen away. Their lulls generally manifest from the midfield.

Is it mental or physical? I lean towards the mental side of things because last year Carlton was renowned for giving up leads.

Collingwood on the flip side has rarely been out of a game. The Magpies last Sunday played in the wet in Perth against a side that has everything going for it, for a remarkable win without fanfare.

Patrick Cripps heads up a powerful midfield at Carlton. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Patrick Cripps heads up a powerful midfield at Carlton. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

What is interesting is that Collingwood with a low disposal tally of 339, went inside-50 60 times and only scored on 20 occasions. Carlton against Sydney had 370 disposals, entered inside-50 49 times, but had an extraordinary 27 scores.

The contested possessions of Sydney and Carlton flipped on its head in the second half, as the Swans took the initiative away from the Blues’ mids. But with a greater depth of players, the midfield should belong to Carlton on Sunday.

I admire the tenacity of Jack Crisp and Taylor Adams. They won’t provide a knockout blow against the Blues but will certainly cause some damage.

There is the question of where Collingwood’s goals will come from? Brody Mihocek plays like a bulldozer. Jack Ginnivan adds excitement and cheek. Oliver Henry’s four goals last week showed his class. Jamie Elliott is capable of kicking multiple goals and Will Hoskin-Elliott has started to show why he is a potential match winner.

But, particularly with Jacob Weitering doing such a great job, Lachie Plowman and Lewis Young, together with Sam Docherty and Adam Saad, should hold sway against a hardworking Magpie forward line.

Jeremy Howe will be of great value as an intercept player.
Jeremy Howe will be of great value as an intercept player.

At the opposite end of the ground, we could see one of the best duels of the round — Darcy Moore on Charlie Curnow. Moore would have learned a massive lesson when Richmond’s Tom Lynch chopped him up in the first half. You cannot assume your opponent won’t mark the ball.

On face value Curnow could be in for treat. So this is where Jeremy Howe will be of great value as an intercept player. With Scott Pendlebury leading as a captain should, he will settle his backline down.

But the Blues can be ballistic in their scoring, and when they have the momentum the opposition can seem powerless to put a pause on it.

McRae will need to get the Pies playing their defensive best early to keep scores as close and as low as possible by halftime.

Collingwood simply can’t go with Carlton on the scoreboard, but if it is close at halftime then the Pies are in an even contest.

It will be an intriguing game to watch unfold tactically. Carlton has more strings to pull than Collingwood with a deeper midfield and a decisive ability to kick a big score.

But never underestimate the will to win. It is Collingwood-Carlton after all.

Originally published as Mick Malthouse: Fierce rivals Carlton and Collingwood to resume hostilities

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