If you weren’t a Collingwood believer, you must be by now — but the situation at Carlton is far less rosy.
Welcome to the AFL Round-Up, where we digest the week that was.
The Collingwood situation
It’s not a drill anymore.
Collingwood’s feel-good renaissance — their hot streak of heart-stoppers — is no longer a thrilling sideshow to the 2022 season. It may well be the main event.
Melbourne were the latest — and probably the best team —to have run into the Magpie buzzsaw and come out on the wrong side throughout a run that has now resulted in 11 straight wins.
Collingwood are in second position with two games to play. Beat Sydney next week and a top-four finish at minimum is secured. No matter how they have done it, Craig McRae’s team have put themselves in a position from which premierships can be won.
And, in a season where consistency has eluded all but Geelong, Collingwood’s unique blend of speed, physicality and Disneyesque self-belief might just make the most sense.
There’s no point looking at the stats and pondering the collective unlikeliness of this Collingwood run, we’re well past that. All that’s left now is to admire the individuals that are making it happen.
Top of that list is Brayden Maynard, whose general absence from predicted All Australian teams is bemusing.
Maynard has been Collingwood personified all season. Fearlessly committed, he is prepared to take risks, never believing he is beaten.
But he’s just one of many. From Jack Crisp and to Jamie Elliott to Beau McCreery and Ash Johnson, that same level is being reached across the 22 to various levels of fanfare.
We said here weeks ago that this Collingwood season would be one that fans will talk about for generations, but there’s more than that at play now.
One of the great premierships in the history of the national competition is what is being played for now, and it’s becoming a far less crazy proposition with every passing week.
Blues on the brink
Cast your mind back a few months and Carlton were the in-vogue team, playing a similar brand of tough and exciting footy and finding ways to win games.
That seems a long time ago now. The battle for the Blues is no longer a top-four spot and proving they are worthy of premiership conversations, but to simply make the finals and not throw the season away completely.
Carlton have Melbourne and Collingwood to come. Winning one of those would surely be enough. There’s even a world in which they could lose both and still sneak in, but the door would be opened at that point for St Kilda — or even the Western Bulldogs.
Should the worst come to pass and Carlton fail to finish in the top eight, this season might rank among the most disappointing for Blues’ fans in recent memory. And that’s a tough field.
Not because they aren’t clearly still improving, or because they haven’t played good football and claimed big wins. But should the opportunity for a return to finals be squandered — an opportunity they completely earned themselves with their excellent start to the campaign — it would be mighty tough to swallow.
The good news is that it’s still in Carlton’s hands. The last quarter against Brisbane showed the fight is still there, and perhaps the challenge of having to win their way in will inspire a return to form.
It’s an unfinished story right now, but the stakes are high.
JK’s perfect goodbye
A quick word for Josh Kennedy, who called time on his tremendous career with one more performance for the ages.
To be held in the same company as the likes of Lance Franklin, Jack Riewoldt and Tom Hawkins as era-defining key forwards is not something to be dismissed. Kennedy has been a fearsome prospect for more than a decade, has ridden the highs and lows at West Coast through that time and has ended with his bearded head held high.
That the Eagles were unable to rise to the occasion and find a way to win for Kennedy is a matter for another day (and a long and painful off-season to come).
It’s rare that a champion is able to go out in a manner befitting his career. Kennedy managed that — and then some.
Around the grounds
We can now say with confidence that Richmond will play finals in 2022. From there, anything is possible. They will be unmissable in September.
Fremantle looked like their old selves again against the Bulldogs, and with the Eagles and Giants to come will fancy their chances of a return to the top four. Perhaps they are timing their run to perfection.
Strictly speaking, Geelong probably didn’t need to win that game against St Kilda. Their hold on top spot would have been pretty secure either way. But they did, and that winning habit looks set to roll on deep into September.
Mark McVeigh took a bit of a gamble in calling out his Giants players last week. It would have put the interim coach in an awkward spot if they didn’t muster an immediate response. But they did, and his stocks have now never been higher.
Hawthorn have now bettered their wins total from last year. Gold Coast are one away from equalling their best wins total ever. A clear season of progress for both.
We’re pumped for Sydney’s game against Collingwood next week already. The winner will find themselves deeper than ever in premiership reckoning. Sunday arvo can’t come quickly enough.
In the clubhouse
Here we take stock of who is leading the race for the season’s individual awards.
We’ve already called the Rising Star race over in Nick Daicos’s favour, but want to temper some of the All Australian chat that has been lingering around social media. For this year, anyway. Next year? All bets are off.
It was a good week for goals, and in a tough field we’re giving this round’s nod to Freo’s Nathan O’Driscoll.
Josh Daicos remains the leader in the GOTY race.
And for mark of the week, we’re going with Connor Rozee.
His teammate Mitch Georgiades is in the box seat to claim MOTY with his screamer against Fremantle from a few weeks back.