Sports

Maybe Collingwood isn’t that bad after all

In 1999, when Eddie McGuire completed his bloodless coup and seized control of the Collingwood Football Club, he set one key metric by which the success of his reign would be judged.

Sure, McGuire wanted to restore Collingwood's on-field fortunes and financial stability after a decade-long tailspin during which the Magpies crashed from 1990 premier to 1999 wooden spooners and administrative basket case.

Yet, as much as spreadsheets covered in red ink and crushing defeats to historic rivals, McGuire despised the faint sense of pity the Magpies were beginning to engender from those rival supporters whose clubs were flourishing in the game's more competitive national environment.

So as Donald Trump claimed he would Make America Great Again, the only slightly less controversial McGuire wanted to Make Everyone Hate Collingwood Again.

When the Magpies lifted the 2010 premiership cup and yet another "Cooo-lliiiing-woood" chant rang around the MCG, McGuire's mission was accomplished.

Collinwood Football Club president Eddie McGuire

Surely the blood of Carlton, Essendon, Richmond, Sydney and just about every other rival club's fans' blood was curdled by what must have seemed a sickening display of Collingwood's new triumphalism.

Similarly, as the Magpies began a gradual descent after losing the 2011 grand final, the schadenfreude of their rivals was apparent.

The Magpies had replaced their premiership coach, Mick Malthouse, with favourite son Nathan Buckley, whose destiny seemed to have been foretold by The Police — he was Collingwood's King of Pain.

Buckley was the ready-made champion who left the lamentable Brisbane Bears and went to Collingwood to win in a premiership, only to suffer consecutive grand final defeats to his former teammates in 2002 and 2003.

The man jeered and derided by the opposition (and a few early teammates) even as he won a Brownlow and Norm Smith Medals as "FIGJAM" — F*** I'm Good, Just Ask Me.

In that context, hearing McGuire appeal to fellow Victorians to back Collingwood this week might normally have seemed like Trump asking illegal immigrants to support his border protection policy.

Similarly, the predictable rallying cries by Melbourne newspaper editors for fans to "get behind our Victorian team" seemed, at best, contrived.

Such attempts to create some sort of faux State of Origin with Collingwood representing Victoria and the West Coast Eagles representing WA do not resonate with the Magpies' old suburban rivals and, even less so, Fremantle Dockers fans.

And yet, and yet … this September there seems just the slightest softening of hearts usually hardened against Collingwood (in whose interests I will confess a passing interest).

For a rare time in their chippy, working class, triumphal, office-water-cooler-crowding, grand final-losing, media-dominating, controversy-riddled history, the Magpies are quite likable.

Travis Varcoe, Mason Cox and Brody Mihocek celebrate a Collingwood goal against Richmond

There is most obviously — in every way — Mason Cox, the 211cm tall American Pie whose four-year journey from his native Dallas to Collingwood via Oklahoma State University's basketball team remains mindboggling.

Even more so that he has become an integral part of the Magpies' attack, not merely a bit-part player.

There is the once seemingly gormless Chris Mayne, a scapegoat with Magpie fans last year when he failed to justify his controversial $2 million four-year contract.

Such was the pressure Mayne felt, the former Docker was in tears as he walked from the ground after the Magpies lost a VFL final last season. Yet now, here he is — a handy component in a team that was ravaged by injuries earlier in the season.

Then there is the redemption of Josh Thomas, who has returned from a two-year drug suspension where he spent time as an Uber driver and is now an accomplished small forward.

There is budding superstar Jordan De Goey, who showed as much faith in the club as it showed in him after various off-field misadventures by re-signing for far less than he could have earned elsewhere.

There is Travis Varcoe, who is playing deep into September despite the recent death of his sister Maggie after a head clash on the football field — resonant of the courage it took Damien Oliver to win the Melbourne Cup in 2002 just days after his brother Jason died in a race fall.

Jaidyn Stephenson was drafted despite a heart complaint that deterred other clubs from picking him, fellow forward Brody Mihocek was plucked from the VFL scrapheap … and so the feel-good stories go.

Collingwood's Jordan de Goey celebrates a Magpies goal

What's more, from their energy and engagement, the Collingwood players clearly like each other as much as their legion of fans love them. There is a chemistry that is similar to that of the Western Bulldogs in 2016 and Richmond last season.

Meanwhile, having survived five seasons of diminishing results during which defender Brayden Maynard said the game plan was a "shambles" and even Buckley's father Ray thought he would be sacked, the coach has emerged as an engaging, good-humoured and popular spokesman for his club and the game itself.

Should Buckley lift the premiership cup with skipper Scott Pendlebury on Saturday … well, rival fans won't be thrilled the Magpies have won a record-equalling 16th premiership.

But, deep down, they might be just a little bit more sympathetic to some of the individuals in the Magpie line-up than their natural instincts would normally allow.

Which means a Collingwood premiership would not only be a bolt from the blue. The reaction would be, by the McGuire test, something of an unexpected failure.

Coach Nathan Buckley reacts after Collingwood's win over Richmond at the MCG

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