Scott Pendlebury stands on the fence and holds the cup aloft in front of Magpies fans

You may never let yourself love Collingwood, but this special Magpies team deserves your respect

It’s near enough to the oldest rule in footy — if you don’t love Collingwood, you have to absolutely hate Collingwood.

Some people grow up despising Collingwood without ever knowing why. Everyone might have their own individual reasons, and in truth you don’t really need one.

The whole point of sport is irrational and blind devotion to your colours, and the flip side of that is irrational and blind hatred for certain oppositions. So it shall be forever more.

But if you have been able to work your way through those weeds, to step back from the reflexive distaste of anything black and white, and open your heart just a little to these Magpies, you have been treated to something incredible.

If you really love footy, its stories and the emotions it can generate, you should love this Collingwood team.

Craig McRae has won a premiership in his second season as Collingwood coach.(Getty Images/AFL Photos: Darrian Traynor)

The journey Craig McRae has taken this club on in the two years he has coached it has been beyond his or Pies’ fans wildest dreams. It has provided us some of the best games of footy we’ve seen in a generation, culminating in a grand final that ranks among the greatest of all time.

Over those two years their fearless brand of footy has spawned an inordinate number of classic matches. They haven’t won all of them, but they’ve won most of them.

Jamie Elliott after the siren against Essendon. Jamie Elliott to knock Carlton out of finals. Two wins in Adelaide against the Crows and Power. A qualifying final against Melbourne and a preliminary final against GWS.

And then this grand final — this overwhelming, sensory overload of a grand final.

If Collingwood were to win a premiership it had to be like this. Anything less would have felt too easy, it wouldn’t have tapped into the very deepest recesses of belief in this defiant footy side.

Scott Pendlebury stands on the fence and holds the cup aloft in front of Magpies fans

Steele Sidebottom and Scott Pendlebury celebrate a premiership 13 years after their first.(Getty Images: Morgan Hancock)

How do they do it? Scott Pendlebury says they train to win the close ones, but everyone does that. There’s luck involved of course, and that ledger has yet to even out towards 50-50.

But there has to be more to it. Nobody fully understands the power the mental aspect of sport holds, but most agree it is significant. Watching Collingwood it’s hard not to come away with the conclusion that it is everything.

Of course it helps that there are some pretty handy footballers running out in this team.

Maybe the post-grand final glow is influencing this statement, but nobody plays this game like Nick Daicos. He controls games like nobody else, moving around the ground as if he’s laser-guided while sensing time and space like few others.

Josh Daicos kisses Nick Daicos on the cheek as they salute the crowd

The Daicos boys revel in grand final glory.(Getty Images: Quinn Rooney)

The grand final wasn’t Daicos’s best game — the pressure meant he leaned on the high tackle a little more often than he normally would — but he had so many telling touches. His piercing run to set up Jack Crisp right on half-time and the blink-and-you-miss-it handball to Jordan De Goey stand out.

Speaking of De Goey, absolutely nobody was surprised it was his boot that gave Collingwood a late lead they never coughed back up. When the Pies’ backs are really up against the wall, you can normally bank on a Jordan De Goey running goal from 50 metres to turn the tide.

Darcy Moore is a remarkable human being, maybe the best the game can offer right now. Treating footballers as role models can be a risky game, but with Moore it feels right — he speaks from the heart, stands up for what he believes in and always leads with action first.

How can you not root for Bobby Hill? A young player whose career looked to have stalled at GWS, and was put swiftly in perspective by a bout of testicular cancer, now has peaked. If he ever plays a game better than his Norm Smith-winning performance in this grand final then it will be something to behold.

A Collingwood AFL player kisses his hand as he celebrates a goal in the grand final against the Brisbane Lions.

Bobby Hill became an unlikely but fully deserving Norm Smith Medallist.(Getty Images/AFL Photos: Daniel Pockett)

Stories everywhere you look. Mason Cox, the American import. Oleg Markov, the latest of late recruits. Jeremy Howe, months on from that gruesome broken arm. Brayden Maynard, the most willing of villains. Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom, ageless brilliance.

These are all premiership players now, the men who delivered Collingwood’s 16th flag.

You may not like them all. Hell, you might not like any of them. They play for Collingwood, after all, and isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

But even if you can’t bring yourself to say it out loud, the Magpies of 2023 deserve your respect. They have lit up our league with the football they have played.

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Author: Russell White