Family front and centre as reformed Collingwood show new strengths

<span>Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Little Maggie McRae could not have timed her arrival more perfectly. About 10 hours after being born, the newest member of the Magpie Army was celebrating a premiership.

If the hard-partying “brat pack” drove the Magpies to the 2010 premiership, the influence of family could be seen far and wide at the MCG on Saturday and in celebrations on Sunday.

On Saturday morning the Collingwood coach, Craig McRae, was with his wife, Gabrielle, when she gave birth to their third child, a daughter named after the club he was about to lead to glory.

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In the aftermath of the Magpies thrilling four-point triumph over Brisbane, he was embraced by the Daicos and Moore families, among many others, as Collingwood celebrated.

Peter Moore played in five grand finals without success. But never has a father looked as content as when he handed his son Darcy Moore and McRae the premiership cup. Peter Daicos could do everything on a footy field. He still looks fit enough to kick a goal or two from the forward pocket. Instead, he snared sons Nick and Josh in tight embraces.

Former skipper Scott Pendlebury, whose last quarter deeds alongside fellow 2010 premiership teammate Steele Sidebottom were inspiring, was swamped by his kids. Even Jordan de Goey, who shaped as a torchbearer for the brat pack, tugged at the heart strings when dedicating the triumph and his reformed ways to his ailing grandmother. And the black and white family theme continued on into a long Saturday night for many Pies.

At Collingwood’s official grand final function, McRae explained why he had written “44 sons” underneath the collar of the shirt he wore while coaching in the grand final.

“All the players had inside their jumper something they wanted to be remembered for,” he said. “It was an action. “Inside mine I had 44 sons. I’ve got three beautiful daughters now. I don’t have a son, but I consider all these guys in the squad my sons, so I wore that under my collar today.”

McRae is big on bonds. The ties he has at the Lions, where he played in three premierships between 2001 and 2003, retain an important hold on him. At the start of the finals campaign, he travelled to Brisbane to participate in the 20th anniversary of the 2003 premiership, such is his respect for those who helped shape him.

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After the final siren on Saturday, he met with his Brisbane coach Leigh Matthews, who also coached the Magpies to a flag in 1990 and is now a Lions board member, for a debrief. As it stands, should Maggie McRae or her sisters carry the football nous of their father, their future lies with the Brisbane Lions under the AFLW father-daughter rules.

Football, though, is a business of the present. Collingwood’s hold on the premiership was scarcely an hour old when a question regarding a prospective dynasty was put to McRae. The man nicknamed “Fly” swatted it away and flag celebrations will continue until the Copeland trophy is awarded to Collingwood’s best and fairest on Friday night.

But the nature of the industry requires that sacrifices will also be made involving a handful of McRae’s “44 sons” over the next few days under AFL list management rules. McRae carried a carefree, light and humorous touch with his players and staff throughout grand final week. But similarly to all successful coaches, he is ruthless when necessary. John Noble, who had played 83 games in succession for the Magpies dating back to round seven in 2020, can attest to this having lost his spot in the team on the eve of the finals series.

Watching on in Saturday’s post-match press conference was football manager Graham Wright, a premiership Pie in 1990 who is a list management expert among other things. He brought to Collingwood the Norm Smith medallist Bobby Hill, former Brownlow medallist Tom Mitchell, defender Oleg Markov and Billy Frampton, who all played roles on Saturday.

Tipping a dynasty in the AFL is as easy as predicting which way the ball will bounce after a mongrel punt. Not every fan is as lucky as Maggie McRae. Just ask St Kilda supporters. Nor are players. Pendlebury could never imagine he would wait 13 years between flags.

When Melbourne was unbeaten midway through 2022, the Demons appealed as clearcut favourites to defend the 2021 premiership, yet have now lost four finals in succession.

But in McRae and Wright, Collingwood have key personnel who have been there before. McRae was a member of Brisbane’s hat-trick, and VFL coach and an assistant to Damien Hardwick during Richmond’s recent reign of three flags in four years. Wright helped lure to Hawthorn critical players who featured in their three-peat between 2013 and 2015. They know how to win premierships.

Family time beckons for both men and the rest of the Magpies. But it will not be long before McRae, Wright and Collingwood will return to the club eyeing back-to-back flags.