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Double chance up for grabs as Swans and Pies clash in another pre-finals blockbuster

For the second consecutive weekend, Collingwood will be involved in another pre-finals blockbuster and on Sunday they’ll make the short trip up to Sydney for the first time since May last year to face the Sydney Swans at the SCG.

There has been no doubt that the Pies have been this season’s biggest improvers, rocketing from second-last at the end of last season to second on the ladder under the watchful eye of first-year coach Craig McRae.

Their percentage of 106.3 is the worst by any side in the eight, but that can be attributed to their impeccable record in very close matches throughout their 11-match winning streak, which included coming from over 20 points down to defeat Melbourne by seven points last Friday night.

They also had to come from 26 points down to defeat North Melbourne by seven points, while they also held off a challenge by the Adelaide Crows to win by five points, defeated Essendon at the death thanks to Jamie Elliott, and edged out Port Adelaide by a goal.

It is a far cry from the depths of last year when long-serving coach Nathan Buckley walked away mid-season after overseeing a regression of his side’s on-field fortunes following their heartbreaking grand final loss in 2018.

Nathan Buckley, coach of the Magpies, looks dejected

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

But with mostly the same squad from last year save for the addition of Patrick Lipinski and the retirement of Jordan Roughead, the Pies have reinvented themselves on the run, with McRae in line to be named the AFL Players Association Coach of the Year.

Previous winners of this award have included Mark Thompson, who was on the brink of being sacked by the Geelong Cats in 2006 before turning his side’s fortunes around in significant fashion by leading them to a record-breaking flag in 2007, as well as John Longmire and Ken Hinkley (twice each).

In Hinkley’s case, he took over a dispirited Port Adelaide side that hadn’t played finals for five years and had been a mess both on and off the field, and led them to an elimination final win over the Pies at the MCG in 2013.

If the Pies do claim the flag this season, it would mark the biggest single season turnaround in the AFL’s history, beating Richmond’s effort of rising from 13th in 2016 to premiers 12 months later, a feat which earnt Damien Hardwick the Coach of the Year award in 2017.

But that’s still well ahead of them, with their next challenge coming in the form of the Sydney Swans, who have won their past five matches to surge into fourth place on the ladder, giving themselves a good opportunity to clinch a double chance for the first time since 2016.

Despite an early challenge from North Melbourne, the Swans claimed a 38-point win thanks to a four-goal haul from Buddy Franklin, whose future after this season became a main topic of discussion this week.

But if anything, the 35-year-old is letting his footy do the talking, as he continues to prove that he is not yet a spent force in this game.

Chad Warner, meanwhile, produced another best-on-ground performance to firm in favouritism for the club’s best and fairest title, and has been talked up as a potential future Brownlow Medallist.

Like the Pies, the Swans endured a brief drop down the ladder, as illustrated by consecutive bottom-four finishes in 2019 and 2020, but with a fit Buddy back on deck as well as some new talent emerging through their ranks, have swiftly rocketed back up the ladder.

This has come despite veteran Josh Kennedy having not played a game since Round 10 due to injury, though whatever chances he has of a late-season comeback has been all but dashed after he suffered a left hamstring injury in the reserves over the weekend.

The reinvention of former No.1 draft pick Paddy McCartin, who endured four injury-ravaged seasons at St Kilda between 2015-18, as a defender playing alongside his brother Tom has been another highlight of their season.

While this will be the second consecutive daytime match between the sides (their last meeting was on a Saturday afternoon in Round 9 last season), it will be the first time they meet on a Sunday anywhere since 2009, and at the SCG since 1999, when Tony Lockett broke the game’s all-time goal kicking record.

The Swans have had a history of ending long winning streaks of their opposition at the SCG, most notably handing St Kilda their first loss of the 2004 season when Leo Barry restricted Fraser Gehrig to just two handpasses for the entire game.

A year earlier, they handed the Brisbane Lions their first loss of the 2003 season in Round 7, in what was Lions veteran Marcus Ashcroft’s 300th AFL game; the Swans were the only side to beat the Lions twice that year, also repeating the dose at the Gabba in Round 20.

They also put an end to North Melbourne’s nine-match winning streak in Round 10, 2016, before ultimately finishing that season as minor premiers themselves and eventually losing to the Western Bulldogs in the grand final.

Thus, the present-day Swans will have reason to believe that they can end Collingwood’s winning streak at 11, and given the luck the Pies have had in winning close matches this season, you’d think they’d be overdue for a loss before the finals.

Given that a double chance is at stake here, and the fact there are no NRL matches in town on Sunday, a large crowd will be expected at the SCG for the last regular season game in Sydney for the year, with both the Swans and Giants away in the final round.

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