Cameron Ling and Cameron Mooney deserve to go out on a high.
Photo: Getty Images
For millions of footy supporters, there is a two-part answer to the simple question, "Who do you follow?"
"[Insert team name] - and whoever's playing Collingwood."
Fortunately for us all, that's just the way that the Magpie Army likes it. Less fortunately for those predisposed to all things black and white, it means that their grand final opponents will enjoy the backing of most neutral fans.
That's the first reason that a Collingwood loss in Saturday's clash against Geelong is good for the game - it will make the rest of us happy when the final siren sounds. And there are plenty more reasons to come.
No neutral fans will be happier than Carlton, Essendon and Richmond supporters if the Pies get done - and that's without taking into account the mutual loathing that has existed for decades.
Defeat would extend Collingwood's record total of grand final losses to 26 - a dozen more than the Bombers' 14, the Blues' 13 and the Tigers' 11. Similarly, Essendon and Carlton fans will be equally thrilled by another year of not having to share their record of 16 VFL/AFL premierships, one more than the Magpies, who will have played in 14 more grand finals for their tally of 15 wins.
The delight of Geelong fans will be palpable if their team salutes on Saturday, and with good reason. Few objective observers of the game would deny this marvellous group of players one last taste of glory before several of their seasoned campaigners hang up their boots. But for some errant goalkicking and a wonderful five-minute burst from Stuart Dew, the Cats could have won three successive premierships from 2007-09.
While victory this year can never make up for the disappointment of that defeat against Hawthorn, it would ensure Cameron Mooney, Cameron Ling, Matthew Scarlett and their mates enjoy a statistical legacy that more accurately reflects their contribution to the game. Two flags from a five-year period of dominance seems scant reward for a group that transformed Australian football when it seemed mired in the tactical and aesthetic mess that was the flood.
Similarly, few could argue that rookie senior coach Chris Scott does not deserve the ultimate prize for his feat in cajoling the ageing Cats into another flag tilt. At the end of 2010, Geelong appeared tired, slow and tactically outdated. The forward press as played by St Kilda and Collingwood proved a successful counter to Mark Thompson's run and gun game plan, and Bomber conceded in the wake of a preliminary final defeat that he had struggled to change his players' approach.
This tactical malaise, combined with the post-season departure of Thompson and champion midfielder Gary Ablett, made the top job at Sleepy Hollow appear something of a poisoned chalice. But Scott was having none of it, harnessing the Cats' famous appetite for victory and blending the old stagers with a handful of newcomers to reinvigorate the team. If Scott raises the cup with skipper Ling on Saturday, he will be just the 13th coach to win the premiership in his first year, the first since Alan Joyce at Hawthorn in 1988 and just the third in the past 73 years.
There is an argument to be made, fuelled largely by sentiment, that outgoing Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse deserves to leave the senior coaching ranks on a high. But Mick has already tasted the ultimate success three times from seven prior grand finals. His legacy is secure and there is precious little to be gained from a non-Collingwood perspective.
It is far better for the game as a whole that the Cats - who might not make it this far again in the near future - win on Saturday. They have been undefeated in two meetings with the Pies in 2011, suggesting they have the minor premier's measure. Why shouldn't the better team take the spoils?
In any case, the Collingwood squad is relatively young and a loss would renew the hunger in the group. With plenty of time up the Magpies' metaphorical sleeve, only a brave punter would bet against them reaching the big dance in 2012 - where, with a little luck, they will thrill the rest of us again with a record 27th grand final defeat.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.