Lightweight Bobby Hill dominates heavyweight contest

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Dismiss anyone who tries to argue the game has become sanitised without a hearing.

The game is as tough now – perhaps more – than it has been at anytime in the past five decades.

The opening 15 minutes of the qualifying final proved that as Melbourne midfielder Angus Brayshaw was taken from the ground on a stretcher after being knocked out when Collingwood enforcer Brayden Maynard’s shoulder collected him in the head.

It was not thuggery from Maynard – although those Demon fans booing him may have argued otherwise – but it was brutal as he turned his body and connected with Brayshaw after leaving the ground in an attempt to smother the helmeted Demon’s kick. A tribunal will likely decide the Collingwood defender’s fate while the Demons’ coach Simon Goodwin was left to rue the loss of Brayshaw for the game.

The aftermath: Jack Viney remonstrates with Brayden Maynard.Credit: Paul Rovere

It meant he could not deploy Christian Petracca up forward as much as he hoped and with goals hard to come by, the cascading effect of the incident was that it disadvantaged Melbourne.

“You lose one of your best midfielders you have got to replace them,” Goodwin said.

With the atmosphere already at fever pitch after a two-week build-up to a game between traditional rivals where the prize of winning is a home preliminary final berth and the desolation of losing is accompanied by the thought of a final eight days later and electrical storms floating around the state, it was difficult to imagine the mood could become even more intense.

But in front of 92,636 fans, the third-largest qualifying final crowd on record, nothing was going to quieten the spirits that were rising through the night sky.

Somehow the tension rose as the stands bellowed and the ghosts of Des Healey and Frank Adams arose as Jack Viney took on Maynard and a melee erupted.

As the players refocused their eyes on the ball and speed became as big a weapon as brawn it was the lightest player on the ground, the 66-kilogram Bobby Hill, who stepped out of his weight division to put his stamp on the heavyweight bout where it mattered most with the first two goals of the match and a handy goal in the third quarter.

It meant the Demons were chasing Collingwood for the rest of the match as the initial forays went the Magpies way.

Bobby Hill was highly influential.Credit: AFL Photos / Getty Images

As the first player traded last season, he cost the Magpies a future second round pick. All most Magpie fans knew of him was that he had played a part in destroying the Magpies’ chances in the 2019 preliminary final when playing for the Giants in just his eighth game.

But they were soon aware of him as were the Demons when he hit the first three contests of the match like a pinball. He dragged Jake Lever down in the goal square to put doubt in the defender’s mind before he earned a free kick to kick the opening goal of the game.

While Hill was placing himself in Collingwood hearts another recruit Dan McStay was battling with the Demons defenders in the first half and struggling to make an impression. But his moment arrived like a cold front midway through the third quarter as he juggled a chest mark and kicked straight.

With confidence restored, he then ran back with the flight of the ball to take a second chest mark and kick his second goal. Imprint made. Debate about his value partially over.

It was disheartening for the Demons who fell back into a hole that has only been closed during 2021. They could not convert their inside 50s into goals.

With a makeshift forward line that consisted of Bayley Fritsch and Tom McDonald as their key forwards – two players with one game between them since round 16 – the Demons followed global trends with their low productivity.

They kept coming as they attempted to come back against the comeback kings, with Melbourne champion Christian Petracca lighting up the game with 10 possessions in the last quarter. But they wasted chance after chance with three vital kicks going out on the full in a desperate last quarter. Collingwood’s lead was less than 15 points for most of the final 15 minutes, but the Demons could not breach the wall despite recording 69 inside 50s to Collingwood’s 37.

But the Magpies left Melbourne with a huge hill to climb if they want to make the grand final, and it was due to Hill who kicked a third of Collingwood’s goals while former Collingwood ruckman Brodie Grundy sat in the stands in his Melbourne gear.

It was a night to make the Magpies’ list management team look like geniuses with McRae praising them post-match, but the Demons have not given up with both Goodwin and the players remaining positive.

“We’ll bounce back. We’ll reset ourselves,” Goodwin said.

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