Collingwood players celebrate their 2023 AFL grand final win.
Collingwood have claimed their 16th AFL premiership with a four-point win over Brisbane at the MCG. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS
  • Australian rules football

Magpies snare sweet 16th flag after epic grand final

Shayne Hope September 30, 2023

Collingwood have won one of the all-time great grand finals to seal a record-equalling 16th AFL premiership, drawing level with fierce rivals Carlton and Essendon.

Bobby Hill kicked a career-best four goals in the Magpies’ epic 12.18 (90) to 13.8 (86) triumph in front of 100,024 fans on Saturday at the MCG.

The result came despite the loss of key defender Nathan Murphy to concussion before halftime.

It was Collingwood’s first premiership since 2010, following heartbreaking grand final defeats in 2011 and 2018.

It also erased some of the Magpie Army’s pain from losses to Brisbane on the same stage in 2002 and 2003, and franked the club’s return as a competition powerhouse on and off the field.

“Sixteen is nice,” Collingwood chief executive and 1990 premiership player Craig Kelly told AAP.

“There’s a nice little spot in the new AIA Vitality Centre (for the cup) and it will be good to have 16 square the ledger.”

Craig McRae became the Magpies’ sixth premiership coach in his second year at the helm, capping “the best day of my life” after his wife gave birth to the couple’s daughter just a few hours before the game.

Hill was a unanimous choice as winner of the Norm Smith Medal, kicking all of his goals in a scintillating first-half display, and took a spectacular mark on Brandon Starcevich’s shoulders.

Fellow off-season recruit Tom Mitchell (24 disposals, seven clearances) shone, as did veteran pair Scott Pendlebury (23, six, one goal) and Steele Sidebottom (20, three, one).

Jack Crisp (25 touches, two goals), Jordan De Goey (18, two) and Nick Daicos (29 disposals) were also influential, and captain Darcy Moore was important after halftime in his 150th game.

There were 10 lead changes throughout the tight four-quarter battle, during which neither side led by more than 13 points.

Collingwood were almost left to rue inaccuracy but responded to Brisbane speedster Charlie Cameron’s go-ahead goal in the final quarter with goals from De Goey and Sidebottom in time-on.

Joe Daniher dragged the Lions back within a kick with 1:41 left to play but the Magpies held on in yet another thriller after two seasons littered with close contests.

“I know last year everyone thought it was a bit of a fluke,” McRae said.

“There’s some bounces of the ball that hit the post, we get that. We’re not saying this is a perfect science.

“But there’s starting to be a bit of a trend now, don’t you think? We’re pretty good at these clutch moments.”

A three-time premiership player with Brisbane before turning to coaching, 50-year-old McRae added: “On reflection, it was one of the best games I’ve ever been involved with.”

Daniher and Cameron kicked three goals each for the Lions and Zac Bailey slotted a pair of stunners in the first first quarter.

Keidean Coleman (26 touches), Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale (21 touches, five clearances), Josh Dunkley (21, five) and Hugh McCluggage (21, four, two goals) also fought hard in a losing cause.

It was a heartbreaking end for Brisbane in their fifth-straight finals campaign and first season decider since 2004.

“The team that won today probably is the team that should’ve won, given they had more shots on goal,” Lions coach Chris Fagan said.

“Having said that, we had our chances. People always talk about this in finals – moments.

“They kick a goal right at the end of the first quarter, they kick a goal right at the end of the second quarter – those sorts of moments.

“When you lose a game by four points you look back at those things and think if only we had’ve defended a little bit better then.”