Point of difference

By Michael Roberts | posted on October 8, 2020

WITH little more than a minute to go in Saturday night’s AFL elimination final, Albany-born Collingwood ruck Darcy Cameron was all that stood between Nic Naitanui and the West Coast Eagles snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

When Brody Mihocek snapped his third goal for the game at the 16-minute mark and gave the Magpies a 13-point lead, it looked like only a miracle would save the Eagles from an upset loss on their home deck.

But two quick goals to twin towers Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling then gave West Coast a chance to steal victory.

The Eagles had already scored five goals from centre clearances throughout the match, with Naitanui unstoppable in the ruck.

In an unlikely turn of events, Cameron was given more game time in the second half while first-choice big man Brodie Grundy sat on the bench.

The Collingwood coaching staff trusted Cameron to get the job done at that crucial last centre bounce, and the North Albany product didn’t disappoint.

After halving the ruck battle, Cameron got the ball to Collingwood mid-fielder Taylor Adams and the Pies went on to secure a famous victory – breaking the collective hearts of thousands of Western Australians.

Speaking to the Weekender on his return to Collingwood’s Queensland playing hub, Cameron said it was the best win of his footballing career.

“I’ve won a couple of colts grand finals, but on a big stage in a elimination final I think that takes the cake,” he said.

“It was a pretty amazing feeling when the siren went.”

As Cameron’s parents watched from the grandstands, the 25-year-old said he was feeling the pressure at that last centre bounce.

“Naitanui is a freak in those situations,” he said.

“I was very happy he didn’t climb over me and put it down either [Luke] Shuey or [Tim] Kelly’s throat.”

Returning for his first match since round 14, Cameron didn’t know he would be playing in the elimination final until the Thursday night before the game.

“I’m very thankful to the coaching staff and Bucks [Nathan Buckley] for putting faith in me at such a crucial time,” he said.

“It gives me a lot of confidence. It makes my move from Sydney justified to play in big moments like that and get the opportunity I thought I deserved.”

Speaking on Fox Footy’s AFL 360, Collingwood Coach Nathan Buckley said he didn’t plan for Cameron to spend extra time in the ruck, but decided to switch things up after Naitanui dominated Grundy in the first half.

“He [Cameron] did really well,” Buckley said.

“Not just in ruck contests but around the ground.”

Grundy only played 63 per cent of game time as speculation grows the All-Australian ruckman is carrying an injury.

With the game on the line in the final minute, Buckley said the Magpies coaching team deliberately chose Cameron to compete in the centre square.

“It was largely around Darcy’s capacity to get behind the ball,” he said.

“He’s shown that to be a real strength of his.

“We thought it was 50-50 for the ruck contest and then he could help us.”

Pundits are calling it one of the great AFL finals triumphs after Collingwood had to travel from Queensland to Perth and go through seven days of quarantine due to WA’s COVID protocols.

Heading into the elimination final, nearly every AFL tipster wrote the Pies off.

“A few of our boys say we play our best footy when everyone doesn’t back us,” Cameron said.

“It gives us a little spark of energy and a bit more want to win, because you want to prove people wrong.

“When your backs are against the wall, you like that pressure. We proved everyone wrong, which was a really nice feeling.”

Collingwood will face Geelong in a semi-final at the Gabba on Saturday night, with the winner booking themselves into a preliminary decider against Brisbane the following week.