AFL great says Eagles will be wary of Pies ambush
AS a player before a big game, it is bad enough when you know that your opposition is very good and perhaps, honestly, that they is better than your team.
But you keep the faith and believe in your team plan. You believe you can take down that better team, pull them apart with strategy and execute that strategy.
You can visualise that better team with their strengths and weaknesses. In your mind's eye, you can see how you will win.
But believe me, even worse that knowing your rivals are good is not knowing just how good they are.
When Richmond won their way into last year's grand final, Adelaide had no idea what they was up against.
The Crows had knocked over Richmond quite comfortably during the regular season but by grand final day they met a very different team. And the Crows were oblivious.
The previous year, the Western Bulldogs were wounded as they arrived in September, but by grand final day Sydney knew they were facing a juggernaut.
The Bulldogs were on a serious roll and the Sydney knew they had improved monumentally, but they did not know just how much.
Your coaches can study the opposition, they can plot their playbook, they can identify who your direct opponent is going to be, they can even tell you the order of your next opponent, should you get on top.
They can tell you which side to stand on against specific players at stoppages.
They will explain that the difference between a win and a loss can be as simple as being half a metre out when taking up a starting position against certain players.
But one thing they cannot do is truly and honestly let you know just how much the opposition has improved since your last meeting.
They can mouth the words, "They're playing a little differently and they've improved", but as a player on the receiving end of this information, you are uncomfortable because you simply do not know whether their improvement means they have gone past you or not.
You have to feel it for yourself and that can happen only out on the ground.
The Eagles will have waited and watched for 20 days as Collingwood have grown before their eyes.
It's a benefit having grand final experience, but nothing can prepare you for what will and may get thrown at you on grand fFinal day.
After your first contest, your pulse will understandably be through the roof, but what used to get me was that I could feel my pulse striking at the base of my brain.
Each beat forced a momentary headache like pain into the underside of my forehead.
It went on at quick tempo for as long as it would take to involve myself in the next contest.
At the end of that next contest, the headache pulse would return, but now it would sound more like a snare drum and it was accompanied by a completely dry mouth.
But to call for a trainer to get a drink to you would take your eyes away from the contest. So you let the moment ride because you've pushed all your chips in.
In the next moment of partial rest, you will think to yourself: "What have we got ourselves into? They were meant to have improved, but not by this much."
Even though the coach warned you, it can still feel like an ambush.
The Eagles were excellent in dismembering Melbourne last week. But it was something that we could foresee.
The Eagles were in the zone and the Demons were miles off the standard.
But Collingwood, their performance was as close to perfection as you can get in this day and age of football.
And it is not as if Richmond didn't turn up and clock on. The Tigers' first 20 minutes was very Richmond-like.
It is just that after that, Collingwood made them look bad.
The Magpies had improved so much, it made the in-form Tigers succumb and look almost meek. That was astonishing.
Collingwood has drastically improved in the past 20 days. Now it is up to West Coast to find out by how much.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
JORDAN DE GOEY
Made a mess of Alex Rance and, isolated as the deep forward, his power and pace will have taken up a lot of the Eagles' planning. With qualifying final opponent Brad Sheppard out injured, does Adam Simpson entrust 21-year-old Tom Cole with one of the biggest jobs of the game?
One of several Eagles desperate to atone for a woeful performance in the 2015 Grand Final. He could rip this one apart if he gets decent supply. If, as expected, Tyson Goldsack plays on him, he will concede 3cm and 10kg to the hulking forward, who kicked four in the first half of the demolition of Melbourne.
The performance of Eagles ruckmen Nathan Vardy and Scott Lycett has been the untold story of this finals series. They blunted Grundy in the qualifying final, nullified Max Gawn in the preliminary final and will give Grundy plenty to think about tomorrow. The Collingwood big man has been incredible, but this is his time to shine.