Each year, there are some incredible stories as we enter the most exciting week of the year, with unlikely youngsters announcing themselves on the big stage, and players who have overcome injury heartbreak.
AFLPlayers.com.au highlight the most intriguing stories ahead of West Coast vs. Collingwood this Saturday afternoon.
Just three weeks ago, Will Schofield was sitting in the stands at Optus Stadium as the Eagles took to the field in their Qualifying Final against Collingwood. The 31-year-old wouldn’t have been blamed for thinking that his season was over, until Brad Sheppard fell to the ground clutching at his hamstring.
That unfortunate circumstance paved the way for one of the Eagles’ best clubman to book a ticket to the Preliminary Final, and now a potential Grand Final spot, with memories of 2015’s disappointment firmly on his mind.
Earlier this year, Schofield wrote a column about selection issues and the reality of not being selected for Round 1. Six months later, it is all about selection ahead of the biggest game of the season.
After moving to Collingwood from Fremantle and struggling to break into a strong Pies midfield, Mayne’s career looked to be over. He was facing his biggest career challenge to date and had become the scapegoat for frustrated Collingwood supporters.
After going back to the drawing board for season 2018 and focusing on his off-field passions to keep his mind from football, Mayne’s resurgence has seen him break into the Magpies midfield and become a reliable wingman opposite Tom Phillips.
In his first two seasons with the Eagles, Tom Cole registered a total of six games. In 2018, he has been a shining light, playing 20 games and growing into a consistent contributor across half-back, earning a late-season Rising Star nomination in the process.
Cole’s year got off to a tragic start with the passing of his father, Russell. However, he has been determined to make the most of his chance with the Eagles, with his presence on Grand Final day a highlight for his family back home in Victoria.
Just 12 months ago Brody Mihocek was celebrating a grand final win with Port Melbourne in the VFL and working as a labourer.
The mature-age recruit’s journey to the AFL has been arduous, with Mihocek moving from Tasmania to play suburban football before finding his feet in the VFL. Drafted to Collingwood with pick 22 in the 2018 rookie draft, Mihocek earned his AFL call-up on the back of a stellar finals series at the Borough.
Come Saturday night, the defender-turned-forward could be celebrating back-to-back premierships, albeit on a bigger stage.
The Rioli name is synonymous with Grand Finals, and an addition to the illustrious family this Saturday will provide an exciting talk point. Willie’s journey, however, is different to that of Cyril and Daniel in recent years, who were selected in the first round.
Willie was a mature-age selection in 2016, and was taken by the Eagles with pick 52 following what can only be described as an incredible transformation, losing 16kg after joining Glenelg in the SANFL in 2015.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that every team that has drafted a Rioli has won a premiership within three years, so if that is anything to go by, Willie will prove pivotal to Shannon Hurn holding the cup aloft.
It took 947 days for Brayden Sier to debut but now just his 12th game will be in a Grand Final. The big-bodied midfielder was drafted with Collingwood’s first pick in the 2015 draft but a string of unlucky and unusual impact injuries kept him out of the side.
Despite waiting so long to debut and Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley believing Sier didn’t prioritise his football highly enough, the former Marcellin College student never doubted his ability to make it at the elite level.
If it wasn’t for a double-hamstring injury to Adam Treloar halfway through the season, the door may not have opened for Sier but now that it has he is relishing the opportunity.
He showed plenty of promise in his five years with the Cats, but ultimately, Nathan Vardy couldn’t get his body right and needed a fresh start. That opportunity came with the Eagles at the end of 2016, and he hasn’t looked back.
The former Cat featured 22 times in 2017 while Nic Naitanui recovered from injury, but his opportunity appeared over once the superstar returned. However, another tragic ACL injury for Naitanui has opened the door for Vardy to assist Scott Lycett in the ruck, and he has grabbed his chance ever since.
Four years ago Mason Cox had never heard of AFL, let alone played the game. It wasn’t until he received an invite to the US International Combine in 2014 and watched YouTube highlights of the AFL that he knew what he was in for.
After impressing at the combine, Collingwood took a chance on the former basketballer, drafting him with pick 60 in the 2015 rookie draft.
Cox left behind his new job and family to move to Australia and try his hand at the unfamiliar sport. After two games in the VFL, Cox made his debut on ANZAC Day 2016 and cemented himself as a long-term project for Collingwood.
On the back of a career-best season and after finding his feet in the AFL, Cox has become the pillar of Collingwood’s new-look forward line.
‘Flyin’ Ryan’ has become a sensation in 2018, exciting football fans with his incredible marking ability, and the miraculous goals he’s been able to conjure.
He has managed to kick 20 majors in 12 games so far, and hasn’t been concerned with the finals pressure, impressing in both the Qualifying and Preliminary finals to date.
West Coast’s decision to draft the 21-year-old with the 26th selection in 2017 has been vindicated, with the mature-age Subiaco product adding a much-needed dimension and versatility to the Eagles’ forward line.
After partially rupturing his ACL in March, Goldsack’s season appeared to be over. Incredibly, a miraculous recovery and a strenuous rehab program saw the reliable defender return for Collingwood’s Qualifying Final against West Coast.
Goldsack has played in the Magpies three finals and will look to add another medal to his 2010 premiership.