By Nick Creely
Narre Warren legend Michael Collins knew that Friday’s grand final against Berwick was going to be his last game.
The last time he wore his beloved black and white colours as a player, the last time he rose above a pack to take a soaring grab, and the last time he could impact a contest with a moment of bravery for his club.
Whether ‘Collo’ walked away with yet another premiership medallion around his neck or not, the Magpies legend just wanted to have one last crack – body willing or not – to help get his team over the line and enjoy the mateship that’s been the cornerstone of his stunning success.
In a fairy tale ending, the famous number 25 for the Magpies ended his football career with his seventh senior flag – adding to his medallions of 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013- to put him to the top of the pack in club history, contributing strongly until the final siren in his 298th senior game, throwing himself at every contest and providing some moments laced with his trademark class.
One of those moments came when the game was at its hottest, taking a stunning grab on the paint of 50, rising high and sending the Magpie faithful into raptures.
“Yeah that’s it for me,” he told the Gazette with a beer in his hand.
“Either way I was going to be happy to be honest – if someone had said to me at the start of the year that you’d play in six flags, I’d have walked away stoked.
“Seven is even better; I can’t really complain with the success that I’ve had.
“I’m pretty lucky, it’s my 11th grand final, but I’ll take that (7-4 record in grand finals).”
While Collins said the premierships are a bonus, and something he can reflect on with pride after his career, the relationships formed over a life dedicated to Narre Warren is something that he will hold dear to his heart forever.
“It’s something that’s probably kept me at the club, my mates, it’s the reason I’ve stuck around to be honest,” he said.
“My brothers and family have stayed around, but they’ve always been there supporting me.
“I’ve never had any reason to leave.”
Collins admitted that 2019 was extremely difficult with his knees and the rigours of football, and hardly trained all year to help him get through.
But to get to the biggest stage one more time was the dangling carrot, and to get another chance at Berwick was the ultimate, with Collins speaking of his side’s determination to right the wrongs of what’s held them back from overcoming the Wickers in previous encounters.
“Yeah it was (worth it), it took a long time, and obviously losing to them twice in a row, it was great to hold on,” he said.
“In the game two weeks ago, with the amount of scoring shots we had we probably should have been a lot further in front, and it didn’t happen, and they got us on the rebound.
“So this one, we knew if we could just put the score on the board, we’d be able to hold on.”
Departing Narre Warren coach Matt Shinners was one of many to praise the legendary Magpie after the game, talking of his impact and determination to win at all costs despite clearly being hampered by his knees.
“He’s been really struggling with his knees, and you get to that point in your career where your mind is willing, but your body isn’t,” he said.
“He just said, ‘I need one more crack at it’, we put him in the middle, and that was the thing, just blocking, staying in the contest, being patient and watching the ball.
“Collo went forward, helped block and open up the game for his teammates.”