Collingwood's Travis Varcoe reacts after kicking the opening goal of Saturday's grand final. Picture: Julian Smith/AAP
Collingwood's Travis Varcoe reacts after kicking the opening goal of Saturday's grand final. Picture: Julian Smith/AAP

Defeated Magpie Travis Varcoe salutes late sister Maggie

After an AFL epic as tight as a tourniquet, Travis Varcoe went for a wander.

As the final siren sounded on an astonishing West Coast premiership, Collingwood's sentimental favourite Varcoe walked aimlessly by himself.

Then the vanquished Varcoe looked to the skies, saluting his sister Maggie, who had died just four weeks ago after a freak accident when playing footy.

After his personal tribute, Varcoe went and picked up three Collingwood teammates who had sunk to the ground, weighed down by defeat - just as his teammates had helped pick him up after his sister's death.

Varcoe then graciously entered the celebratory Eagles mob, shaking hands with, among others, Dom Sheed.

Sheed and his left foot had just entered footy folklore.

With less than two minutes remaining of the nerve-jangler, Sheed put the Eagles in front with what was the match-winning goal.

Stationed near an MCG boundary line, Sheed threaded a 35m set shot to give a remarkable grand final a remarkable end.

The Eagles soared to victory despite conceding the initial five goals of the game - the first booted by Varcoe.

Varcoe's goal on the run triggered a Collingwood scoring spree: five goals to nothing in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Just 22 minutes in, the Pies led by 28 points.

Collingwood held the lead for all but nine minutes. But they were five points down at the final siren of a ripping contest that produced heroes aplenty - from West Coast's saviour Sheed to his mate Luke Shuey, who deservedly was wearing the Norm Smith medal after collecting 34 disposals and laying eight tackles.

Josh Kennedy booted three goals and two behinds. Picture: Getty Images
Josh Kennedy booted three goals and two behinds. Picture: Getty Images

Eagles backmen Tom Barrass and skipper Shannon Hurn were stoic. Forward Josh Kennedy was an ever-present threat, kicking three goals from five scoring shots.

And consider Kennedy's attacking sidekick, Jack Darling.

For three years, Darling had lived with a footy devil on his shoulders.

For 25 glorious minutes on Saturday, he played like a man possessed.

Darling's third quarter helped turn the tide: he took six of his seven marks in a stunning 23-minute span as the Eagles surged to within striking distance.

Darling's feats banished his demons from the 2015 grand final when he was widely pilloried for dropping his head, and dropping a mark, in a heavy loss to Hawthorn. Three years on, he can hold his head high.

- AAP