Footy Fix: Bad blunders, unsung heroes and THAT Nick Daicos moment – the 232-second story of another Pies-Blues classic


Sometimes after 120 minutes of blood, sweat, tears and momentum swings, our game makes it so that none of that really matters.

With three minutes and 52 seconds on the clock at the MCG on Friday night, that was the ball game staring Carlton and Collingwood in the face. None of the Pies’ inside 50 dominance, or the Blues’ intercepting brilliance, mattered anymore. Scores were tied, the game was afoot, and four precious premiership points were about to be decided in the ultimate pressure cooker in front of 88,362 screaming fans.

This the story of those three minutes and 52 seconds: the mistakes made, the unsung heroes, and most of all, the moment of magic from a man who might be the best 21-year old we’ve ever seen to win another close one for the Magpies.


— AFL (@AFL) May 3, 2024

It becomes clear in the first 10 seconds of the denoument that this is going to be a contrast in styles: as Sam Walsh gathers Marc Pittonet’s tap and is immediately consumed by a Daicos tackle to spill the ball free, Blake Acres chooses to hold his space outside the contest while his opposite winger, Steele Sidebottom, closes in on the contest.

The Blues, as was their way so successfully in tight matches across the start of 2024, will be playing these last minutes with all structures intact, hoping cool heads will win the day. The Pies, meanwhile, are employing their even more successful ploy that has made them clutch kings for two years now: attack the footy, and swarm.

Sidebottom’s presence at the contest means it’s four Pies to three Blues when Jack Crisp, fighting for the loose footy with Patrick Cripps while Scott Pendlebury tackles the Carlton skipper, somehow frees the ball from the dispute.

It’s at this point that a second, key observation can be made: the Blues are Daicos-conscious. As Sidebottom receives from Crisp, stepping back and over a despairing arm from Cripps to try and trip him up for a professional free kick, Matt Kennedy momentarily abandons his spot on defensive side of the contest to close in on Daicos.

It’s only a snap decision, but it’s enough: Sidebottom sees his move, decides against a handball, and dashes through the gap Kennedy has left. It means he’s gained more metres running than he would have from a stationary start, while also giving him the time to choose where he wants to put the footy, rather than throwing it on the boot and hoping for the best.

The play comes to nothing in the end: the Blues’ defensive structure holds firm behind the ball, the Pies keep scrambling, and eventually a Daicos kick inside 50 is marked by Lewis Young to kill the threat.

But with Collingwood minus two of their best inside midfielders in Jordan De Goey and Tom Mitchell, against an imposing Blues on-ball brigade that has by and large dominated at the coalface for most of the night, to get a win like what Sidebottom has achieved is notable – and, as it turns out, prescient.

Next, it’s the Blues’ turn to attack, and it’s in this play that they produce the footy the Pies have denied them since quarter time: streaming down the wing, Nic Newman drives the ball to half-forward, where Harry McKay, influential early but with less influence the longer the game has gone on, takes a strong contested mark ahead of Billy Frampton some 70 metres out from goal.

Ahead of him, as he wheels and looks to send the ball inside 50, the Pies are scrambling to set up: still, there are loose pockets everywhere, players streaming towards goal, and most dangerously of all, Charlie Curnow one out deep against an out of sorts Darcy Moore. If the kick hits the right spot, no Magpies will be able to arrive to chop him out, as they’ve done so expertly for much of the evening.

But McKay makes a critical mistake: he looks to thread a pass to the leading Corey Durdin in between four converging Pies, a kick so difficult not even Nick Daicos would expect it to work out all that often. Worse still, it’s high-risk, with the Pies having rebounded strongly from spots like this all night through their speed and dare, cornerstones of their premiership run.

Worst of all, it’s a poor kick, nowhere near where Durdin was, never mind where he was leading to. He’s caught hopelessly out of position and only able to watch as Harvey Harrison, who has pushed back hard from a wing to give the Pies an extra man, takes the saving mark.

The key difference between the Pies and Blues all night is in how they react to the intercept marks each team has taken. A minute before, Young’s first thought is to go back, compose himself, soak up some time, and go long to a contest.

Harrison instantly plays on, fanning the ball wide and into space for Oleg Markov to mark. The speedy Pie is instantly away, bounding outside 50 and passing perfectly to Will Hoskin-Elliott on the far wing, a kick that needed to be perfect given the presence of two Blues in the vicinity. He, in turn, passes over the top to Crisp, and only now do the Magpies stop and compose themselves.

Two minutes and 15 seconds remain.

Crisp goes long and in the direction of Jamie Elliott at half-forward, where Alex Cincotta does well to spoil and force it over the line. It’s the first of five stoppages that will take place in the Pies’ attacking 50 over the next 60 seconds, slowly but surely setting the stage for what is to come.

The Pies’ stoppage structure is noticeable at the first boundary throw-in: winger Josh Daicos is only five metres off the back of the congestion, in no man’s land if the Blues win it and kick it long but perfectly placed if the Pies do and feed it out the back. That’s no coincidence – the Magpies will back themselves in here.

The second thing to watch out for is what Scott Pendlebury does: ostensibly manning Cripps, his first move as the ball is thrown back in is to step in between Walsh and Daicos, putting a perfect screen on to give his younger teammate a clear run at the ball.

As an aside, how good do you have to be for a near-400-game champion of football, who has racked up more disposals than anyone in the game’s history and is one of the best decision-makers the game has seen, to be blocking for you?

On this occasion, though, the timing is out: Daicos gets free, but the throw-in hangs in the air too long, meaning by the time Pittonet and Darcy Cameron compete for the tap, Cripps has had time to squeeze in on Daicos and get between him and the ball. Still, it shows how hyper-focussed the Blues are on stopping the Pies doing what they want – and in the process, their two best ball-winners aren’t hunting the Sherrin anymore.

With the ball loose at ground level, Pendlebury soccers it backwards out of the congestion – he knows the Pies have the extra man in Josh Daicos behind the ball. It works – Crisp gathers, handballs to the No.7, whose attempt to hit up a target while tightroping the boundary only leads to a scrubbed ball inside 50, which Bobby Hill gathers but is quickly corralled over the line.

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By stoppage two, Walsh is determined to not let Daicos away again: five metres off the ball, he pressures and harrasses the Pies’ No.35, refusing to give him an inch of space and not paying the ball the slightest of interest. This is one of the best midfielders in the game, recast as a tagger.

The rest of his teammates force another stoppage, with Elliott this time the danger man running through the contest, but unable to gather as Cincotta and Matt Cottrell force the ball over the line.

Ditto at the third stoppage: Walsh tries to push Daicos away from the ball, loses touch with him, and the Magpie sneaks out the back. This time, though, it doesn’t work, because the hit out is in front of the two ruckmen, meaning Walsh has arrived at the perfect place to gather from Cincotta, and, perhaps with a second more time than he might have had had he checked, the superstar hoofs the ball back outside 50.

It’s the kind of kick that usually comes straight back in, but Tom De Koning does well to force a draw with Moore, and from the resultant scramble Durdin, who has pushed all the way up to the stoppage, is tackled just inside the line by Josh Daicos. The ball is quickly knocked over it from the ball-up, meaning boundary throw-in number four.

Fourth times the charm for Collingwood, as it would transpire.

Daicos has a plan to shake Walsh: he gives himself five metres’ worth of clearance from the bodies around the ball, knowing the Blue will follow him, paying no mind to any defensive obligations he might have. He has one singular purpose: win the footy, and win the game for his team.

His timing is better than at the first-throw-in, but still not perfect: he dashes to the front of the ruckmen with a metre of precious space on Walsh, but arrives a fraction early, while the ball is yet to come down. It forces him to decelerate, which allows Walsh to catch up and subtly shunt him forward, away from the ball and out of harm’s way… for now.

It’s here, as they both run around the ruckman and circle back towards a ball in dispute, that Walsh makes the most miniscule of mistakes: he sees Adam Cerra over the ball, and assumes the Blues are about to win it. His gaze, up until then fixed on Daicos alone, now shifts towards the ball, the instincts honed from a young age to get his hands on the footy wherever possible proving hard to shake.

But Cerra can’t get a clean grip on the ball before he’s tackled by Crisp; the ball is knocked free, and for a split second, hangs in the air. Daicos sees this, and begins his dash forward.

Beneath the ball competes Cottrell and Harrison, and the younger man wins: the Magpie knows taking possession means an instant tackle, so he does what the Pies do better than anyone else when the game is on the line and they’re looking to win it rather than hold on. He whacks the ball forward, into open space.

It’s all Daicos needs to work his magic.

Breaking down the Nick Daicos game-winner into two key parts ????
– the “cover role” played by Adam Cerra
– the “split second” where Daicos gets separation from Sam Walsh#ArmchairExperts

— 7AFL (@7AFL) May 3, 2024

Daicos isn’t the only Pie who suddenly finds themselves goal side of their Blues opponents: both Crisp and Patrick Lipinsi are in a similar boat, with the Blues having sucked up towards the contest and left a patch of space clear. But there’s only one man with the speed to get there first.

Daicos gathers at full tilt, mind racing. And at 21 years of age, he has the poise and the composure to not blaze straightaway, not while he remains adjacent to the congestion. He takes three more steps, tightening the angle towards goal but into free air, past a blocking Brody Mihocek, balances himself, and lets fly.

A closer analysis of the stoppage leading to Nick Daicos’ game winning goal…

— 7AFL (@7AFL) May 3, 2024

It is footballing perfection. There are some players quick enough to shake a tag like he did Walsh; some players smart enough to nail the timing as utterly as he has in making his break for the loose ball; some players good enough to kick a freakish goal like this one to put the Pies in front.

But there is nobody in the game right now, and probably no one since prime Gary Ablett Junior was running around a decade ago, who could do all three of those things, and make it look so effortless to boot. So effortless, in fact, that it almost gets lost how absolutely extraordinary this winning goal is.


There are 63 seconds left.

Nick Daicos!

It had to be Nick Daicos!#AFLBluesPies

— 7AFL (@7AFL) May 3, 2024

The proof of how hard that timing is to nail comes at the next centre bounce, where Matt Kennedy tries a similar trick: he bolts free of Crisp, dashes past the ruckmen… and is a half-second too slow and a half-metre too wide in his run, because as the hitout lands in Scott Pendlebury’s lap, he can only helplessly fly by, hamstrings screaming to apply the brakes.

Pendlebury goes for territory, but more importantly, the boundary. Whether or not it should have been paid against him for insufficient intent as the ball trickles across the line at half-forward is a reasonable discussion point, but the Pies have had a swathe of success under Craig McRae in banking on umpires to not be willing to make tough decisions in the dying minutes of tight games.

It’s the same for Daicos again at the boundary throw-in: with the ball loose, he dives on it, and even before Cripps despairingly lunges on him to give away a free kick, he begins to employ the classic Pie tactic of stoppage-juggling – knocking the ball just far enough away from his person to avoid being pinged for holding the ball, but close enough that he can still scrabble for it and keep it in nice and tight for repeat stoppages.

That was INSANE!

Enjoy the Last Two Minutes of Carlton v Collingwood thanks to OMO.#AFLBluesPies

— AFL (@AFL) May 3, 2024

The Blues again err, allowing Daicos to chip over the top to his brother, milking more precious time off the clock and allowing a slightly deeper entry. Josh, after taking his full allotment and then some, goes long, deep, and as close to the boundary in the forward pocket as he can without risking kicking it out on the full.

A despairing Weitering gathers the ball, looking to keep it in play, but the Pies swarm: three of them bring him down. Ditto Kennedy from the next ball-up, swamped, with the intent not to win a holding the ball free, but to simply give him no chance of releasing it.

By the time Pittonet goes for broke and smashes the ball into the central corridor from the next ball-up, it’s too late: five seconds are left. But even then, it’s of course a Collingwood player, John Noble in this instance, who gathers it, letting himself be tackled and contorting his body to make it look like he’s trying to get a hand free to pass while making no actual arm movements themselves.


Collingwood win by a goal!#AFLBluesPies

— 7AFL (@7AFL) May 3, 2024


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Sometimes that’s what a footy game boils down to: 232 seconds, the occasional mistake, a team desperately trying to save the game while the other looks to win it.

Oh, and a moment of utter, indescribable magic from the best player on the ground. That helps, too.

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