Devastation to joy: Pies' rollercoaster finals announcement

THESE ARE unprecedented times for football and, adding to the confusion, Collingwood's AFLW players were this week victims of a perhaps unprecedented mix-up.

For about half an hour on Wednesday night, the Magpies mistakenly thought they'd been left out of the finals. 

After training at Olympic Park they gathered around a TV screen inside the Holden Centre to hear AFL chief Gillon McLachlan announce plans to start the men's season and progress immediately to finals in AFLW, as the League navigates the coronavirus pandemic.

Given the Pies had finished fourth in their conference, they prayed the top four teams from both conferences would be given the opportunity to compete in the finals.

There was the potential added bonus of the club making the AFLW finals for the first time after three years in the doldrums.

A rollercoaster of emotions ensued, as first-year coach Steve Symonds explained.

"As Gill was speaking we had messages coming through, and the first indication we got was that it was only going to be four teams in the finals (meaning two from each conference)," Symonds told

"We were all pretty devastated by that news because we felt that if there was going to be a finals series we should have been part of it.

"Based on our recent form and a reasonably favourable draw at the back end of the season, we felt we were on track to make the finals anyway. And there was also a possibility that we could have finished top, second or third.

"So we were very disappointed when we were told we hadn't made it."

As tears ran freely from forlorn faces around him, Symonds tried to soothe his charges and remind them how far they'd come.

"I spoke for five or 10 minutes to thank the players for their season and the progress we've made, and to say that all's not lost. I thanked the staff as well," he said.

But then those tears of disappointment became tears of joy. 

"Most of the players had left and then we started getting messages saying there may have been a misunderstanding and that we would be playing in the finals, which was an amazing feeling," Symonds said.

"By that stage most of the players had left and they'd made their plans to go down the pub together, so we had to call most of them to get them to come back in.

"The excitement in the room was fantastic.

"It was certainly an unusual way to find out you're in the finals."

It was just the latest unusual episode in an unusual week in the AFLW following games played in empty stadiums the previous weekend.

Early in the week Symonds had prepared for various possibilities.

"I started scouting three teams: (Conference A leader) North Melbourne, (Conference B leader) Fremantle because there was a rumour we might play teams in our own conferences, and if they didn't go with finals we would have played against St Kilda in round seven," he said.

There was also the possibility of not playing at all if the League decided to postpone or cancel the rest of the season, or if they were left out of the finals.

The vibe at training before the League announcement was "a bit different". 

"There was a lot of uncertainty and I guess in the back of the minds of some players and staff was, 'Are we training for nothing? Are we training for a final? Or are we training for a final round game?'" Symonds said.

"So I set the tone fairly early and said, 'Make sure we prepare as though we're playing a final this week.'

"We're well prepared."

Not only are the Magpies playing a final but they will face a mighty opponent, North Melbourne, in a cut-throat clash at Ikon Park on Saturday afternoon. The Kangaroos finished a game and, outrageously, more than 100 per cent clear atop the Conference A ladder.

The mind games have started. The Pies briefly had their finals dream ripped away from them and now there's a sense they have nothing to lose, while flag fancy North carries the weight of expectation.

"As a coach you're always looking for any spark you can get within your group, so that could be some form of motivational factor," Symonds said.

"From North's perspective, they've been considered the flag favourite, even coming into the season. They've got a great list and they're well coached and the way they go about it is great, so for them to be put straight into a knockout final brings some pressure with it.

"We've been all about learning and building, so regardless of how many finals we get to play we want to lay everything on the line and take any experiences we can from it."