18/05/2024

Eliza James kicked a career-best four goals in the elimination final. (Photo: AFL)

Eliza James’ four goal performance has propelled Collingwood into a semi-final, in a break out performance from the 19-year-old.

The young forward has already provided plenty of highlights this season, particularly with a match-winner in a narrow win over St Kilda in Round 6.

She showed that she’s made for the big stage in her finals debut, pulling the lead away in the second quarter with two of her majors.

James lit up the first half, kicking Collingwood’s first three goals of the game on the way to a career best four majors, finishing with four out of the five goals the Magpies scored.

Coach Steve Symonds touched on the youngster’s performance post-game, in a game that was ultimately decided by under a kick.

“That was Eliza’s first final, because last year she was out with COVID,” he said.

“Maybe she’s a big stage player, and if she keeps doing that every final that’d be great.”

It was the spark Collingwood needed in front of goals after a poor past two weeks saw it kick just five goals in dismal defeats to Brisbane and North Melbourne.

Early doors it was Ash Brazill, Jordyn Allen and Ruby Schleicher who played important roles supplying James with the opportunity to score.

Brazill had three first quarter inside 50s, while Allen had two. Schleicher started behind the footy, in a brilliant tactical decision after the defender has spent most games in season seven in the middle.

The Pies constantly looked for aggressive, inboard kicks, led by the rebounding defenders and Mikala Cann and Jaimee Lambert out of the middle.

The Dogs rallied in the second half however, threatening to steal the win late when Kirsty Lamb marked 30 metres out directly in front and converted the goal to bring the margin back within a single goal with just under three minutes to play.

They threatened again in the final seconds as Elisabeth Georgostathis looked to hit up Jess Fitzgerald inside 50, but an Imogen Barnett intercept mark saved the day for the Magpies as the clock ticked down.

Minutes earlier, it was the defensive hand of Joanna Lin on the goal line that denied what would have been a Heidi Woodley goal.

“I’m really happy we got through. Three quarters of the game we dominated, and obviously the Dogs came back and put a bit of pressure,” Symonds said.

“The players probably got a little too defensive rather than still trying to take on the game a little bit. Lesson’s learnt. If we kick 10 goals five, we wouldn’t be in that position.”

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The defenders locked in and committed to their structure, led by experienced campaigner Stacey Livingstone.

Normally a rock-sold full back, the 34-year-old pushed up the ground to record four inside 50s and four rebound 50s along with her 16 disposals and seven tackles.

After getting exposed defensively against the Lions and Roos, it was a return to form for the Pies, despite giving up four goals in the second half.

“Our defence has been really solid all year. I really thought against Brisbane last week our defence was sound in certain areas,” Symonds said.

“Red time last week, I think we had five goals kicked against us. When you fix up one end, the other end starts going down.

“[Livingstone] is an experienced player, and stood up at the right time. Experienced players just know how to take the heat out of the game at the right time.

“We’ve got some senior players in our team, but we’ve got a real lot of younger players as well. The EJs and the Linnys will learn from the Stacey Livingstones out there about what to do in certain situations.”

Livingstone takes a mark on Sunday. (Photo: AFL)

While the Pies advance onwards, it’s the end of the road for the Bulldogs after making their first finals series since their 2018 premiership.

They can be proud of their second half and the comeback, but let themselves down with a poor start against quality opposition.

Collingwood will face Adelaide at Unley Oval at 3:40pm AEDT on Saturday, November 12 for a shot a preliminary final meeting with Brisbane.

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