Fair to say Craig McRae’s 50th birthday will go down as a memorable one.
Also his 50th game as Collingwood coach, McRae celebrated in style, successfully guiding the club to a grand final in just his second season in charge after a hard-fought one-point preliminary final win over GWS on Friday night.
All Collingwood staff and players saluted their coach in the rooms post-match with a cake while singing him happy birthday in a night of celebration for the black and white.
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Not that the always modest McRae necessarily looked too excited to have the spotlight firmly on him when the club’s boot man Neil Price brought over the cake to the sound of loud cheers from rowdy players.
“It’s not a bad birthday present for Craig McRae,” Demons legend Garry Lyon told Fox Footy post-match while watching the birthday celebrations.
“They got the coach, who just drops the head. Tell you what, 50 years of age and coaching your team into a grand final, I think Craig McRae’s had one of his great weeks of his 50 years.”
Triple-premiership winning Lion and McRae’s ex-teammate Jonathan Brown added: “He’s a ripper, absolute beauty. He’s going to have his 50th in a few weeks time, he just wanted to get this campaign out of the way. It might be a double celebration if he goes one extra next week.”
Collingwood great Nathan Buckley noted: “He just hasn’t been successful in one aspect, has he? Keeping his 50th quiet.”
Indeed, there was nothing quiet about this occasion.
Friday night’s thrilling prelim, which went down to the final minute, came in front of a packed house at the MCG of over 97,000 fans – predominantly fanatical Magpies supporters.
Epic final scenes as Pies land GF spot | 00:48
Speaking to reporters after the Pies qualified for their 45th grand final in VFL/AFL history and first since 2018, McRae delivered an impassioned message of love to his club’s loyal – and always vocal – fan base for helping will his side to victory.
“I know we celebrated hard – and there might be certain sections of someone who will want to judge that – but our whole story for the last two years is bring the fans along with us,” McRae said.
“Im talking to the fans, we do not win this game without their support. 97,000 people, thank you so much. The Magpie army, they just dragged us over the line. We love you very much.”
The Magpies coach said his post-match message to the players was to embrace the big week ahead.
LISTEN: MCG decibels explode over Daicos | 00:53
“The message after the game was ‘smell it all, take it all in, embrace every single bit of it. Take every bit of it in’,” he said.
“The parades, the training, the crowds – there will be a hurricane going on around you and we’ve just got to sit in the middle of it and do the job that we need to do.
“But we’ve got one to go.”
He later added with a laugh: “I’m enjoying my 50s, it’s been good to me so far.
“I went into the year thinking 50 is a big number and I’ll keep it on the low down. Didn’t quite work come out that way.”
The Magpies now await either Brisbane or Carlton, pending the result of Saturday night’s second preliminary final, in next weekend’s decider.
You sense, pending the outcome of that final Saturday in September, it might just outdo McRae’s 50th birthday for the coach.
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