Mitchell was one of many senior Collingwood players under the blowtorch. Subbed off in the opening round against Greater Western Sydney and rested in round one, he wasn’t much more effectual last week against St Kilda.

He was much better against the Lions, with 24 possessions, seven tackles and five clearances.

“I think everyone’s been feeling the pressure to be honest,” he said.

“We haven’t been performing at the level we want to, and we wanted to fight back and show some resilience.”

Another imperative for the Magpies was to try to generate some drive from defence. To that end, Nick Daicos was repatriated to the halfback line, where he began his career. Apart from a very brief spell on the ball in the third quarter, McRae left him there.

It worked. For long periods of the game, the Lions won the territory battle, but as it wore on, the more Daicos’ endurance, creativity and pinpoint delivery hurt the Lions. They were often forced wide early, but Daicos helped Collingwood regain control of the centre corridor.

“Part of our game that wasn’t going was our defensive transition – we weren’t scoring from the back half, we were turning the ball over a lot in that area, and Nick for the last eighteen months was arguably one of the best players in the competition at half-back,” McRae said.

Jamie Elliott celebrates a goal.

Jamie Elliott celebrates a goal.Credit: Getty Images

“So we moved him back there to get some run and overlap and great ball use. And the other injection was Johnny Noble, so both of those guys came in to help our ground ball and help our transition. It really made a difference.”

But the defining feature of the game was its ruggedness.

“Last year’s grand final could have gone either way, there was a kick in it, and tonight again they had the momentum at different parts of the game, it was a really close contest,” Mitchell said.

Now the blowtorch will be applied to the Lions, winless after three rounds. To lose two of those at the Gabba, where they didn’t drop a game all season in 2023, will hurt. But coach Chris Fagan pleaded for perspective.

“All I know is there’s 20 [games] to go, isn’t there?” he said. “There’s a long way to go. We certainly haven’t had the start that we’ve hoped for, but let’s not catastrophise it, either … We won’t press the panic button.”

“We’ve turned up and played pretty well for the last five or six years, and right now we’re just having a little slump. And that’s teams sometimes, that’s the life of a team. I’ve got to help them find their form again, that’s my job.”

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