I've heard people say "this early in the piece" or "this late in the piece". It seems to be spoken as a kind of idiomatic expression, but I'm not sure what it really means.
What is the meaning of the phrase?
What is the abstract "the piece" that is meant? Piece of what?
I wasn't even sure if it should be "piece" or "peace", however doing a Google search seems to come up in favour of "piece".
What is the etymology of the phrase?
"His argument against the legislation came too late in the piece. The decision had already been made."
From early in the piece, even before Coombs became chair of the Australian council for the Arts in 1967 (the organization that Whitlam reinvented in 1973 as the Australia Council), Ken consulted him about aspects of the art center...
(The Many Lives of Kenneth Myer, by Sue Ebury)