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Collingwood 2008 preview

11th March, 2008
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The last time Collingwood were this well-placed on Mick Malthouse’s AFL premiership clock, it proved to be an ugly witching hour.

The Magpies made the 2002 and 2003 grand finals against Brisbane for one close loss and an embarrassment.

Five years later, Collingwood are coming off a barnstorming finals series where they beat West Coast away in extra time and were one goal away from causing the upset of the season.

But Gary Ablett’s last-gasp goal put Geelong into the grand final, where they had the win that the `Pies have now coveted for 17 years.

Malthouse’s premiership clock theory holds that a side only has a limited window – between 11 and one – where it can win a flag.

Typically, the Collingwood coach dismisses any comparison of this year’s team with the Magpies of five years ago.

He will certainly not buy into a discussion about how ready Collingwood are now to challenge for a premiership.

What he will talk about, and freely, are challenges.

The most obvious of these challenges is the loss of experience and leadership that the side has suffered with the retirements of Nathan Buckley, James Clement and Paul Licuria.

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Between them, they won 10 Copeland Trophies as the club’s best-and-fairest player.

Buckley was captain for nine years, with Clement and Licuria his deputies at various times.

Not surprisingly, the `Pies took their time this year in picking the new on-field leaders.

Veteran Scott Burns is the new captain and while he will only hold the job for a season or two, it is a sound choice.

“The challenges to the club are leadership, making sure we get the right leadership,” Malthouse said.

“It’s not a matter of how many games those blokes played, it’s the influence around the club, that doesn’t get replaced overnight.

“You don’t replace Buckley, Clement and Licuria overnight.

“That will be the fundamental challenge to the side, (for a) new leadership group to emerge and to have an influence over the players.”

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On the night the veteran trio officially said farewell last October, the newcomers made a big statement.

At the Copeland Trophy presentation, Travis Cloke won and seven of the top 10 were younger players.

Irish recruit Marty Clarke did not make the top 10, but he is universally regarded as a massive rising talent in the AFL.

Scott Pendlebury and Nick Maxwell are also two of the new vice-captains, along with Tarkyn Lockyer.

After a season of so much promise, herein lies Malthouse’s second challenge.

“That’s another test, it’s OK to do it in one year, the test of a good footballer is like the three (retired) players … they don’t play (into) their 30s unless they’ve got consistency,” the coach said.

“The test now for Travis, Scott Pendlebury, Harry O’Brien, Dale Thomas, Heath Shaw is to butter up again – that’s the true test of good footballers.

“They become consistently good footballers.”

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While the kids look good, the back line could be an issue.

Clement is gone and Simon Prestigiacomo is making a slow recovery from injury.

O’Brien cannot continue to play above his height and weight, like he did last season.

“We’d like to think that one of Nathan Brown, Jack Anthony or Chris Dawes step up and become one of the key, tall defenders,” Malthouse said.

“Or, perhaps, the three of them stand up.

“The third challenge will be who can hold up down the back end?”

Malthouse points out the `Pies will find out soon enough, with early games against Fremantle (Matthew Pavlich), Brisbane (Jonathan Brown), Richmond (Matthew Richardson) and Carlton (Brendan Fevola).

In the West Coast and Geelong finals last September, ruckmen Dean Cox and Brad Ottens were prominent against Collingwood, prompting the recruitment of Cameron Wood from the Lions.

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Malthouse is pleased with how Fraser has come back from his back injury, but the performances of Cox and Ottens in those big games have left an impression.

“We need to be able to give our players better access to the ball – there’s another challenge,” the coach said.

“See, this is all about challenges for us, as far as I’m concerned.”

Surely, given the state of Collingwood’s list, their first-rate facilities and the overall robust health of the club, all these challenges are well within their reach.

Again, Malthouse is having none of that.

“We’re one of 16, everyone’s thinking the same thing,” he says.

COLLINGWOOD
Coach: Mick Malthouse.

Captain: Scott Burns.

Last five years: 2-13-15-7-4.

Premierships: 14 (1902-03, 1910, 1917, 1919, 1927-30, 1935-36, 1953, 1958, 1990).

Star five: Alan Didak, Travis Cloke, Scott Pendlebury, Dale Thomas, Heath Shaw.

One to watch: Sean Rusling – Pacy forward who leads and presents well and can be a handful as the third key target behind Anthony Rocca and Travis Cloke. Had an impact late last season and will be aiming for an injury-free 2008.

Ins: Jaxson Barham (Geelong U18), Martin Clarke (rookie elevation), John McCarthy (Dandenong U18), Tobias Toolen (Bendigo U18), Cameron Wood (Brisbane Lions).

Outs: Nathan Buckley (retired), James Clement (retired), Ben Davies (Kangaroos), Paul Licuria (retired), Guy Richards (delisted).

Best line-up:
B: Shane Wakelin, Simon Prestigiacomo, Heath Shaw
HB: Martin Clarke, Nick Maxwell, Tyson Goldsack
C: Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan, Dale Thomas
HF: Alan Didak, Travis Cloke, Tarkyn Lockyer
F: Leon Davis, Anthony Rocca, Paul Medhurst
R: Josh Fraser, Shane O’Bree, Ben Johnson
I: Scott Burns, Sean Rusling, Cameron Wood, Harry O’Brien

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