Collingwood remain in the hunt for a top-four AFL finish after consigning Melbourne to more misery with a 17-point defeat at the MCG.
On ANZAC Day, James Hird was smiling and Nathan Buckley was frowning. The former is the subject of a drug investigation but the latter has real problems.
Whether it’s injuries, weariness, a failure to evolve, or a combination of these, the Pies – a flag favourite, for many – seem to be in a bit of trouble.
In last year’s preliminary final Sydney broke their seven-year voodoo against the Pies. On Thursday Essendon ended their four-year one.
The omens aren’t good.
In such a wonderfully tight competition there are few easy games but for Collingwood it is made harder by the fact that many of theirs are blockbusters. In five rounds they’ve already played in four, and it’s showing.
Teams have always been eager to smash Collingwood but with the Pies residing at, or near, the top of the tree for a few seasons now the improving opposition are showing an extra keenness to chop them down.
The opening game against the Kangaroos wasn’t a blockbuster but the undermanned Pies were made to work for it.
Then came the big one against traditional rivals Carlton which was given extra emotional significance for being against their former mentor and the architect of their recent premiership, Mick Malthouse.
In another tough contest they eventually shrugged off the Blues.
Then came the battle with fellow premiership favourites, Hawthorn. After a poor start the Hawks blitzkrieged the Pies to win easily.
Recovering from that thrashing and doubting their ability to beat top class opposition they started poorly against a rejuvenated Richmond.
They won comfortably after a superb third quarter and a dominant display from Travis Cloke but poor decision-making and skills from the Tigers helped.
And then of course there was Thursday. The scores probably didn’t reflect the closeness of the contest but like most of the games already this year the Pies seem to be playing reactive football, relying on surges of brilliant football to stay in contests. And when in front, they have allowed opposition back in.
There is no let-up either. After next week they play consecutive games against Fremantle, Geelong and the reigning premiers; powerful teams who would fancy their chances against the sluggish Pies. The back-end of the season includes games against Essendon, Sydney and then Hawthorn.
Their injury list is a long one and includes some significant names, most notably Dayne Beams, Darren Jolly, and now poor Alan Toovey, however their new recruits have made them a better team on paper this year.
Quinten Lynch and Ben Hudson have given them added height, Sam Dwyer has been a surprise performer and Jamie Elliot has become a dangerous goalkicker.
Much has been made of the absence of veterans Luke Ball, Alan Didak and Andrew Krakouer but will their lack of game time and susceptibility to injury undermine their effectiveness?
It’s early, I know, but their season is looking very similar to last year’s. They still have a wonderful list containing relatively young premiership stars.
Even with injuries they are superior on paper to most sides but just don’t seem to be able to dominant them. The 14th placed West Coast have a better percentage.
With the club’s excellent support staff and facilities it’s unlikely the injuries could be due to mismanagement. It could be a case of bad luck, or quite possibly a result of over-training.
There does appear to be a distinct lack of joie de vivre among the playing group. Perhaps Nathan Buckley is too serious, or they could be fed up with being the hunted, and the hosts of blockbusters.
The club got rid of the Colliwobbles a long time ago but have they been replaced with the Colliwearies?
Whatever the reason, they’re not looking like a premiership favourite.