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Where to now for Collingwood?

Collingwood's Nathan Buckley is under contrasting pressure to Carlton's Brendon Bolton. (AAP Image/David Crosling)
Expert
11th May, 2016
33
2082 Reads

Collingwood fans do not suffer a lack of success well, the president even less so.

No club has won more games in the history of the VFL/AFL – it currently sits three shy of its 1500th victory.

Unfortunately for Pies fans, and everyone associated with the club, 2016 is rapidly descending into an annus horribilis.

The season started with an 80-point thumping at the hands of the Swans in Sydney. Since then they have beaten the hapless Richmond by one point and the beleaguered Bombers by 69.

Around those wins there were losses to St Kilda, Melbourne, Carlton and West Coast in Perth.

On paper, the Magpies would have pencilled in the first three of those as wins at the start of the year. Not only did they lose those games against recent strugglers, they did so without much sign of a coherent game plan.

Yes, the side has been hit hard by injury.

The likes of Dane Swan, Tyson Goldsack, Travis Varcoe, Alan Toovey, Marley Williams and Jamie Elliott have all missed matches.

But West Coast were also ravaged by injuries last season. Key tall defenders Eric McKenzie and Mitch Brown did not complete a game, Jack Darling missed the first ten weeks, Sam Butler and Matt Rosa missed eight weeks each, and Jeremy McGovern, Will Schofield and Chris Masten were all out for three to four matches.

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The loss of McKenzie – the 2014 best and fairest – and Brown forced coach Adam Simpson to remodel his team’s style of play, hence the emergence of the ‘Eagles Web’.

The altered game plan, forced upon the club one week into the season, proved a success with West Coast surprise grand finalists.

Presently it is difficult to get a handle on just what Collingwood’s game plan is.

The back half is leaking goals and the ball is being constantly rebounded from the side’s attacking 50 with little pressure being applied by the forwards.

Last season the club ranked third in the league for turnovers in the forward half. This season they are ranked 15th while also being smashed in the clearance count.

Too many times opponents have gone pretty much coast to coast as a result of turnovers with the Magpies incapable of stymying the opposition on transition.

Worse still, given the injury toll, several senior players over the past month have been badly out of form and running around in the VFL.

Heading that list is Travis Cloke.

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A former best-and-fairest and dual All Australian, Cloke has spent the past three weeks in the VFL and by all reports while he has been solid, his performances have not demanded a recall.

He was one goal away last year from claiming the club’s leading goalkicker award for the fifth consecutive season. For much of that period Cloke has been a barometer with respect to his club’s performances. When on-song he straightens the Pies up and gives them a genuine focal point up forward.

In 2011 he led the competition in marks and the club played in a grand final.

In 2013 he booted 68 goals.

This season his first four games before being dropped netted five majors.

In his absence, the principal target inside 50 has been American recruit Mason Cox, who was only elevated from the rookie list as a result of Swan’s season-ending foot injury after Round 1.

While Cox has already become a favourite of the fans, they cannot expect him to be a leading player within the club in his debut season.

A return to form by Cloke is a must for the Magpies. Still only 29, he should be in the prime of his career as a big man.

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Currently sitting in 14th spot, with a win-loss of 2-5 and a percentage of 79.5, Collingwood are effectively three matches out of the eight.

This week they play 16th-placed Brisbane at the Gabba, followed by games against current top-four sides Geelong and the Bulldogs.

If the season is not already a write-off it soon will be.

The last two seasons have seen 11th and 12th-place finishes. The club need a quantum lift in performance not to head further south this year.

Replenishing the stocks will not be easy. The trade that brought Adam Treloar south from Greater Western Sydney – and he has been arguably the Pies’ best player this year – cost them their first-round draft pick later this year.

The loss of that pick is going to the see the club take their first player well down the pecking order if they cannot improve their position during trade week.

The other decision that Eddie McGuire and his board will face come season’s end is what to do about the coach.

Nathan Buckley’s contract was extended by a year just prior to the season, but McGuire said recently he would have no compunction in sacking one of Collingwood’s favourite sons if he believed it would be for the betterment of the football club.

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A bottom-four result – which is not out of the question – would place enormous pressure on the coach.

McGuire himself admitted he considered stepping down from his 18-year presidency in the wake of Saturday’s loss to recent cellar dweller and arch-rival Carlton.

If the Pies go down at the Gabba on Saturday night he is likely to become apoplectic, as will the fans.

Collingwood continues to search for that 16th flag that will see it join the Blues and the Bombers at the top of the competition tree. However, for now, premierships are not a concern.

What matters at present is merely finding a way to become a competitive outfit once again.

Currently, the players lack spark and across the board the intensity needed to compete successfully at AFL level.

The Magpie Army will only tolerate so much.

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