As they surge back into premiership contention, Collingwood’s optimism has clearly been vindicated

Jay Croucher Columnist

By Jay Croucher, Jay Croucher is a Roar Expert

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    Brodie Grundy's outstanding play is just one reason for Magpies fans to be optimistic. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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    Until now, the Nathan Buckley coaching era has been defined by false starts and blunted optimism. Each year, a particular game felt like the game – the result that signalled that the spirit of 2010/2011 dominance was still alive and well, and the intervening time of underwhelming outcomes was only some sort of mistaken, elongated hiccup.

    There was enough in the first halves of 2014 and 2015 and the second halves of 2016 and 2017 to keep Collingwood fans engaged and almost hopeful. Victories off the field – through excellent membership numbers and creating partnerships with the likes of CGU – has never been rare for the club. But on-field success was only ever a loose, theoretical idea for a team that has now gone four years without a finals appearance and five years without winning one.

    There was never anything solid to hold onto, and after four seasons of clutching vaguely at hope, one could sense that by the start of 2018 many fans had already let go of the Buckley era, too tired of convincing themselves that they were still optimistic.

    Round 1 only reinforced that, while rounds 2 and 3 – a gallant loss and an uninspiring win, results almost equivalent on the emotional spectrum – did little to inspire optimism, to dispel the notion that nothing had changed.

    But then they went to Adelaide. They went there in tough conditions as almost six-goal underdogs against the team that had been favoured in last year’s grand final. And they didn’t just win – they annihilated the Crows, in a strangely comprehensible way that made the result not seem like an outlier.

    All of a sudden, optimism was irrepressible.

    Before the Adelaide game, the Pies were a team littered with injuries, lacking skill and polish in midfield, absent sufficient game-changing key position talent, and suffering from a lack of dynamic leg speed. Afterwards, Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom felt like enough class for two midfields and Ben Reid, Brodie Grundy and Jeremy Howe assisted by a suddenly imposing Mason Cox and the timeless music of Lynden Dunn appeared like reasonable key position stocks.

    The emergence of Jaidyn Stephenson made the leg speed problem, and many of the rest of the world’s problems, seem minor for an evening. And after a 48-point win over a premiership favourite on the road, injuries to bemoan – to Daniel Wells, Jamie Elliott, Darcy Moore, Alex Fasolo and Taylor Adams – became sources of optimism, rich stocks in reserve.

    The template for a contender, while still a little hazy, was outlined in Adelaide, and confirmed on Queen’s Birthday. The midfield is all-world, capable of matching and exceeding any other on its day. Grundy – whose excellent community work off the field has been captured by CGU in the video below – is a premier ruckman on it, and Pendlebury, Sidebottom and Adam Treloar are genuine A-graders.

    Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn fight it out in the ruck

    (Photo by Michael Dodge/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    Tom Phillips has transformed the midfield, a force of a different variety to be reckoned with, the type of gut-running winger that the Pies haven’t had since Dale Thomas had dreadlocks. Phillips isn’t as impactful or dynamic as Thomas once was, but his consistency game-to-game is special for a player so young. He’s hitting the scoreboard too, and if his field kicking can leap up two or three notches, there’s no reason he can’t be Andrew Gaff in a couple of years.

    Throw in Adams, Wells-when-healthy, the asteroid of Jordan de Goey and injections of Will Hoskin-Elliott and Josh Thomas, and all of a sudden you have one of the most complete and deep midfields in the game.

    The forward line was one of those train stations forever under construction, and on more optimistic days you caught it at an angle that looked closer to finished than other days. Now it looks close to finished, a modern construction, unorthodox but pristine, with a diverse ensemble of smaller, pacy finishers with impeccable goal-sense wreaking havoc on the competition.

    Stephenson is a delight, Hoskin-Elliott a revelation, and the emergence of de Goey has been the most important event of 2018 for Collingwood. He is not Dustin Martin but he might be Martin’s closest facsimile, with the same commanding comic-book strength, the keen eye for goal, supreme skill and flair for the moment. Debate as to whether de Goey should play forward or midfield is redundant – it’s 2018, he should play both.

    The defence has the most long-term question marks in terms of talented sure-fire pieces. But the stocks are far from bare, with Jeremy Howe’s covering of the ground and the air patching up a lot of holes. Howe was Collingwood’s best player last year and his intercept marking is one of the game’s most precious commodities.

    Matthew Scharenberg staying healthy and realising his potential would be a bigger story if not for the headlines belonging to de Goey and the numbers belonging to Hoskin-Elliott and Phillips. Scharenberg’s composure and skill in defence bring a James Clement-type calm to proceedings.

    Brayden Maynard attacks the ball the same way it leaves his boot: out of a canon-ball. Sometimes he needs more of a sniper lens on that thing, but the potential is unquestioned. His kick is powerful and his appetite for the contest is immense.

    Darcy Moore is the swing-piece in all of this. If he’s an oft-injured merely talented contributor, then the Pies’ ceiling is lowered. If he can develop into an All-Australian key position player, then so much falls into place.

    Precocious, proven talent is always a fan-base’s greatest source of optimism – and in players like de Goey, Stephenson, Scharenberg, Maynard, Grundy and Phillips, Pies fans have something real to hold onto for the foreseeable.

    The future has rarely been ‘bleak’ under Buckley – the talent and youth were always too compelling. But now the future is no longer something that requires much imagination.

    This doesn’t feel like another false start either – it feels new and different. With the performances compelling and the results no longer honourable but now emphatic, optimism feels boundless and justified.

    Optimism is a core Australian value shared by CGU and the Collingwood Football Club, and it’s something star ruckman Brodie Grundy got to experience even more while visiting some of the country’s Indigenous rural communities. Check out the great story behind his enriching journey and connection with the Warumungu people this NAIDOC week in the video player below.

    CGU Insurance and Collingwood have been loyal partners for almost a decade. Together we’re proud to celebrate the values of all Australians. Find out more here.

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    The Crowd Says (70)

    • Roar Rookie

      July 6th 2018 @ 7:20am
      Bretto said | July 6th 2018 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      Everyone needs to take a Bex and have a lie down. There’s a long way to go before anyone (except Richmond) are serious premiership contenders. Never more apt to say – take it one week at a time.

      • Roar Guru

        July 6th 2018 @ 7:44am
        Peter the Scribe said | July 6th 2018 @ 7:44am | ! Report

        Well said Bretto. The Pies are on track as I predicted last year for a 4-6 finish and hopefully a final win and with the injury list we have had this year that in itself is remarkable. At the moment there is a group of sides playing for the 7 spots in the 8 to ultimately lose to the rampaging Tigers on GF day. Geelong last night signaled they are not done just yet, the Demons have a chance to reset and Port on their day are a top 4 side. There is another sleeping giant I hope the Pies dispatch Sunday called the Bombers who also have a renewed vigor.
        Richmond will win the 2018 flag barring disastrous injuries so the Pies will do well to get some finals experience and prepare for the arrival of Tom Lynch in 2019 and a host of returning players from injury.
        The optimism is no doubt there now for a future with Adams and Sier as inside mid bulls, Pendlebury playing the unselfish Cotchin role, outside gut running from Phillips, Aish, Sidebottom and Treloar when he returns. Solid team defence from Mayne playing a team first defensive wing role, Scharenberg, Langdon, Howe and Maynard becoming the Luke Hodge style back/mid in 2019. Then there’s Grundy himself, at 24 one of the brightest ruck prospects the game has seen for some time. A forward line that takes turns in kicking 3-4 with Hoskin-Elliott, Thomas, De Goey and Stephenson. Stop one and one of the others will get off the leash. Cox has had a breakout year and then there is Moore. Will he stay or will he end up in Sydney as part of the Lynch deal?

        • July 6th 2018 @ 9:24am
          Tom M said | July 6th 2018 @ 9:24am | ! Report

          Keep a lid on it Pts. This week you have gone into over drive on your ramblings about Collingwood. Richmond aren’t unbeatable, and we aren’t as good as you are trying to make us.

          • July 6th 2018 @ 10:06am
            truetigerfan said | July 6th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

            Also gone into overdrive with his ramblings on Richmond. No room left on the bandwagon, dude.

            • Roar Guru

              July 6th 2018 @ 12:37pm
              Peter the Scribe said | July 6th 2018 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

              I don’t want you to go back to back TrueTiger, I just believe you will unfortunately.

          • Roar Guru

            July 6th 2018 @ 10:15am
            Peter the Scribe said | July 6th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

            I’ll write what I want thanks Tom. Mine is just an opinion like everyone else. I haven’t claimed we will win the flag. All along since last year while other predicted doom and gloom and bottom 6 for the Pies I’ve said we would finish 4-6 which we are on track for. The past few weeks I have said rounds 17-20 would see how far we can go in the finals and I still believe that despite our ever rising injury count. There will be a tipping point with injury though and we can’t afford much more. As for Richmond, I think they are indeed unbeatable, you don’t.

      • July 6th 2018 @ 1:57pm
        Peter Backhouse said | July 6th 2018 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

        Agreed. The media and pundits are ruthless and live week to week. Melbourne were declared geand finalists a few weeks ago now they’re season is almost being written off. Fact is all teams are a couple of wins away from being overhyped to death or a couple of losses away away from panic stations according to media. A few weeks ago they were calling for alan richardson’s head and 2 wins later it’s all died down. Collongwood and melbourne have had some good purple patches and it remains to be seen if they can continue on their form. Incredibly sensationalist. Same with the tigers, in decent form but if they drop to the crows and gws then everyone will be off the bandwagon. The last few seasons have shown that to win it you need everything to go right and hit form at the right time. The season is wide open and everyone needs to chill.

    • July 6th 2018 @ 9:25am
      powa said | July 6th 2018 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      how can so many so called experts not look at who the pies have beaten? sure they are a better team than last year: but they HAVENT BEATEN ANYONE ELSE in the top 5, until they do they are no more a contender than north or hawthorn

      • July 6th 2018 @ 9:50am
        Slane said | July 6th 2018 @ 9:50am | ! Report

        So they are a fair bit better than Port Adelaide were last year? Seems about right.

        • July 6th 2018 @ 1:33pm
          powa said | July 6th 2018 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

          yes port were the same last year, this year though they have beaten good sides

      • July 6th 2018 @ 10:01am
        Geoff Schaefer said | July 6th 2018 @ 10:01am | ! Report

        Exactly Powa. They finished in the right place last year to get a soft draw this year. Super soft actually. All they’ve done is improve slightly and taken advantage of it. If the Collingwood fans are too blind to see it, then it will make their quick finals exit even funnier for the rest of us.

        • July 7th 2018 @ 1:22pm
          Jimmy said | July 7th 2018 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

          “Improve slightly and taken advantage of it”.
          I know you are fishing for an angry response from someone but isn’t that pretty much what every team seeks to achieve year to year? I’m not sure it’s the stinging insult you were aiming for.

      • July 6th 2018 @ 10:02am
        Kris said | July 6th 2018 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        Top 5 now? Used to be top-8.

        Well they can’t beat themselves. Haven’t played Port, West Coast or Sydney. So they can’t win because they have lost to Richmond?

        Against top-5 sides only Port has a winning record.

        Richmond 2-2
        Collingwood 0-1
        West Coast 2-2
        Sydney 2-2
        Port Adelaide 2-1

        And FWIW Richmond won the premiership last year after going 2-4 against top-6 sides in the H+A season.

        This is one of the overrated stats.

        • Roar Guru

          July 6th 2018 @ 10:18am
          Peter the Scribe said | July 6th 2018 @ 10:18am | ! Report

          Great comment Kris.

        • July 6th 2018 @ 10:32am
          Craig said | July 6th 2018 @ 10:32am | ! Report

          So they’ve had an easy draw…. so unlike Collingwood to get a good draw.

          • Roar Rookie

            July 6th 2018 @ 11:06am
            Fat Toad said | July 6th 2018 @ 11:06am | ! Report

            The AFL’s philosophy of equalisation means that lower performing clubs get a comparatively easier draw the next year. So you are correct this has been the case for Collingwood over the last few years. but, it is also for other teams that have been finishing near the bottom of the ladder.

            You can only play the team in front of you. But everyone know the draw is not a draw its a schedule. For years Collingwood had to play the Melbourne power clubs twice every year so the AFL could maximise its gate takings, but also to equalise the effects of having too many teams for everyone to play each other twice the way it was in the old VFL (though this was never quite the case even then).

        • Roar Rookie

          July 6th 2018 @ 11:27am
          Fat Toad said | July 6th 2018 @ 11:27am | ! Report

          I keep telling people the Richmond are useless because they have not beaten anyone ranked above them. Why don’t people take me seriously?

          • Roar Rookie

            July 9th 2018 @ 12:36pm
            Fat Toad said | July 9th 2018 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

            Richmond has failed to improve on their poor record at beating teams above them on the ladder, they still have not had a victory over anyone above them..

            • July 9th 2018 @ 12:57pm
              Jon Boy said | July 9th 2018 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

              Richmond also have not won a game outside of Melbourne in late 2017 or won any in 2018 Flat track Bullies aided by a soft H@Way draw.That is the real truth.

        • July 6th 2018 @ 1:34pm
          powa said | July 6th 2018 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

          they have also lost to the lesser sides competing for the lower 8

    • Roar Pro

      July 6th 2018 @ 10:40am
      Andrew Young said | July 6th 2018 @ 10:40am | ! Report

      Easy draw, sure. But Collingwood are playing a positive style of football, and have some likely types that look the goods now and into the future. Will be interesting to see how they finish the season against some stronger teams.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 6th 2018 @ 10:57am
      Fat Toad said | July 6th 2018 @ 10:57am | ! Report

      People seem to be confusing being a contender with being a favourite. Is Collingwood a contender to win the flag? Yes, in the same way is every club when the season starts. The list of contenders narrows as teams potential to finish in the eight is removed. Is Collingwood favourite? No, not yet.

      Collingwood’s success can be measured against two factors against previous seasons, firstly and obviously their ladder position is improved but interestingly their serious injuries is pretty much in line with previous years. In previous years injuries were always a consideration in the club’s poor performance, though Buckley has always said that injuries are an ordinary part of the season. Though at times Collingwood seemed to be performing above average in this criterion.

      Wins against top eight or four sides provides an interesting discussion point. But since some teams start the season hot and finish cold, or start cold and finish hot, ladder position in any week may be a poor indicator of this weeks top four or eight. But if you really wanted to measure a team’s performance against the quality of their opposition, other factors need to be combined, (I) in the round when wins or losses occur are they against teams above or below on the ladder? and (II) what was the points differential at the time of the win to remove the effect of percentage in ladder position.

      • Roar Guru

        July 6th 2018 @ 11:45am
        Peter the Scribe said | July 6th 2018 @ 11:45am | ! Report

        Exactly Toad. GWS were top when we played then, Crows were third when we played them, Geelong 6th and so on. Are Essendon playing the same footy as they were around Anzac day when we belted them? No, they will be a greater challenge now then their 12th place would indicate.

    • July 6th 2018 @ 11:27am
      John Singleton said | July 6th 2018 @ 11:27am | ! Report

      The Magpies are going alright at the moment. Don’t forget all the other clubs in the 8 have injuries as well but that is not being spoken about. .All the bleeding hearts give us a break. Bloody Pies have Eddie all the world is against us Mcquire he will fix it

    • Roar Guru

      July 6th 2018 @ 11:40am
      Cat said | July 6th 2018 @ 11:40am | ! Report

      Collingwood finally getting to the first difficult part of their draw. Every chance to go 0-5 in the next five and 1-6 over the next 7. The hype is too early. If they can pinch a few games over the next 4-6 weeks then it will be time to reconsider.

      Lets remember in 2015 Collingwood was sitting in 4th at 8-3 130.7% got to the hard part of their draw and ended up 10-12 106.3% in 12th. In 2015 Collingwood was also sitting pretty in 4th at 8-3 122.1% got to the hard part of their fixture and end up 11-11 94.1% in 11th.

      The good news for Pies fans is the end of season swoon (if it happens again) is starting later so they will probably still limp into finals regardless.

      • Roar Guru

        July 6th 2018 @ 12:07pm
        Peter the Scribe said | July 6th 2018 @ 12:07pm | ! Report

        Yes the difference with those two seasons Cat is that they were round 11, we now sit 2nd at round 16. As for your ” every chance” to go 0-5 or 1-6 over the next 7, well you predicted we would be 1-7 and at best 2-6 at the start of the year and finally finishing bottom 6 in 2018 so you tend to look at the Pies with a preordained negative mindset. I don’t have that negative mind and predict we will be favourites to beat the Eagles at the G and Nth . After our tough month we play Brisbane, Power and Freo to close out the season so there’s another two wins at least there as well and Sydney are no longer that tough to beat at home either as you proved last night. If injuries continue we will indeed limp into the finals but from 13th in 2018, this will be a great base for 2019 with possibly Tom Lynch on board as well.

        • Roar Guru

          July 6th 2018 @ 12:52pm
          Cat said | July 6th 2018 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

          Maybe you should actually read all of what I say before responding.

          • July 7th 2018 @ 1:29pm
            Jimmy said | July 7th 2018 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

            Reckon Pies are travelling a little better than those years

      • July 6th 2018 @ 12:50pm
        Tom M said | July 6th 2018 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

        I see Cat you are back on the lip after a Geelong win.

        • Roar Guru

          July 6th 2018 @ 12:56pm
          Cat said | July 6th 2018 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

          I never stopped. Some days I post a lot, some days nothing interesting to comment on. Some topics are just too boring or done to death to bother with.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 6th 2018 @ 5:45pm
        Fat Toad said | July 6th 2018 @ 5:45pm | ! Report

        Heraclitus — ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.’

        Accepting what you say about Collingwood’s position in previous years as true Collingwood’s list is different, players are more experienced, and their opposition has changed. Bertrand Russell observed that each day chickens run to the farmer to be fed, until one day the farmer gabs one, kills and eats it. Previous behaviour may not predict tomorrow’s outcomes and at least for chickens there is not always a first mover advantage..

        • Roar Guru

          July 6th 2018 @ 7:48pm
          Peter the Scribe said | July 6th 2018 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

          But what came first Fat toad the chicken or the egg?

          • Roar Rookie

            July 9th 2018 @ 12:32pm
            Fat Toad said | July 9th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

            People often seem to misunderstand the process. A chicken is simply an eggs way of making another egg.

            • Roar Guru

              July 9th 2018 @ 1:31pm
              Peter the Scribe said | July 9th 2018 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

              But Mr Toad, an egg doesn’t think so how does it decide to make another egg without thinking? At least the chicken itself has an innate urge to procreate? An egg doesn’t.

              • Roar Rookie

                July 9th 2018 @ 7:27pm
                Fat Toad said | July 9th 2018 @ 7:27pm | ! Report

                Bacteria reproduce without any great knowledge of reproductive strategy: reproduction doesn’t require a conscious decision, it just has to work. So the egg using chickens to reproduce still holds.
                Closer to home and looking at some people and families in supermarkets the same observation may hold for humans.

      • July 7th 2018 @ 1:26pm
        Jimmy said | July 7th 2018 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

        Collingwood played the entire top 4 from last year in first 8 rounds

      • Roar Rookie

        July 9th 2018 @ 8:22pm
        Fat Toad said | July 9th 2018 @ 8:22pm | ! Report

        Pr Collingwood (1-6) <= 1.0

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