To sum up this Collingwood year in two words: mixed emotions.
The Pies were flying early in the season, dominating the Bulldogs, Saints and Cats to go along with a scrappy draw against Richmond. Things seemed to be clicking for the team.
But after far too many indiscretions a decline in form occurred. A strong win over West Coast gave the fans hope, but it quickly diminished.
In life, there are things that can and can’t be controlled. For instance, Collingwood can’t control the spread of COVID-19. They can’t control injuries.
But they definitely can control the off-field drama.
Collingwood Magpies in 2020
Nine wins, seven losses, one draw
109.5 percent age
Eighth on the ladder and one finals win.
The off-field incidents made it tough on the group to back it up each week. Continuity was lost and there were new players coming through the senior side each week. Good sides find ways to win and unfortunately, despite the scrutiny around the team, they didn’t find ways to win games they really should have won, particularly against Essendon, Fremantle and GWS.
Losing Jeremy Howe for the season, Adam Treloar for an extended period, Jordan de Goey and Steele Sidebottom hurt. They are core players from each line that are instrumental to Collingwood’s performance. However, there will always be injuries. It’s the attitude of the next man up to fill the role that is needed. Collingwood are not quite at that stage where they fully trust the next man up.
Each year, the same line is brought up at the end of the season by the Collingwood faithful, “We’ll get X, Y and Z back next year and we’ll be right”. The optimism is great. But this same line has been said for three years now. It’s time to stop using it as an excuse and know that if a club doesn’t have 30-34 players they can fully trust to come in and play a role when a man falls down, you’re not going to win a premiership.
Nathan Buckley was brave with his coaching and decision-making.
Firstly, he blooded six debutants, seven if you include Darcy Cameron. Doing this adds depth to the playing group. It shows the senior players that they can trust the inexperienced players to play their role.
Think of it like this: Sidebottom hurts his quad and is out for three to four weeks and in comes Atu Bosenavulagi. This year, players think: “A first-gamer, nervous, uneasy, let’s try to ease him into it and look after him, we’ll take some of his workload.”
Next season, they think: “Atu, perfect, he’s played before, no worries.” No afterthought, no concerns. Yes, this is an extreme example, but understand the concept and thinking.
The semi-final against West Coast showed Buckley’s tactical nouse and brave selections. To go tall was extremely risky. It needed the gameplan to back it. The way the group were playing, it looked like it was going to be slow, long kicks to Jeremy McGovern, Tom Barrass and Shannon Hurn all day.
Instead, they went quickly forward of centre, looking for the handball from marks, playing with dare and letting the forwards play off their instincts. It shook the Eagles and broke them in the end.
To flick a switch from the way they were playing to the new style of play shows there’s talent and skill within the ranks. There needs to be belief and trust instilled in all players.
The growth of Josh Daicos, John Noble and Isaac Quaynor was extremely positive and the three are in for bigger roles in 2021. Trey Ruscoe is an excitement machine, with his effort and enthusiasm something to look forward to. There is a lot of hype surrounding Will Kelly and Mark Keane and Pies fans will be eager to see how they go in 2021.
There were two visible gameplans in 2020: the slow, kick-mark keepings-off style before a long kick down the line, or the slight variation where once the ball was forward of centre, look to handball and move it inside 50 quickly. The latter needs to be applied more regularly in 2021.
But before this is implemented regularly, there need to be some positional changes. This is when things will become controversial.
In defence, no change is necessary. Their structure is strong and those who come in play their role accordingly.
It’s time for the keys to the engine room to be handed over to Taylor Adams. He has shown growth and will be the next captain of the club. Scott Pendlebury isn’t getting any younger, but he’s still one of the best players going around. But he can be utilised somewhere more important.
That position is at half-forward. Why? Because Collingwood lack connection and good kicking entering forward 50. Put Pendlebury there and you have one of the best distributors by foot delivering the ball lace out to the forwards and the ability to sit at the feet of Mason Cox and Brody Mihocek around the ground and set up plays.
The second big mover needs to be Steele Sidebottom. Remember when he kicked ten goals in a TAC Cup grand final? Where was he playing that day? Full-forward. There’s another weapon defenders will hate. He can be a lead-up target, one-on-one beast, smart when the ball is on the ground and can chase and tackle. He could easily kick 30+ goals and still get the ball 20 times a game. Let’s also not forget the leadership he can bring.
In the middle, start with Brodie Grundy who boasts 70.5 per cent kicking efficiency, Taylor Adams (56.3 per cent), Adam Treloar (49.2 per cent) and Jordan de Goey (52.3 per cent). Only Pendlebury has a better kicking efficiency of pure midfielders with 58 per cent, Sidebottom’s is 48.2 per cent. Kicking has been highlighted as an issue for the midfielders, but back them in and trust they’ll do the job.
If de Goey stays, it’s time for him to show his worth. Play 75/25 midfield/forward split, own the clearances, pressure acts and tackles. When he goes forward, he needs to kick a couple of goals per game, then he can have his $1 million payday. He’ll have to prove to the Collingwood faithful he can do it.
Those three starting midfielders having one glaring issue between them: their ability, or lack of, to defend.
They lack accountability for their opposition player as they all want the ball. This is where sacrifice and a team mindset must come into play. Only a will to buy-in will make that happen.
An issue for Collingwood is their kicking efficiency. A left-field option to fix this could be David Mackay. Yes, he’s 32 years old, but he could play a role for the Pies. Adding a player with experience onto a wing who runs hard both ways could help Josh Daicos develop and provide some decent delivery to the Collingwood forwards. As he’s an unrestricted free agent, there would be no acquisition cost.
A mobile key-forward could help the Pies. In his post-match press conference after their semi-final defeat, Buckley said that a one-dimensional forward is not the answer, ie Ben Brown. In an ideal world, the Pies would love to nab Jeremy Cameron. His fitness is outstanding, he crashes packs and most importantly, he kicks goals. Landing him is a long shot, but if de Goey leaves, they may up the ante in their pursuit of him.
Jordan Roughead is 31 next season. A fullback to help Darcy Moore for the next two seasons such as Tom McDonald could be helpful. McDonald has the ability to play the fullback position and play it well. At 28, he fits into Collingwood’s age demographic nicely. He can also play as a forward and kick goals. For a deal to get done, Melbourne would need to pay a portion of his salary for the next two seasons.
Coming into 2020, Buckley’s side were hurting after their preliminary final loss to GWS and were looking to go one step further. Unfortunately, things didn’t click for them and they could never quite get going. To finish eighth was about right considering their form, and the one-point win over West Coast should give them confidence moving into 2021.
Unfortunately, the Pies don’t have the cap space to lure a big target to the club, if the current list sticks together. Ball movement needs to be quick forward of centre to give the talented forwards a chance to kick a winning score.
2021 will be a season of trust and sacrifice. Trust the next wave of midfielders to step up and trust the young players to play their role. Big guns Pendlebury and Sidebottom will need to sacrifice their roles for the team and provide some much-needed leadership, class inside-50 and the ability to kick a winning score.
Starting 2021 team
FB: Maynard, Roughead, Howe
HB: Quaynor, Moore, Crisp
C: Daicos, Treloar, Mayne
HF: Pendlebury, Mihocek, Elliot
FF: Cox, Sidebottom, Stephenson
R: Grundy, Adams, De Goey
I/C: Noble, Hoskin-Elliot, Kelly, Greenwood
Unlucky: Thomas, Madgen, Sier, Phillips, Wills, Cameron, Brown Brothers.