Here’s my annual call to throw Darcy Moore forward.
Lots of people argue that he shouldn’t be moved. That’s fine. Moore has emerged as an elite defender. My issue is some of the arguments espoused against throwing Moore forward.
Let’s have a look at those.
Darcy Moore has never really shown anything up forward
I find it unfathomable when people use this as a counter.
Okay, let’s set the scene: it’s 2015. Moore is 19. He has played just two games. Collingwood (ninth) plays the Western Bulldogs (sixth). The Bulldogs control the game and ultimately win by 18 points. Moore collects seven kicks, two handballs and four marks and kicks five goals.
That’s five goals. How many third-gamers kick five goals?
Now, while the counter might be that ‘it’s just one game’, I throw this out there to dismiss the claim that Moore’s never shown anything as a forward. There’s an extravagance to that statement that denies all facts, dismisses all evidence and is blindly absolute in its rebuttal.
Now that we’ve poked a hole in it, we can begin to measure Moore from a statistical perspective.
As a 19-year-old in his first full season at the Saints in 2002 Nick Riewoldt played 22 games and had 225 kicks, 94 handballs and 178 marks from 22 games. He kicked 21.18. In his second season he had 241 kicks, 110 handballs and 170 marks and kicked 30.17.
Lance Franklin played 20 games as an 18-year-old in his debut season. He had 140 kicks, 73 handballs, 75 marks and kicked 21.13. In his second season he played just 14 games, got 98 kicks, 58 handballs and 53 marks and kicked 31.9.
Jack Riewoldt’s first major season was 2008. As a 19-year-old he played 18 games, had 143 kicks, 51 handballs and 87 marks and kicked 18.8. In his second season he played 20 games. He had 185 kicks, 73 handballs and 127 marks and kicked 32.27.
In 2005 Travis Cloke played 15 games, had 118 kicks, 30 handballs and 53 marks and kicked 10.16. In 2006 he again played 15 games, had 146 kicks, 25 handballs and 79 marks and kicked 6.12.
I cite these four as players who had a similar career trajectory to Darcy Moore, getting thrown a lot of responsibility early – as opposed to somebody like Josh Kennedy, who was gradually brought up.
These four players are considered champions of the game. Travis Cloke is arguably recognised as Collingwood’s best centre half-forward since Phil Carman.
Moore played nine games in his first year of 2015. In his second season (as a 20-year-old) of 2016 he played 19 games, had 95 kicks, 59 handballs and 77 marks and kicked 24.14.
In his second season he played 21 games, amassed 152 kicks, 68 handballs and 125 marks and kicked 25.19. He was also used as a relief ruck and netted 64 hit-outs.
How does Moore stack up against these other names?
Well, in his first fullish season he doesn’t amass the number of kicks the others do but kicks as many or more goals. In his second full season the stats have increased considerably and he’s kicked about the same amount of goals.
So what’s the conclusion?
On raw data either those other four forwards showed nothing – or very little – as forwards in their early years (if that’s an argument that can be used against Moore) or Moore sits comfortably with their rate of development.
Collingwood’s forward thrusts
Something else to factor in is that Collingwood finished 12th in 2016 and 13th in 2017. In 2016 they were the 11th-highest scoring team, and they were tenth in 2017. This was not a team who consistently scored freely or who moved the ball fluently into the forward line.
Much of the key-position responsibility as a forward fell on Moore’s shoulders. This was a transitional period for Collingwood. Travis Cloke struggled in 2016 and was at the Bulldogs in 2017. Jesse White played more as a flanker in 2016 and was used sporadically in 2017. Ben Reid was in and out.
It’s important to recognise that context.
In 2020 Collingwood were criticised for the way they moved the ball, particularly when going forward. From 2014-17 Collingwood were equally spasmodic, and injuries often deprived them of their primary and supporting options.
While other key forward prospects might’ve had similar issues to contend with, I cite this simply to normalise expectations.
For those who felt Moore showed nothing or very little, I’m unsure what they expected from a young key-position forward. Fifty goals? Which of his contemporaries have managed that?
Moore was a young, inexperienced, lean, key forward in a struggling team whose delivery was often questionable.
His body won’t stand up to the rigours of playing forward
How do we know this? Because the years Moore played forward he had hamstring woes?
Well, according to this logic, Jamie Elliott’s body isn’t up to playing forward either. Same with Jordan de Goey. Both have had recurring soft tissue problems. Where are the cries that they shouldn’t be playing forward?
And by virtue of that why haven’t we extrapolated that it would be madness to push them into a position (the midfield) that is going to demand more of them physically?
The simple reality is that Moore might’ve suffered recurring soft tissue issues because his body was unaccustomed to the rigours of AFL. These soft tissue problems may have occurred regardless of where he was played.
But he’s an All Australian centre halfback!
Does that mean he has to stay there forever? Leon Davis was an All Australian small forward in 2009. In 2010 he had a strong season. But in 2011 he was thrown to halfback. He had a brilliant year and was again All Australian.
I would daresay that for as amazing a small forward as Leon Davis was throughout his career, he was positively and consistently elite as a small defender.
Ultimately, players need to play where they’re the best value to the team.
Going back to 1990, Collingwood played two champion midfielders – Peter Daicos and Gavin Brown – as their main forwards.
Daicos has been rightfully defined as freakish for his output as a small forward, but prior to 1990 he was an elite midfielder – this is often forgotten or ignored because his performance in 1990 (kicking 97 goals as a half-forward) overshadows everything that came before it.
Brown initially was a winger. He won two EJ Whitten Medals – mixing it with the best in the country – as a winger. But at Collingwood he was often thrown from one end of the ground to the other, often playing as an undersized key position, to plug holes.
So in examining where Moore should play, it should be determined by where he would provide the most value. Now whether that’s forward or back is open to debate. But Collingwood have obvious scoring issues, and a lack of genuine key-position forwards is foremost among them.
The assets that make Moore a tantalising prospect as a defender – his dash, his marking prowess and his willingness to take the game on – exemplify why he would succeed as a forward.
Playing him down back feels like a waste of material – a player who as a forward could be every bit as exciting, damaging and game-breaking as the opposition he’s assigned to negate.
Throughout 2020 we heard commentators salivate over the King brothers. I heard Collingwood supporters lament that we don’t have anybody similar. Well, we do, but he’s in defence.
What we’ve done in playing Moore in defence would be the equivalent of Geelong recruiting Jeremy Cameron to replace Harry Taylor in defence. Or Richmond playing Tom Lynch at fullback. Or one of those King brothers being sent back.
Would they do a good job back there? Probably, because they’re great players. But is the team getting the most out of them back there?
Too many people have drawn the erroneous conclusion that moving Moore down back was a result of his poor showing as a forward.
Well, statistically we’ve proven that assumption’s wrong. He was moved in part due to Collingwood’s lack of options and I suspect because the coaching staff felt playing Moore and Mason Cox in the same forward line would be top-heavy.
If Moore was ever deemed to have struggled as a forward, it had less to do with his talent and his capability to play there and more to do with him being a thin, inexperienced kid asked to hold down the No. 1 key position slot in a struggling team with wayward delivery.
Moore is the sort of talent Collingwood could build an attack around and one who would terrify an opposition. Supporting forwards would also fall down a slot in the queue (behind him) and be likelier to slip under an opposition’s guard.
Collingwood are also asking a lot of Will Kelly to hold down a key-position slot up forward. Kelly has just three quarters under his belt. He looked good against a struggling Hawthorn, but is this the best way to cultivate him? Kelly, like his father, could serve an apprenticeship at centre halfback, where he’d also have the support of Jordan Roughead and Jeremy Howe.
It’s an interesting proposition and one I hope Collingwood explores from an attacking mindset rather than a negative one.
However, regardless of who plays forward, Collingwood need to prioritise how they deliver the ball into their forward 50, because if they continue to move it as they have done in the last two years, then who they have down there won’t matter.