In 2013, following the shock loss to Port Adelaide in the elimination final, Nathan Buckley said something to the effect that the loss proved that Collingwood could not simply hold onto the past.
In 2021, three years on from the agonising narrow loss to the Eagles in the 2018 grand final, a similar view can be put forward.
This club is desperately in need of change – everywhere. The biggest concern I have is the absence of flair and dare.
This is reflected in so many ways: on match day, in recruiting, in selection and in game style and plan. I am deliberately not focusing on culture, salary cap issues, and possible morale implications of the Adam Treloar departure, although these factors are part of the overall picture.
It is time to throw out the stodgy, stale and predictable game plan. We were told over the summer that the team was going to play with a much faster, more direct game plan, but apart from the Carlton game, really, we have seen more of what we have witnessed since the end of 2018.
It seems that under pressure, the team reverts to type with the predictable systems, structures and processes mantra.
Where is the dare?
Clearly, the club has never heard of the saying, “who dares wins”.
History is replete with radical change during a game, notably Ted Hopkins off the bench in the 1970 grand final, Shane Ellen’s five goals in the Adelaide Crows’ win against St Kilda in the 1997 grand final, Kevin Sheedy upending the Essendon team structures in the last quarter in the 1984 grand final – the list goes on.
To be sure, not all of these things work but clearly just doing the same thing over and over is not the answer. In commenting on Monty Panesar’s 50th Test match, Shane Warne said something like Monty played one Test 50 times, and so it appears with Collingwood.
Why the reluctance to move Darcy Moore up forward during the game? Sure, he is integral to the backline but Collingwood really did not look like scoring except for a brief flurry.
Why not have Mason Cox in the ruck more often, even with Brodie Grundy as a utility, in the Mark Blicavs manner, or play Grundy up forward more? Cox actually looks like a natural tap ruckman.
The game on the weekend had eerie similarities to the preliminary final in 2019, when on that occasion as well there was a reluctance to swap Darcy Moore and Brody Mihocek when the latter was clearly struggling in the forward line.
On recruitment, recognising that the club has not had access to top ten picks recently and that it’s way too early to tell about the most recent draftee crop, there’s the complete inability to recruit key position forwards or goal sneaks.
We were told last year that key or power forwards were passé, yet nearly all clubs featuring heavily in last year’s finals had at least one strong key forward: Tom Hawkins at Geelong, Charlie Dixon at Port, Tom Lynch at Richmond, Eric Hipwood at the Lions and Max King at St Kilda.
The club’s performance in trading in key positions has been poor. In fairness, though, the club has been better at exiting players in general, but even that is not really a ringing endorsement of the club. I would not even know where to start with the club’s inability to recruit indigenous players.
Of the draftees and recruits, it is highly probable that all of them passed the requisite beep tests, skinfold criteria, vertical leap performance indicators etc, yet does that say anything truly about the ability to turn a game in the course of a quarter or in minutes?
It seems like ‘hunch’ recruiting for the big stage has given way completely to data science, analytics, health professionals and the like. Of course, this would not be at Collingwood alone but the club’s inability to recruit players with X-factor is apparent.
One of the most dreaded phrases is ‘role players’ and there seems to be a plethora of these at Magpie land, in some ways reminiscent of Tom Hafey’s battlers of the late ’70s and early ’80s, who tried hard but were ultimately outclassed.
Those sides gave more than their all but it is hard to say that about the 2021 Pies.
If we look at roughly a three to five-year horizon when Collingwood could be a premiership threat, I find out of the 22 who represented the Magpies over the weekend, only nine would be in serious contention for being in that side – less than half of the team.
These are Brodie Grundy, Josh Daicos, Jack Crisp, Taylor Adams, Darcy Moore, Brody Mihocek, Brayden Maynard, Jordan de Goey and Isaac Quaynor. With wear and tear and attrition, the number could be even less.
The Pies have a demographic problem, with a relative absence of middle-aged players.
This leaves these options: hoping against hope that the young draftees make their presence felt sooner rather than later, landing a big fish or two through free agency or trades, or hoping against hope that the older players do not fade quickly.
Too much focus is placed on the 2018 season, and the win in the elimination final in Perth last year – both of which, to be fair, were fine accomplishments, however, increasingly, they look like outliers.
Any way you look at it, the club is in for some soul searching.
The debut of Beau McCreery was positive, though and it is true, as Port Adelaide shows, a good haul from one draft can be pivotal.
Blooding more of these players as soon as possible to learn from the older players while they can would appear to be the most fruitful course of action, even if it means missing finals action in the short term.