Collingwood is done!
Or so the pundits and scribes will declare this week in the wake of their Anzac Day defeat.
One win from six games does not a pretty picture paint. However, considering those five losses were close finishes against finalists from either or both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the Pies are actually well placed for a mid-season revival. Maybe.
Their Anzac Day counterparts in red and black were a fairly even match, with a couple of players having outstanding games to put a four-goal margin on another classic that was close all day until the decisive final quarter.
Essendon have now extracted wins from two 2020 semi-finalists, lost to two preliminary finalists and also lost to two bottom four teams, in a 2-4 start to the season that many would have predicted, if not the same results against the same opponents.
In comparison, North Melbourne are in AFL purgatory (no, not Tasmania) with their sixth straight defeat and the players forced to self-isolate in their homes.
The Kangas are done for 2021 and their Round 7 game against the undefeated Demons in Hobart may not even go ahead.
St Kilda’s capitulation against Port Adelaide leaves them in third last with a horrible percentage of 67 per cent and some serious introspection to be done this week as they prepare to face Round 6 winners Hawthorn, who themselves have staved off the roasting fork winning a shootout against 2021 surprise packets in the Crows.
For the Saints, their season could go from bad to worse if they don’t start winning soon and the forecast right now is gloomy.
The Hawks actually won three of the four quarters against the Crows, yet in the second quarter they let in ten straight goals to 4.3, which while a task to rein in, their fight in the first and third quarters was ultimately what gave them the impetus to mount the comeback.
Their litmus test comes against the Saints next week in a must-win for both sides.
Also struggling in the bottom eight are Carlton, having so far lost to four 2020 top six teams and only collecting wins against undermanned Dockers and Suns sides that will both be looking forward to their respective rematches.
However, the Blues have been competitive in every game and have a challenging five games in May that will show whether they can match it and win against top eight competitors, starting with a blockbuster against the Bombers next round, then matches against the top two sides in the Bulldogs and Demons after that.
The last of the sides in the gun is last week’s roast pork candidates, the Suns, who returned to their exciting brand of fast, skilful, hard at the football, entertaining game, belting a Sydney side that matched up in most areas but over-possessed by hand and butchered inside-50 opportunities.
Gold Coast are now in 11th place and only a win outside of the top eight, which they amazingly could be inside if results go their way by the end of Round 7.
The Collingwood game is crucial for both sides in what shapes as the biggest round of footy so far this year.
What is wrong with the Pies?
There is no doubt that Collingwood has faced some tough opposition, losing the season opener to the Bulldogs, a last gasp one-point loss to the Lions, plus a road loss in Perth to the Eagles, so an Anzac Day loss really compounds the misery while not exactly showing their position in the overall hierarchy.
Scoring heavily and quickly is Collingwood’s key trait and they just can’t hit the scoreboard or get momentum to wrestle control of games at crucial stages.
Defence is their other main strength and it hasn’t been up to their high standards this year, which probably started to be an issue last year.
And yet, an 85.4 per cent for and against means that these deficiencies can be overcome.
After their PR disaster during the trade period and failure to acquire elite talent at the draft, the Eddie McGuire show and the botched handling of the independent review into the club’s systemic racism, one suspects that club morale is lower than it has been in decades.
Add to that, the speculation about Nathan Buckley’s tenure if the side fails this year and there’s a real chance this ends real ugly.
The injury factor
Taylor Adams’ was the one injury Collingwood could least afford if they were going to get out of this early season slump in a hurry, as his work in the engine room has been the major factor in the Pies’ success in the past three seasons.
Losing Jeremy Howe and Jamie Elliott has been less than ideal also, while a couple of concussions to Jordan de Goey and Levi Greenwood haven’t helped either.
Other clubs may have longer injury lists, but the Pies can’t afford too many injuries this year or they’ll be cooked.
Where is the cavalry?
Maybe the cavalry has already been called in, with six changes coming into the last game. Suspended Mark Keane could be considered again, though Will Kelly now has the spot.
It really is such a thin list that Buckley’s best hope is for his stars to return quickly and his demoted players to regain some form in the VFL.
Play the kids?
Caleb Poulter was Collingwood’s best on ground in the VFL in a losing side, with a glut of possession and decent form before that.
Tyler Brown was the unactivated sub on Anzac Day, so he could also come in soon. Finlay Macrae is already getting his chance, with NGA product Reef McInnes surely not that far behind.
Nobody was happier to be drafted in 2019 than Trent Bianco, after his prayers to the footy gods were answered and he was drafted by his beloved Collingwood, so if for nothing else, it would be something to see the Tarkyn Lockyer acolyte’s exuberant debut.
Midseason rookie draft
The Pies hosted Lions Academy key defender Jack Briskey for two months over summer, but erred in saving their pick for midseason where they may well use it on the same kid, which would be a bargain as he’s already playing for Brisbane’s VFL team.
Another Queenslander they will be looking at is Wylie Buzza, with the former Geelong and Port listed ruck forward slotting goals and chopping out for Werribee Tigers in the VFL.
Collingwood are an enigma and you never write them off when their backs are against the wall.
They have a coaching box full of footy brains and some elite talent to deploy onto the field.
Naming Darcy Moore at CHF didn’t pay off with the win, but it could be the masterstroke if Buckley perseveres with it.
The main question is: how much more does he have to lose?
Or should that be a headline: “Howe much Moore does Buckley have to Lose?!”