Welcome to the second part of my 18-part series on the 2021 season in review.
Now, part of me wants to eviscerate the Collingwood Football Club as all sensible footballers should want to do.
However, that is not the purpose of these writings. I will go through what (admittedly limited) things worked for the Pies, the litany of failings and shortcomings of the Pies, before rounding out with questions surrounding their form and how they can fix the current predicament they find themselves in.
The season 2021 did not start well for the Pies. The news was dominated by the resignation of Eddie McGuire, their cataclysmic management of the salary cap and the sword of Damocles hanging over Nathan Buckley’s head.
I would hate to sound like a Debbie Downer, but a credible argument can be made that nothing worked for the Pies. To go from contending for a grand final to second last on the ladder without their first-round draft pick, I could argue the Pies fundamentally mismanaged the assets they had available.
Playing the youth
The Pies have played a league-high nine debutants this season, giving all their players the opportunity to show their wares. It was good to see the young guns finally get their opportunities in a side that has all too frequently been dominated by their elder statesmen.
Caleb Poulter has been massive for the Pies, getting a valuable 11 games into him to show his magnificent mullet and his silky skills. Oliver Henry, Jack Ginnivan, Trent Bianco, and Beau McCreery have all given the Pies’ forward line a new look.
However, I must ask the question: are the Pies going for the law of averages to discover good talent rather than the more targeted approach that sides should take?
Darcy Cameron the forward
Darcy Cameron has been a breath of fresh air for the Pies this year. In a side that has been offensively impotent, 22 goals is impressive. He has brought a competence to the Collingwood forward line that has been sorely lacking.
While I have been quick to commend Mason Cox’s conduct off the field, I must admit that he is not a natural footballer.
Darcy Cameron provides strong contested marking in the air (2.2 average) and a good set shot action for the Pies (66.7 per cent). Cameron has shown development for the Pies and will benefit from another pre-season, knowing that he is the Pies’ leading man.
Naming an understated coach… finally
Craig McRae is a decidedly different decision for a side that has taken Nathan Buckley, Mick Malthouse, Tony Shaw and Leigh Matthews. Each of these coaches were superstars either in their coaching careers or in their playing careers.
They were unapologetically loud and willing to let the world know it. McRae lowers the temperature of the negotiations and relieves pressure on the young players coming through.
Everything. What ails the Pies is multifarious and complex. Even now they still must clear space on their cap and gain the draft capital to match a likely top-three bid on Nick Daicos.
The Pies have had a cataclysmically bad year that will go down in the record books. Here I will go through what I think is the clearest distillation of what affects the Pies.
The big mark against the Pies and their coaching under Nathan Buckley is their struggles scoring winning scores against good opposition.
The Pies had to drag their opposition down to their level as a crocodile would drag an unwitting victim into their clutches. They were third last in the league for scoring, and their defence did not compensate to win many games.
The issues may have been relieved somewhat under the coaching of Robert Harvey, however there were solid periods of that season in which the Pies were caught flat footed and unassertive.
The impacts of the calamitous trade period last year continue to be felt even 12 months later. The Pies just kept on digging a greater and greater hole for themselves as they traded out Tom Phillips, Jaidyn Stephenson, Adam Treloar and Atu Bosenavulagi for a pittance of what they would normally be worth.
To add insult to injury the Pies are still too close to comfort to the upper reaches of the total player payments measure as well, potentially resulting in the loss of players like Steele Sidebottom, Jordan de Goey and Scott Pendlebury.
The Pies led the league in average disposals (315 per match). Despite that control of the ball, they are still limited in their scoring ability. This indicates a critical shortage in their ability to move the ball from their defensive half to their forward half.
Under Robert Harvey these concerns were somewhat ameliorated, particularly in the match against West Coast and the match against Richmond where they were able to pile on the goals. However, I am left questioning whether their defence-first mentality will be functional in them ascending the ladder in the near future.
How dire are their salary cap problems?
They traded out four players because their contracts were far too rich for them to effectively pay out, clearing $1.5-2 million off their books. However, even now with massive contracts still going to Brodie Grundy and Jordan de Goey, there are still rumours about how bloated and stretched their salary cap is.
How many players will have to be traded out for them to get under the total player payments threshold. Moreover the Pies also have an old list, meaning they will have more pain in their future before they can reliably contend for a flag.
Will the Pies have enough picks to match the bid on Nick Daicos?
According to Cal Twomey and his August phantom draft, Nick Daicos is the presumptive pick one. That means the Pies will need to go up 2400 points in draft picks to match the bid.
The question isn’t whether they will have the points but will they want to? Nick Daicos is another high half forward/midfielder. He may be very good but will he stand up to the challenges of being the first cab off the rank?
The issues at Collingwood will not be resolved by one player but Daicos will go a long way to bringing some optimism to a club that has been decidedly lacking in that for years.
Select Nick Daicos
He is potentially a generational talent for the Collingwood side and the Pies need to do whatever they can to match the bid.
This isn’t the year the Pies will build the nucleus of their side but they should try and get the best available talent before focusing on need over the next two-three years. The one question I have is whether the matching of the bid this year will drag their next first-round selection back.
Trade out Jordan de Goey
De Goey’s back half of the year has been exemplary. While he may not be able to rival Dustin Martin just yet, he can make a solid selection for a club looking for a player to fill that striker role.
A side like Carlton would benefit immensely from a player of de Goey’s capabilities but they appear to already be going down the Adam Cerra path.
Six months ago I also would have said Essendon, however de Goey has too many problems for the Bombers to take a chance on the speculation that he might come good in the latter half of the year.
Best win: Round 17 Collingwood versus Richmond
Collingwood roared home to win by 16 points, piling on seven goals in the last quarter. They played with reckless abandon and closed the book on the possibility of Richmond making the finals.
Best and fairest: Jack Crisp
Jack Crisp has been massive for the Pies this year, making the move from a half-back flank to a midfield position. He has been huge for the Pies averaging 27 disposals, seven marks and 3.6 tackles across the season.
Season grade: F-
F is too gentle for the Pies. They’re getting an F minus. They have a lot to fix and a long way to go before they’re back in the promised land.
2022 early prediction
Fourteenth to 18th.
More pain is on the cards for the Pies going into season 2022. The highest they can hope for is the upper echelons of the bottom four.
What I would want to see is slightly higher scoring and better ball movement, while the young guns are continually prioritised.
Craig McRae is a perfect choice to take the Pies forward as he brings a humility to the role of head coach that has been sorely lacking. I hope that he is given the opportunity to bring his vision to fruition.
Well there you have it, Roarers. Tune in tomorrow for Part 3 in this series where I review the Gold Coast Suns.