Collingwood endured a torrid season everywhere from the board room to the playing field, the coaches box and recruitment department, with people exiting the Holden Centre en masse.
The president was the first to go after his tone-deaf gaffe regarding the Do Better external review, with the list manager at the heart of last season’s disastrous trade period departing soon after, before the coach announced his resignation and the Pies started winning again.
But before all this calamity, Collingwood made a very astute appointment in hiring Graham Wright, 1990 premiership player and 201 gamer. But more importantly, he was the list manager at Hawthorn who put together their lists to win four flags.
Wright has so far seen off Nathan Buckley, Ned Guy, Robert Harvey, and Troy Selwood (who only lasted six weeks), replacing them with new coach Craig McRae, who has been given a pair of ex-coaches as assistants in Brendon Bolton and Justin Leppitsch.
The board room has also been reshuffled, with its third president in a year appointed last week. Several other new faces have been elected as the factional infighting was finally drawn to a close with elections.
All this was the backdrop to a season of dismal on-field performances and a club administration that was putting all of its eggs in the Nick Daicos basket.
Eddie McGuire and Nathan Buckley aside, Collingwood had a swathe of players retire, with 2018 grand final players Chris Mayne, Levi Greenwood and Josh Thomas calling time on their careers, while Anton Tohill has returned to Ireland to resume his medical studies.
In fact, only 12 of the grand final team remain, with Brayden Sier getting delisted, which could well be 11 if Jordan de Goey’s assault case warrants his sacking.
Max Lynch got traded as part of the ruck merry-go-round, while the athletic Jay Rantall was also delisted and Isaac Chugg was temporarily made a delisted free agent with a promise to be re-rookied.
Mid-season rookie draft
Collingwood did not take part in the supplemental selection period, instead carrying a vacant list spot into the mid-season rookie draft, where they were among the most active, taking Ash Johnson, the latest of the Hall’s Creek mob to get drafted, and undrafted free agent Aiden Begg from Eastern Ranges.
The Pies were again active at the trade table, making ten separate deals in order to cover all bid matching scenarios, including live trades on either side of the bid on Daicos that gave them draft position and even banked picks in the future.
Things kicked off between the two most obvious trade partners, with Collingwood wanting picks for their points value and the Suns desperate to get out of the 2021 draft, with their 2022 second-, third- and fourth-round picks going north in exchange for picks 22, 46, 58, 79 and a future fourth-rounder.
Then the Pies got back into player recruiting mode, giving up pick 41 to Geelong in exchange for Nathan Kreuger and pick 55, going on to trade with the Bulldogs, sending pick 43 for Patrick Lipinski.
A pick trade with Fremantle allowed them to turn pick 22 into pick 27 and a future third-round pick, which they needed to do because such an early pick was no use to them and they had already traded most of their future picks to the Suns.
They then sent Max Lynch to Hawthorn with future third- and fourth-round picks for a pair of 2022 third-round picks, offloaded pick 27 to Richmond for picks 38, 40 and a future third-rounder, before flipping pick 55 to St Kilda for their future fourth-rounder.
In live trading, before Gil McLachlan had the chance to clear his throat, the Pies gave pick 36 to North for pick 48 and yet another future third-rounder.
Having achieved their main objective in preserving enough picks to match the bid on Daicos, they then cleverly traded back in giving GWS one of their future thirds for pick 48, which was remarkable because it was the same future pick they had traded pick 55 to St Kilda for.
Then they shifted up from pick 47 to pick 45 with a future third-round pick to pinch Arlo Draper before the Bombers could, ending a remarkable trade period for the club with the most headlines of 2021.
The Pies went into draft night knowing that for all their crafty trading, the night had the potential to go sour if Daicos got picked earlier than they had bargained for, so when he slid to pick four they knew they had really dodged a bullet.
Although the bill was steep, essentially they were able to get back into the third round with Draper at 45, massive slider Cooper Murley at 49 and Harvey Harrison at 52, the trio having all come from the SANFL.
Collingwood shocked many when overlooking Ned Moyle in the mid-season rookie draft. He had been playing in their VFL team and impressing recruiters, but their selection of Ash Johnson was inspired as the high marking mature ager who was setting the SANFL on fire earlier this year.
Their other pick in the mid-season rookie draft was also a shock, as they took the seventh ruckman with pick 18 in Aiden Begg, who is undersized for an AFL ruck but has the characteristics of a key position player and will be in development.
Nathan Kreuger adds some much-needed height to the Pies forward line and his development has brought him to AFL level in the Geelong system behind two of the best key forwards going around.
Patrick Lipinski immediately makes the Pies’ midfield better and he might well have been the steal of the trade period, with the Dogs having very little leverage and just taking the points on offer to match their own father-son.
Landing their father-son target was never in doubt, but what is probably an added bonus is that Nick Daicos is the oldest player from his draft year of 2003, being born on January 3, so expect to see a Sam Walsh type of debut year.
Arlo Draper spent 2021 running around the training paddock with Bryce Gibbs, Jason Horne-Francis and Matt Roberts for South Adelaide, sliding out of the opening rounds after missing the draft combine and the end of the season due to injury.
Cooper Murley was another slider that the Pies snapped up, coming in as a potential replacement to the retiring Josh Thomas, with the speedy small forward impressing recruiters before injuries cruelled his draft year.
Harvey Harrison is an inside mid with speed to burn, getting a somewhat surprising call-up after playing a solid year for Norwood’s under-18s, so expect him to be a fixture in the VFL until he matures.
Collingwood has been ever so clever in dragging themselves out of the player payments crisis, but they’ve lost a lot of bark along the way and there could still be pain ahead with only one future pick inside the first two rounds.
Their entire strategy has been to build a team around Nick Daicos to develop while they still have their senior stars such as Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom to guide them through the rebuild.
It just remains to be seen as to whether Collingwood can climb the mountain again before the attrition of age cuts down too many more of their 2018 side.