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The Roar


Stuff the excuses - Collingwood are making the same mistakes as always after success, and it's time to act

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Roar Guru
25th March, 2024
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The funniest thing about Collingwood’s 0-3 start to the 2024 season is that, apparently, they’re immune to criticism. They won a flag, you see.

That’s what I heard SEN‘s Mark Fine tell one caller who bemoaned the Magpies’ lacklustre effort against Sydney, and then lamented the flag unfurling had been too early.

Some commended Fine for the stance in shutting down an ungrateful malcontent, and for pointing out that a club like St Kilda would be delighted to so much as have a flag to unfurl. Not me.

So, this is where we are, is it? With no offence intended to St Kilda, do we really need to compare down to make ourselves feel better?

Still, it doesn’t stop other Collingwood fans from using similar defences. “What’re you complaining about?” they ask. “We’re the premiers!” others exclaim. “Just enjoy the flag,” some will tell you.

The thing about football, or any sport really, is it’s not a standalone movie where the champion is immortalised in some final still frame that will never be sullied. There’s always another championship, there’s always another season, there’s always another pinnacle.

When Leigh Matthews issued a pre-season warning about Collingwood over-celebrating, it was startling just how defensive some supporters got. What would Matthews know? He was just the coach of the Pies’ drought-breaking premiership in 1990, and who by his own admission let the players celebrate so long they frittered away half of 1991.


By the time Collingwood got their act together that season and embarked on a late run for the finals, it was too late.

History’s the best educator. Collingwood’s 1990 flag side had a handful of older guns at the top, and then a lot of young and mid-aged talent. I recall Gerard Healy suggesting that Collingwood might embark on a dynasty, like Hawthorn had enjoyed through the 1980s. I thought the same.

But 1991 was a bust. In 1992, Collingwood finished equal first but third on the ladder, bombing straight out in the finals; and that was it. They were done.

They missed finals in 1993, played one final in 1994, and missed out altogether in 1995. For the rest of the 1990s, they deteriorated on and off the field, culminating in the 1999 wooden spoon.

I didn’t see Matthews as being pessimistic or overly alarmist. I just thought it was a small caution from a man who’d seen a premiership hangover happen firsthand. He knows how Collingwood operates – he’s experienced how fervour can escalate into something so immersive that perspective is lost, and how celebration can become a distraction.

Matthews ensured it never occurred at the Lions, as Brisbane won flags in 2001, 2002, and 2003, and made the grand final in 2004. Could it be he learned from his mistakes? What a novel concept.

You really don’t know how often these chances to win flags will come around. Players age, get injured, or lose form. Other teams improve. You not only have to take your chances while they’re there but, much more importantly, make them while you’re able.

The Magpies look dejected after losing to the Swans

Can Collingwood avoid a dreaded premiership hangover? (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

There are no excuses for where Collingwood sits presently. I’ll accept losing if they were leaving it all out on the field and being beaten by a better team, but right now they’re not offering anything close to their best.

Players look disinterested. Skills are appalling. Cohesion is non-existent.

But how do many fans explain Collingwood’s efforts? Well, the Pies are behind in preparation – they started their pre-season four weeks later than most other clubs because they played in the grand final.

I’ve never understood this excuse. They started four weeks later, but they finished four weeks later too. Doesn’t this mean they’ve gained more genuine match practice? In addition, Carlton and GWS finished only one week earlier, and neither have been beaten yet this year.

Daniel McStay’s injured – there’s another justification. He’s such an important cog to Collingwood – let’s point at the preliminary final as evidence.

However, he was injured for half the home and away season last year, too, and that didn’t stop Collingwood comfortably finishing minor premiers.


Nathan Murphy’s out as well. Yes, that’s a big blow to a tight-knit defence. But sticking Murphy in there doesn’t fix slipshod counterattacks, magically repair errant disposal, or ensure that his teammates stick to their opponents, rather than allowing them unopposed access to the ball.

Or how about one of the best arguments yet – the Magpies have been worked out. Clubs like Hawthorn, Richmond, and Geelong apparently escaped such dissection in recent years to enjoy prolonged periods of premiership contention, but the moment it stops working for Collingwood, it’s because they’ve been worked out.

These are all excuses.

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As Collingwood supporters, we love them. Take Thursday night’s game against St Kilda as another case in point. Jack Higgins kicked a brilliant goal to silence Collingwood’s belated comeback. Conjecture has arisen over whether the ball was in or out of bounds when Higgins kicked it.

Here’s the reality: it was IN because the officiating umpire said it was in. Whether the decision is technically right or wrong is irrelevant. It was paid in, so it’s in. Bleating about it, examining it, and screenshotting it, isn’t going to change it, and does nothing but offer another excuse for failure, rather than examining the real problems.


Some in the media have cottoned on, though. After the loss to St Kilda, Mick McGuane said Collingwood were playing ‘dishonest footy’.

Kane Cornes suggested Collingwood were ‘timid’ and ‘didn’t really want to have contact’; Jason Dunstall said they ‘weren’t prepared to put their bodies on the line like St Kilda were’.

These aren’t excuses. These are reasons. Excuses are built to wallow in; reasons provide a guide for improvement.

That’s what it really comes down to: the things Collingwood CAN control – if they want to.

Credit to Craig McRae for dismissing the excuses; he might occasionally sound like a life coach peddling spiritual wisdom, but at least he’s trying to take responsibility. Behind closed doors, I’m sure he’s probably a little more direct, too.

I’m curious how Collingwood respond – it’s early enough in the season to stabilise and rebuild, but there are now enough warning signs to justify concern.

Unfortunately, if there’s a club at which celebrations could unravel everything, it’s the Magpies – just as it did in 1991.


Take the mess that followed the 2010 premiership as an example; while they got the on-field stuff right for most of 2011, off-field, things were spectacularly unravelling due to the ill-fated coaching succession plan from Mick Malthouse to Nathan Buckley. Thanks, Eddie.

There’s no such succession now, but football boss Graham Wright’s long-service leave has reportedly created fiction among those trying to cover his position, and you have to wonder how well the Magpie machine is working compared to last year.

As glorious as 2023 was, it WAS 2023 – the past. This is 2024. Being the 2023 premier doesn’t hand you any advantages, favours, or exemptions. It doesn’t exempt them from criticism. The footy starts all over again, and everybody’s even.

Unless you’re not all-in, in which case you’re starting well behind the pack – just as the Magpies seem to be.