Does Jamie Elliott’s Midfield Move Make The Collingwood Puzzle Fall Into Place?

Until Friday night, Jamie Elliot had just been kind of existing this season, playing as a fading outline of a dangerous player.

In losses to GWS and Essendon, he’d been anonymous, failing to score, and failing to do much of anything else. 

Elliott has had a bizarre career, and against Hawthorn, it took its newest turn. 

With Collingwood in upheaval heading in, and players being moved around, Elliott found himself in the middle, where his impact was significant.

Elliott’s greatest talents – fleeting in the forward line and dependent on supply – imposed themselves on the match. 

His quick-twitch, sort of crazed kinetic athleticism won the ball in close, with the quick whipped kicks that Elliott loves, usually infrequent and closer to goal, becoming regular clearances.    

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Elliott plays with manic, uncaged energy – like a shootout that a character in a film suddenly stumbles into. He’s always weaving and dodging, faking and jumping, bouncing the ball unnecessarily, trying to do more than the simple thing.

For much of Elliott’s first five weeks this year he looked suffocated. 

In the midfield on Friday night however, he was able to breathe and express himself again. 

He created separation with his pace, thrived in congestion, and was back to selling dummies in crowded spaces. 

He only had 15 touches on the night, but managed a career-high five clearances and put his imprint on the game.

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After two strange weeks – on all levels – Collingwood looked like their best selves again. 

When the Pies are on, they steer the ball effortlessly through sharp angles, with inside and outside diagonal passes, weaving through space with delicate and unceasing momentum.

Teams that don’t show up against Collingwood, and who allow them to play their smooth, gliding game, are quickly taken care of. The Hawks – who were hardly present in the first half – were finished off early, with Collingwood moving through them like a training drill.

One passage in the second quarter perfectly summed up Collingwood’s rhythm and connection; Isaac Quaynor, dashing off half-back, lofting the ball towards Brody Mihocek who created a spill from the contest, which Will Hoskin-Elliott ran onto. Mihocek then bounced up, made a dangerous run into the forward pocket, with Hoskin-Elliott settling and steering an opposite-foot kick into his path. The latter finished with a snap, getting some late bend.

The passage was all one motion, all breathless, but at the same time easy.

Mihocek – who kicked four goals on Friday night, and is second in the Coleman medal race, has become the symbol of Collingwood’s forward line, which also remains the team’s biggest worry.

He’s is a strong mark overhead, reads the play well, has a smooth left-to-right glide on his kicks, and competes tirelessly. 

But he’s also mis-cast as the key forward on a team currently billed as joint premiership favourites. 

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The Collingwood forward line has been trying to find itself ever since quarter time of the 2018 Grand Final. 

The first quarter that day, and the four quarters before it against Richmond, showed how devastating their forward set-up could be, with Mason Cox riding a wave of unprecedented religious power, with a fleet of pacey, opportunistic smalls at his feet who terrified and rattled teams with their speed.

The Pies were thrilling back then on the counter, with the acceleration of Jaidyn Stephenson and Will Hoskin-Elliott unlocking sudden freeways, and with Jordan De Goey one of the most frightening, unstoppable players in the league one-on-one inside 50.

Teams gradually have taken away those counter-attacking freeways from Collingwood, playing more defensively and deliberately, forcing them into slower build-ups. 

Mihocek and Cox have become more important as a result, with the former battling admirably, and the latter falling off into an underwhelming human state.

The Magpies have no star classical key forward, the archetypal tall reliable bail-out option when the game slows down, and none is coming this season. The only properly menacing individual that the Pies have had in the forward line has been De Goey, playing out of the goal square.

Elliott was supposed to be the missing piece, the arrival who would free up De Goey to realise his destiny as a fully-fledged midfielder, but Elliott just hasn’t found his way in the forward line, and it hasn’t worked. 

Without De Goey in the goal square, the Pies forward line looks tame. 

Friday night suggested a twist here – perhaps Elliott’s arrival will free up De Goey to realise his destiny in this team after all, but as the key forward, with Elliott on the ball.

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Jay Croucher

Based in Denver, Colorado, Jay splits time between worshiping Nikola Jokic and waking up at 3am to hazily watch AFL games. He has been writing about AFL, NBA and other US sports since 2014, and has suckered himself into thinking Port Adelaide was the real deal each year since.

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