How Collingwood Can Rebuild After Their Disastrous Season
To put it lightly, it was a catastrophic season for the Collingwood Football Club.
After a tumultuous trade period and many key departures, the table was set for a trying and difficult campaign.
On the field, performances waned which eventually led to the mid-season dismissal of club legend Nathan Buckley as coach.
Off the field, an ugly board stoush lingered over the club and still threatens to boil over in the embers of one of the club’s worst seasons in their proud 129-year history.
However, with the club set to embark on a new era with the arrival of a new senior coach – there’s perhaps a small glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.
Despite the potential disruptions a board spill may provide at the upcoming annual general meeting in December - are things, from purely an on-field standpoint, really as bad as they look?
Let’s take a look at what the new coach can build upon and repair heading into next season and beyond.
Fix the lapses
From face value a 6-16 win-loss record is abysmal.
Although it may look in grim on paper, the record may have been more positively skewed had it not been for lapses which ultimately cost them on the scoreboard.
From 16 losses, the Magpies were remarkably and perhaps surprisingly competitive, only losing by more than 30 points twice.
Collingwood’s inability to put together four quarters of solid football let them down throughout the season as they fell into the habit of either starting or finishing games strongly – but were consistently plagued by drop offs in the second and third terms.
On seven occasions, Collingwood led at quarter-time and went on to lose the game including one-point losses to top-four sides in Brisbane and Port Adelaide.
The Magpies would also win the last quarter six-times in their losses, racing home but falling short against the Western Bulldogs, Geelong and St Kilda.
Incredibly, they only won five second quarters and ten third quarters for the entire season.
These lapses can come down to a multitude of factors including inexperience, game-plan, fitness and the opposition – but there are signs in these performances that they can match it with the best.
When they clicked, they beat the minor premiers Melbourne and knocked off both Richmond and West Coast.
Imagine what they may be able to do when those drop offs are stamped out? You close out those five aforementioned games and suddenly you’re right back in the mix for finals.
Sort out the attack
If Collingwood are to make any inroads next season, they need to sort out their attack.
Despite their move to an attacking game-plan under caretaker coach Robert Harvey, the Magpies still struggled to kick a winning score – only kicking over 80 points on two occasions (their two wins).
In fact, they had the third worst attack in the league averaging just over 70 points a game and kicking over 100 only once for the entire season – something they’ve only done once in 44 games.
At times, there has been an obvious lack of connection with their entries inside 50 but more poignantly – they rank last for inside 50s which is something the new coach must address this off-season.
Although the scores aren’t coming, there are building blocks to work with.
Brody Mihocek is one of the most under-rated key forwards in the league. Jamie Elliott is a premiere small forward when fit and Darcy Cameron is a promising forward-ruck.
First-year forwards Ollie Henry, Beau McCreery and Jack Ginnivan all offer unique skill-sets as mid-small forwards, while youngsters Will Kelly, Ash Johnson and Liam McMahon have huge wraps as emerging key-forwards.
However, there are still questions remaining about their lack of a game-changing key-forward.
The Mason Cox experiment looks to have run its course and despite Cameron impressing, is he the player to truly take the pressure off Mihocek who is best used as a second prong?
It will be intriguing to see how the Pies tackle this off-season and whether they look to move some chips in order to land a key forward or look to develop one of their youthful trio.
Building a young nucleus
It must be made clear that there is still talent on Collingwood’s list.
The Pies are in the odd position of still, at full strength, having a team who can compete but fluctuate due to their lack of experience in their bottom six and depth.
Their 2020 player exodus saw players from their best 22 and depth leave the Holden Centre which equated to almost 1300 games worth of experience – only to be replaced by ten draftees.
Heading into the season, they were already forced to turn to youngsters to fill the gaps and this was further exacerbated when the injuries kicked in.
Darcy Moore, Taylor Adams, Jeremy Howe and Jamie Elliott’s long-term injuries all exposed the Magpies depth issues as they were now forced to turn to players who had little to no experience at senior level.
Although it may have seen results drop off, it also saw the much-needed development of the youngsters on their list.
Nine debutants put on the black and white jersey this season along with a further 12 players who had played 40 games or less featuring regularly including Josh Daicos, Isaac Quaynor and John Noble who built on break-out campaigns along with Trey Ruscoe and Nathan Murphy who featured regularly.
Despite (perhaps harshly) not getting a single Rising Star nomination, the likes of Henry, McCreery, Trent Bianco, Jay Rantall, Finlay Macrae and Caleb Poulter all showed signs of promise in their debut season and will only further develop with another pre-season under their belts.
Untried second-round picks Reef McInnes and McMahon are also among their promising young crop along with the arrival of touted number one pick Nick Daicos who looms as one of the most exciting youngsters in the game.
However, there isn’t just sole reliance on the youngsters to take the team forward with their more established talent set to lead the charge in 2022.
Jordan De Goey and Jack Crisp are both coming off career seasons, ruckman Brodie Grundy bounced back after a tough campaign in 2020 and Mihocek was exceptional up forward.
Moore, Adams, Elliott and Howe will all look to put injury-riddled seasons behind them and help usher in the next generation along with veterans Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom and Jordan Roughead.
Another imperative is making sure De Goey, Moore and Brayden Maynard’s contracts are extended beyond 2022.
There may be a squeeze due to their salary cap constraints but the Pies must lock them down despite the trio all set to demand hefty fees and plenty of attention from rivals.
2022 and beyond
Just like a year ago, the Magpies enter an important off-season which will help shape the club going forward – from an on-field and off-field perspective.
A big decision looms as to who will take the club forward from a coaching stand-point as the club embarks on a new era.
There is no doubt that there is a lot of talent for the new coach to work with – ranging from experienced to youthful.
Collingwood fans should exercise patience but at the same time can also be optimistic about the future.
A surge up the ladder may not happen straight away but rebuilds do differ from team-to-team.
There is no clear and obvious blueprint to enact one and teams have learned that the hard way.
The beauty of the AFL is the evenness throughout the competition and this season has proven that on ‘any given weekend’ – anyone can beat anyone.
No one foresaw Essendon or Sydney’s rise up the ladder this season and not even the most optimistic of Melbourne fans would’ve told you they would’ve finished top.
You enact the right processes; you get the wheels in motion and suddenly those 14 losses by under five goals can get turned around quicker than expected.
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