Can Collingwood's Pivot To Youth Keep Them Relevant?
In what shapes as a do-or-die season, the spotlight couldn’t be burning brighter on Collingwood.
As the pressure builds on the club in the wake of a tumultuous off-season, and with Nathan Buckley in the final year of his contract, how the Pies perform in 2021 may well define their next decade.
Since coming so devastatingly close in 2018, the Pies have since hovered around the mark, however their 68-point Semi-Final loss to Geelong last season appears to have ushered in a reckoning within the four walls of this storied club.
What followed was an aggressive off-season which saw the club shed salary, and plenty of talent too, trading Adam Treloar to the Bulldogs, sending Tom Philips to Hawthorn while also bidding farewell to 2018 AFL Rising Star Jaidyn Stephenson who'll suit up for North Melbourne this season.
After three straight seasons of Finals football, a sense of external trepidation has crept in, with the Stats Insider Futures model installing them as tenth favourites for the flag, along with just a 41.7% chance of keeping their September streak alive.
Yet all might not be lost for the Pies, with the club set to unleash a myriad of highly-touted youth upon the league, the likes of which could keep the club both relevant in the short term and provide the engine for their next premiership assault.
The Pies will enter season 2021 with an average playing age of just 24.3 years of age, which is ranked 12th in the league. In fact, it's the youngest the club has been (relative to the rest of the competition) since 2015, while those numbers are even more noteworthy considering they were the league's oldest heading into last season.
For Collingwood, their investment in youth comes with a sense of the unknown, yet accompanied by plenty of excitement.
Josh Daicos played all but one game last year averaging 17.3 touches per game. He'll have more responsibilities, and expectation, on his shoulders in 2021 and beyond.
It'll be a similar story for both Callum and Tyler Brown who at 22 and 21 years of age, and with a combined 58 games already under their belts, will be expected to provide plenty more, especially in the wake of so much turnover in the midfield.
The Pies will all also look to unleash it's duo of first-round picks from the 2020 draft, with Oliver Henry already impressing in the pre-season. The versatile 6-foot forward from the Geelong Falcons is expected to play against the Bulldogs this Friday night, with the club hoping his versatility and aerial ability could unsettle opponents all season. Finlay Maccrae, brother of premiership Bulldog and 2-time All-Australian Jackson, is also figured to feature in Collingwood's short and long-term plans.
As for Collingwood's more established talent, their brutal off-season will result in some major positional re-shuffling.
The departure of Treloar could see Jordan De Goey take up a more pronounced role in midfield, with Pies fans hoping his 27 disposal, two-goal pre-season outing against the Tigers was a harbinger of things to come.
Meanwhile, the return of Jeremy Howe will be crucial to the club's defensive structure, and which indeed might further ignite Isaac Quaynor who looks on the verge of breaking out across half-back. He collected 23 touches and amassed 500 metres gained in the pre-season against Richmond. Like Brayden Maynard, Quaynor's ability to win the ball, coupled with his run and carry out of the back-line, could underpin a much quicker, and more direct Collingwood outfit in 2021.
While there's understandably a sense of doom about Collingwood's off-season, major steps have been taken to re-configure their club and to potentially set themselves up for their next premiership opportunity.
Buckley will be hoping he can use the external pressure to galvanise the team, re-assert his mark on this young list, and perhaps even solidify his contract status in the process.
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