Sadpies: How Collingwood's Season Has Turned Into A Nightmare
It actually wasn’t all that long ago when the Pies were one of the league’s most fearsome outfits.
They came agonisingly close to a 16th club premiership in 2018, and were just four-points shy of returning for another shot twelve months later.
Last season they opened the season in pulsating form, destroying the Dogs by 52-points while enjoying premiership favouritism throughout the league's Covid-enforced hiatus.
Collingwood’s fall however has been brutally swift, with the club currently sitting in 16th place with a 1-4 record, while the Stats Insider futures modelis granting them just a 20.1% chance of returning to the Finals for a fourth-straight season.
Where has it all gone wrong for a club who seemed on the cusp of a glittering era, and is there any hope for salvation?
Cracking under pressure
When the Pies are winning, they love to play the game on their terms, controlling possession, wearing down opponents and relying on their defence to keep the wolves at bay.
It's a recipe they took all the way to their 2018 Grand Final cook-off where they were the league's #1 team where both disposal and clearance differential were concerned.
And it's a recipe they took out of the bottom drawer in their only win of the season back in Round Two against Carlton where the Pies dialled up a +427 metres gained edge off the back of a season-high 74.4% disposal efficiency that paved the way for their 21-point win.
The problem for Collingwood is don't get to play the Blues every week.
Indeed, in recent times, when the Pies have been pitted against opponents prepared to roll up their sleeves and apply pressure, Collingwood's exhibited a marked tendency to wilt, with their well-documented off season departures leaving a massive hole, particularly in midfield.
This season, only North Melbourne is faring worse than Collingwood's -47.2 disposal differential, while its 71.2% disposal efficiency is the league's 4th-worst figure. Rarely having the ball and coughing it up when you do is making life seriously hard for the Pies, with the knock-on effect being ranked 14th in attack, and which is managing just 73.4points per game.
Thankfully for Collingwood, the damage could have been significantly worse if not for the phenomenal exploits of Darcy Moore. Their 87.3 percentage is encouraging for a 1-4 team, and has been helped along by a tenacious rear-guard. While they are ranked 12th for inside-50 differential, and are undoubtedly under siege, the Pies are only allowing opponents to generate a scoring shot on 37% of incursions inside-50, which is a number bettered only by the Demons.
Over-reliance on an underperforming star
Not only has Collingwood placed so many of its eggs into the Jordan De Goey basket from a salary point of view, but it's doing so from a strategic standpoint too, and it's costing them dearly.
While De Goey is obviously an enormous talent, he's also a confounding one, with the Pies still trying to find an optimal role for him some seven years into his career.
The off-season exits of Adam Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson and Tom Philipps were expected to usher in a more pronounced midfield role for the former #5 pick, however De Goey's 12.2 disposals per game represent a career low, while his 1.4 tackles per game ranks him 22 of 26 at the Pies.
De Goey's inability to transition into a reliable midfielder has meant Collingwood has preferred to re-deploy him forward, hoping he can recapture the magic of his 2018 season which saw him boot 48 goals and appear on the brink of absolute stardom.
So far De Goey's kicked 7 goals and is ranked 2nd at the Pies for marks inside-50, yet his conversion in front of goal is letting him down spectacularly.
According to Stats Insider's Shot Charting, De Goey has nailed just 33% of his general play shots this season, which is down sharply from the lofty 56% he posted in his remarkable 2018 campaign. While he has nailed 4 of 6 set shots thus far, the nature of Collingwood's play means the bulk of his chances are going to come from in-play situations.
One and half million dollar contracts aside, Collingwood are reeling from not having many of their young guns step up around him.
Last year's two first-round picks Oliver Henry and Finlay Macrae have combined for just two games so far, while big hopes such as Josh Daicos and the Brown brothers have failed to achieve lift-off in 2021, with none of that trio averaging more than 15 touches per game, combining for just 6 goals from their 13 games.
Rookie Beau McCreery has however given them some life. Last year's selection 44 from South Adelaide has already booted 3 goals from his 2 games, while his 8 tackles inside-50 not only lead the club, but that's the same number De Goey has applied through his last 15 matches.
So where to from here?
With so much personnel departure, to say nothing of the overall upheaval at the club, or even Nathan Buckley's contract status, it's fair to say Collingwood are firmly behind the eight ball.
However something the Pies have immediate control over is how they play the game, which simply must start with improved ball movement.
Currently, of the 8 teams in the league who have posted at least a 73% disposal efficiency on the season, all but Hawthorn have a winning record. In the modern AFL, there's simply no-where to hide where errant ball use is concerned.
The season is just five games old, and Collingwood isn't so devoid of talent to completely throw in the towel. It might just have to assemble and deploy that talent differently.
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