Why Don Pyke Could Be Perfect For Collingwood
If your mind, soul and ethics are able to move past the “power stance” and Adelaide’s ill-fated 2018 pre-season camp, then a serious discussion can be had about the merits of Collingwood hiring Don Pyke as its next coach.
As it stands, the bookies have the current Sydney assistant among the leading contenders for the Pies’ job within a pool that mightn’t see Alastair Clarkson do a bomb off the diving board to join.
And if that’s the case, then Pyke could be as sound a selection as any.
Pyke’s got the lengthy playing background, forged in premiership winning teams where his foot soldier role provided him a unique view of what goes into club-wide excellence. He’s also got that highly-sort afterlife beyond football thing going, co-founding an analytics firm which he’s since sold and made a squillion dollars from.
Most importantly however, it’s his work as an actual AFL coach which speaks for itself, first announcing himself as a brilliant tactician with Adelaide, and whose skills are now manifesting themselves on a Swans outfit he’s helped mould into a serious premiership prospect.
But why Pyke might be best suited for the Collingwood job is his demonstrated ability to fix what’s been ailing the Pies for almost 10 years now and pertains to their continual inability to make the scoreboard hum.
Even when Collingwood was good for a few years under Nathan Buckley’s stewardship, contesting a grand final that was wedged in between a couple of other September appearances, the Pies were anything but an offensive juggernaut.
In fact, in Buckley’s ten seasons in charge, Collingwood produced a single top-four attack (2018), and was ranked on average 10th for points per game throughout his tenure.
As for this current Pies team, well they’ve hit rock-bottom where generating consistent, game winning scores are concerned. They rank 16th for points scored, literally the worst number the club has ever sported, while they also rank 16th for points per disposal and 16th for producing a scoring shot once inside 50.
When Pyke landed the Adelaide gig in late 2015, it was just five months after Phil Walsh had died and weeks after Patrick Dangerfield had already shifted his surfboards and sense of humour to Geelong.
While Pyke did inherit a club that had just made finals, it was also one which was still grieving and facing an uncertain future.
Not only did Pyke galvanise the team, but he immediately made a pretty decent team excellent, while also installing one of the most insane attacks the game has seen.
In his first season, Adelaide scored 103 points more than the league’s next best offence and cooked up no less than 21 goals in an elimination final against North Melbourne. The Crows produced another 21-goal September performance a year later in a preliminary showdown against Geelong off the back of a campaign that saw them score more than 2400 home-and-away points, and which netted the club’s second-ever minor premiership.
While Pyke’s reign in Adelaide soured quickly, savaged by the Tigers on the biggest stage in 2017 before concocting the most asinine idea for a pre-season camp in sporting history, his work in Adelaide was genuinely remarkable and has perhaps been overshadowed by his messy departure.
In this, Pyke’s first season as assistant to John Longmire in Sydney, he’s helped turn around a club that had missed finals in consecutive seasons for the first time in nearly 30 years and transformed it into a genuine force.
Last season, the Swans were one of just four teams which failed to crack 900 points, and while yes, Lance Franklin missing the entire season didn’t help, they’d ranked 12th the season prior and had seemingly run out of ideas.
Enter Pyke, who has helped the Swans jump from 15th to 4th for points scored and whose average of 88.5 points per game against top-eight opponents is the competition’s best figure.
So, if Collingwood was to grant Pyke its best car park space at the Holden Centre, would he be able to immediately deliver similar results? Would he be able to morph the Pies into an offensive monolith and potential finalist with the same kind of speed he conjured in both Adelaide and Sydney?
Well, not exactly.
In Adelaide Pyke inherited a devilishly-talented forward core which was serviced by a midfield still getting elite Scott Thompson production and just starting to see the brilliance of the two Rorys, Sloane and Laird.
Up forward, Eddie Betts, Tex Walker, Josh Jenkins and Tom Lynch had just combined for 263 goals, while a young Charlie Cameron was also flashing the skills that would soon earn him an All-Australian blazer.
In Sydney, his job has been made easier by another vintage Lance Franklin campaign, helped along by the typically excellent work of Tom Papley and fuelled by a midfield that’s proven that indeed rust never sleeps.
Collingwood’s best, most consistent forward over the last few years has been Brody Mihocek, and while he’s an undeniably admirable competitor, he probably shouldn’t be the fulcrum of a team’s attack. There’s also Jordan de Goey and Jamie Elliott floating around, and while both are tattooed and talented, they both equally suffer from inconsistency and injuries.
From an up-and-coming perspective, Oliver Henry is genuinely intriguing. The Pies invested a first-round pick on the young talent last year, and while he struggled early, he’s looked promising of late, kicking a handful of goals and averaging seven marks over his last two games.
Outside of Henry, however, and perhaps Beau McCreery, Pyke would have to squint very hard to see where the ingredients of his next great offence are.
Yet despite Collingwood’s talent drain, which indeed extends beyond an unproductive forward line, Pyke could still exert a strong influence on this crestfallen club by first establishing a positive environment, and secondly, setting in place a significantly more modern, nuanced framework for attack.
While that Adelaide pre-season camp can never be erased from history, and while our eyes will never be able to unsee the “power stance”, Pyke surely deserves another shot at the big time. Perhaps Collingwood can be the perfect home.
* This article first appeared on Rohan Connolly's FOOTYOLOGY website
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