Collingwood caretaker coach Robert Harvey addresses his charges for the last time in 2021. (Photo: Collingwood FC/Twitter)

Collingwood's 2021 season was brightened by the debuts of nine new faces, despite the club falling to its worst ladder position in the 18-team era.

2021 has been an unfortunate fall from grace for the Collingwood Football Club, finishing the season 17th on the ladder. With only six games in the win column, the Magpies will gain some confidence from only losing by more than 30 points twice, but will look to season 2022 sorely disappointed by this year’s performance.

Collingwood did go through significant change during the season, with Nathan Buckley ousted from the head coaching role in the middle of the season, and Robert Harvey then taking the reins as caretaker coach from Round 14 onwards.

On-field, the changes continued, with the club debuting nine players throughout the year to give the Magpie Army something to celebrate.

What worked?

On-field, the biggest shining light has arguably been the amount of debutants Collingwood named, with nine new players donning the black and white this season.

The youth injection provided many opportunities and considerable amounts of game time to ply their trade, with special mentions going to Beau McCreery (debuted R3), Caleb Poulter (R7), Oliver Henry (R1), and Trent Bianco (R11), who all played ten or more games for the year.

The rotation of Jordan de Goey and Jamie Elliott through the midfield has worked wonders for both their individual games and has been integral to the Magpies’ ability to get the ball into the forward half of the ground. Playing a similar role, the push that both players provide has changed Collingwood’s deliveries inside 50.

What didn’t?

Between Buckley and Harvey, not much changed in terms of the game plan, with ball movement remaining far too slow and stagnant most of the time.

It was tough to turn any good bit of play into a goal-scoring opportunity as mere glimpses of fast and attacking football were shown by the team regardless of who the head coach was at the time.

Those instances proved the most frustrating to Collingwood people as they showed just how capable the team could be.

The connection between the midfield and the forward line struggled all season, with supply inside 50 stuttering and varying, causing forwards at times to have to get their touches further up the ground.

Who impressed?

Jack Crisp has been Collingwood’s most consistent player this year, without a doubt, and is the red hot favourite for the Copeland Trophy after an outstanding year.

Playing off halfback and in the midfield when needed, Crisp hasn’t missed a game since his Magpies debut in 2015. Only three games this year has he had less than 20 disposals, with his run and carry style key to Collingwood’s ball movement.

Isaac Quaynor and John Noble have been instrumental in Collingwood’s defence this year, especially given the absences of both Darcy Moore and Jeremy Howe for large portions of the season.

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Season Highlight

Round 13 may have been Buckley’s last game at the helm, but Collingwood beating ladder-leaders Melbourne by 17 points at the SCG was certainly a highlight, especially for a club going through major changes, and how much outside noise said changes were generating.

The Magpies were trailing going into the quarter-time break but found the right gear for the rest of the match. Both Jordan de Goey and Brayden Maynard had 32 disposals each as Darcy Cameron kicked a career-high four goals.

Collingwood familiarised themselves again with fourth-quarter fightbacks in 2021, which could be argued contributed to its inability to be beaten by large margins, but it was the seven-goal final term against Richmond in Round 17 where effort and determination actually resulted in a win.

The Magpies were down at every break, going into the fourth quarter with a 20-point gap, but they rallied to kick a winning score. Jack Crisp, Taylor Adams and de Goey ran amok, amassing 93 disposals between them, with Jamie Elliott kicking three goals.

Season Lowlight

Despite only six wins for the year, the Magpies waited until Round 22 to be soundly beaten by more than 30 points, as Brisbane put on a show at the Gabba while revelling in getting to play at home. The Lions left the field, comprehensive 85-point winners, as Collingwood was left to lick its wounds.

Its undermanned defence was no match for Charlie Cameron, who bagged six goals, while ten of his teammates also managed to get on the scoreboard. Joe Daniher and Daniel McStay kicked three each.

For the Magpies, the search for silver linings began with Crisp leading the way with 30 disposals, while the midfield brigade in Steele Sidebottom (29), Adams (27) and de Goey (27) also contributed.

Chopping block?

American big man Mason Cox’s journey will be an intriguing one to watch in the off-season, with the last of his seven games in 2021 against Port Adelaide in Round 19, where he started as the medical sub.

Darcy Cameron’s form this year as a second ruck/forward has seemingly left Cox without a spot in the senior side.

Another player who has struggled to break into the team this year is Brayden Sier, who after not getting much of a run in 2020 due to injury only managed seven games this season. His last appearance was in Round 12 against Adelaide.

Number one off-season priority

Collingwood’s 2021 season was marred by the high-profile exit of president Eddie McGuire and conversations surrounding the board, as well as the removal of Nathan Buckley.

There is undoubtedly a need for some stability at the top end of the football club, and securing a new head coach will ideally provide that. It isn’t surprising that this will be at the top of the Magpies’ off-season to-do list.

As for on-field, Collingwood should be looking at bringing in a key forward to provide a big-bodied target inside 50. The small forwards are more than capable of kicking goals, but a key position player as an option in the forward line would be instrumental.

Final say

Collingwood’s fall from the top eight wasn’t as dramatic as it could have been given its tumultuous off-season. However, its performance this year would still be considered a failure, with 17th its worst ladder position in the 18-team era.

The sparks for the Magpies going forward are their fresh faces, who will only continue to get better once they’ve played more footy together. With key players set to return next year, Collingwood will be an interesting watch in 2022.

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