Collingwood exceeded any expectations in 2022. (Photo: Collingwood FC; Design: Will Cuckson)

Collingwood’s 2022 season was a stark contrast to the position it found itself in 12 months ago. With a new coach at the helm, the Pies pulled off the ultimate turnaround, to the shock of most people, finishing fourth and making finals after narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon in 2021.

Finishing position: Fourth (16 wins, six losses – preliminary final)

What worked?

Ending season 2021 on six wins and 16 losses, changes needed to be made, and they began at the top, with the appointment of Craig McRae as senior coach, and Jeff Browne as president among other board shifts.

Fast forward 12 months, and the Pies have managed to turn their win/loss tally around the opposite way, quite literally.

The success of season 2022 can be attributed to McRae’s new game plan, which was to be bold and play an ultra aggressive form of football to take the game on.

This was evident with their tackling pressure, with the Pies averaging 63.4 tackles per game, the third most in the competition. 

Jack Crisp backed up his Copeland Trophy winning performance of 2021 with another strong season, averaging 23.8 disposals and 5.6 inside 50s and is still the current consecutive games record holder, having appeared in all games for the Pies this season.

‘Fly’s’ young Pies really stood up, with Jack Ginnivan stamping his mark on the competition, as well as Josh and Nick Daicos, with the latter having one of the best first seasons of any player in recent history.

Averaging 3.9 tackles and 18.5 pressure acts, Beau McCreery also made an impact in this new and improved Magpies side. 

He had some big shoes to fill, but in the absence of Brodie Grundy, Darcy Cameron really came into his own.

The ruckman, who played in every game except Round 1, collected a career-high 26 disposals in the Round 12 win against Hawthorn and kicked 20 goals for the season, showing a glimpse of what a future without Grundy would look like. 

What didn’t?

For a team that had a lot of success, some might argue that not a lot went wrong. But even the best teams have their bad days.

The Pies midfield struggled against most teams, forcing their defenders to be held accountable in order to stay in games.  

Trading out experienced players, and the loss of senior players like Taylor Adams and Brodie Grundy to injury took its toll early on in the season, and impacted the Pies’ centre clearances.

With a reliance on veteran Scott Pendlebury in the centre bounce, and the loss of Adams, the Pies lost games that they ultimately could’ve won.

Breakout stars:

Prior to this year, he was pretty inconspicuous, but arguably one of the biggest names this season, both on and off the field, was Jack Ginnivan.

The star forward, who only missed two games, had a huge impact whenever he went near the ball. Ginnivan started off well, collecting 10 disposals and kicking two goals against St Kilda in Round 1, but his antics quickly caught the attention of the media.

The following week, he debuted a new hairstyle, and his larger than life personality has seen him quickly rise to cult figure status, but he has continued to back up his performances week in, week out, proving the doubters wrong on most occasions. 

Originally drafted as a rookie in 2020, it’s hard to believe that Ginnivan is only 19, given the way he goes about it. His five goal haul in Round 6 against Essendon earned him a Rising Star nomination, and an ANZAC Day medal in just his 10th game.

He ended the home and away season having played 20 games, and kicked 40 goals- one less than the Pies’ leading goalscorer, Brody Mihocek.

A lot has changed since Round 1, and the long haired Ginnivan may be gone forever, but the new and improved bleach blonde version has proved to be one of Collingwood’s mainstays. 

A lot of the attention has been on his brother Nick’s incredible first year, but let’s not forget that Josh Daicos was a star in his own right. Playing every game this season, he averaged 21.1 disposals at 70.2 per cent efficiency and 414.3 metres gained. 

Daicos’ game went to a whole new level, and his game style was complemented by the arrival of his younger brother.

The duo worked in tandem and helped lead the Pies to success on multiple occasions. Drafted in 2016 as a father-son pick, Daicos is only six seasons into what will hopefully be a long and successful career, and whilst he carries with him the pressures of living up to his famous father’s legacy, the 23-year-old is already carving his own path.

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Highest point:

Whilst there have been a lot of highs for Collingwood this year, the best parts occurred during the second half of the season. A 36 point victory against Fremantle in Round 10 became the beginning of the Pies’ 11 game winning streak.

A lot of close finishes which saw fans on the edge of their seats and heart rates skyrocket, but none better than the second meetings against long-time foes Essendon and Carlton.

The Pies came out charging against the Bombers in the Round 19 encounter, keeping them goalless in the first quarter.

A late surge saw the Bombers take the lead at the final break, a concern for Collingwood as the last four times this season that the Bombers took the lead at three-quarter-time, they went on to win the game.

Two points down with less than a minute to go, the Pies needed a miracle, and who better than Jamie Elliott. From 45 metres out on the boundary line, Elliott kicked the winning goal after the siren and sent the crowd into hysterics.

The traditional rivalry between old enemies Collingwood and Carlton has gone to another level this season, with both teams in finals contention.

With a top four spot on the line for the Pies, and a spot in the finals up for grabs for the Blues, their final game of the home and away season was shaping up to be a blockbuster.

Going toe to toe for the first three quarters, the Pies once again found themselves trailing at the last break. Down by five points with less than two minutes to go, they needed something to go their way.

Enter Jamie Elliott, who once again kicked the winning goal. The one-point victory cemented the Pies spot in the top four, and sent the Blues packing. 

Lowest point:

After starting the season with two straight wins, the Pies fell off with three consecutive losses, before heading into the middle of the season on four wins and five losses.

Of those five losses, being defeated by West Coast and the Western Bulldogs were arguably the worst.

With injury and health and safety protocols taking its toll, a depleted Eagles side were 0-3 heading into the Round 4 clash, and the Pies went in as clear favourites.

It was a close contest throughout the game, but Josh Kennedy and Junior Rioli combining for six goals, and three straight Eagles goals in the final minutes of the game saw them soar to victory, defeating the Pies by 13 points.

Looking back at the season as a whole, some might argue that this loss cost the Pies a top two spot, and the chance to play a home final. 

Of the six losses this season, the biggest came against the Bulldogs in Round 9.

The Bulldogs, who headed into the game on 3-5, led at every break and dominated most of the statistics, with four players scoring three goals each.

The Pies just couldn’t keep up with them, falling to a staggering 48-point loss.

The disappointing loss acted as fuel for them to keep fighting, and would see them go on to win the next 11 games in a row.  

Where to next?

Heading into season 2022, there was no pressure or expectations to excel, let alone make finals after finishing in 17th position last season.

Finishing higher than anyone had predicted, they will aim to keep the same bold style of play and continue to believe that anything is possible.

A busy off-season has seen some key players move in and out, and it will be interesting to see how their new recruits fit into the side.

Tom Mitchell, Dan McStay, Bobby Hill and Billy Frampton will call Collingwood home, adding quality across the ground, while Grundy and Oliver Henry depart.

It will be hard to top, but the smell of success in Craig McRae’s first season as head coach will see the Pies hungry for more heading into next season.

A little added pressure to stay in finals contention and not slip away will be at the forefront of their minds.

Having had a taste of finals and just falling short of the grand final, McRae and the Pies will strive to do what it takes to go that one step further for September glory. 

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