As we hit the bye rounds in the AFL season, The Inner Sanctum will be conducting our mid-season reviews of all 18 clubs and assessing the first half of the season and what fortunes may lie ahead.
Up next, Collingwood.
With the Collingwood Football Club having just scraped into finals in 2020, their fall from the top 8 in 2021 can almost be expected. Their pre-season was marred by the messy, high-profile exits of crucial players in Adam Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson, Tom Phillips, and Atu Bosenavulagi. With that, there weren’t huge expectations put on the Magpies to be flag contenders. But to be 4-9, and sitting 16th on the ladder thirteen rounds into the season, underneath last year’s wooden spooners, it isn’t exactly where anybody thought they’d be.
A disappointing first round against Treloar’s Western Bulldogs was followed up by Collingwood’s first win of the season, but the confidence gained from that was quickly lost as it took them six games to get their second when they faced a winless North Melbourne side. Consecutive wins against Adelaide and Melbourne, the latter of which sit on top of the ladder, has given the Magpie Army something to smile about, despite the game against the Demons being outgoing Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley’s final match for the club.
Defender Jack Crisp’s move into the middle of the ground has done wonders for Collingwood’s midfield movement. In 2020, he attended a total of 4% of all centre bounces, but is already at 48% at this stage of the season, and is quite clearly crucial to their midfield plans.
The black and white backline is something that has stood up considerably well in 2021 given its constant onslaught. Isaac Quaynor and John Noble have both played all thirteen games and have been strong forces in defence, often kickstarting Collingwood’s ball movement off halfback and providing some dash, while Jordan Roughead and Darcy Moore have led from the front in the defensive half of the ground.
“Play the kids” has been a constant refrain heard by those in the Magpies camp, and it’s arguably paid off, with the likes of Beau McCreery and Caleb Poulter stringing together consistent games to provide a happy glimpse into the future.
Talk of Collingwood’s slow ball movement has been around for months, with commentators lamenting it week in and week out. The most unfortunate part of it has been that the Magpies are at their best when they’re moving the ball quickly, and have the ability to utilise the speed of their halfbacks.
The experiment that saw Darcy Moore swung forward was short-lived, and not because he couldn’t do the job there, but because he is far too crucial to Collingwood’s backline. But the move felt like it was supposed to be an answer to the question of the Magpies’ inability to score. The connection between the midfielders and the forward line is a glaring issue that has plagued the club all year and is only slowly getting better with the return of small forward Jamie Elliott.
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E.W. Copeland Trophy contenders:
Mr. Consistent Jack Crisp remains a firm favourite to take out Collingwood’s best and fairest award for season 2021. Crisp was third in the count in 2015 which was his first year at the club, and then again in 2019 and 2020, and currently holds the record for the most consecutive games played. Before his “steak knives” trade at the end of 2014, Crisp played the last six games of the season for Brisbane and hasn’t looked back since his Magpies debut, having not missed a game to see him at 154 games in a row leading into the bye. This season, Round 7 has been the only match where Crisp has had under 20 disposals, averaging 26 a game, which is up from 17 at the same time last year.
Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury (averaging 24 disposals a game) will also be a strong contender to take home the Copeland for the sixth time in his career this year, after being runner-up to Brodie Grundy and Taylor Adams for the last two years to be awarded the R.T. Rush Trophy instead. Brayden Maynard might also be a promising contender and will no doubt poll enough votes to beat his 2020 placing of fifth.
Unfortunately for last year’s winner Adams, his terrible run with injuries has seen him play only five games for the season, while Grundy might have been in the race to take home his third Copeland if not for missing a few games with an unfortunate neck issue.
Who needs to lift?
It’s been a tough time to be a Collingwood forward this year, with the lack of supply inside 50 making it even harder for the club to get goals on the board. Brody Mihocek has kicked 21 goals in just 13 games, while Will Hoskin-Elliott’s ability to play all over the ground has limited his scoring opportunities, with eight goals from twelve appearances, and an average of 15 disposals a game. For the Magpies to be able to pressure teams on the scoreboard, they mustn’t just rely on the likes of too few, and both Mihocek and Hoskin-Elliott can be game-winners when in form.
Expectations of 2nd half:
When the final siren sounded at the SCG on Monday, it didn’t just signal the end of Melbourne and Collingwood’s Round 13 game of the 2021 home and away season, it also signaled the end of an era at Collingwood. Nathan Buckley’s 30 year official association with the club ended in what was an emotional day for all Collingwood people and the wider AFL landscape. A decorated player and a decade-long coach, to say “Bucks” will be sorely missed is an incredible understatement. But everyone is likely to have their eyes on Collingwood’s second half the season when they return from the bye as caretaker coach Robert Harvey officially takes the reins.
Fremantle looms as Harvey’s first challenge but will be without key players in Jordan De Goey, who will miss Round 15 after a high hit on Clayton Oliver resulted in a one-game suspension, and Darcy Moore, who is out for the season with a serious PCL injury.
After the Dockers, four of the Magpies’ last eight games are against teams currently in the top 8 and will provide a huge opportunity for the club to really assess where they are post-Buckley. With finals undoubtedly out of the question, the Collingwood Football Club really will be a fascinating watch.