NATHAN Buckley and Collingwood have been handed a dream fixture that could prove to be the turning point in the coach’s rocky tenure.
The Magpies will only play Essendon and Richmond twice from the sides that played finals this year, while they have snared double-up encounters against Brisbane, Carlton and Fremantle.
The AFL released the full fixture for the 2018 season on Tuesday and the league has stuck with a floating Round 23 fixture with a bye round before the finals series gets underway.
The Magpies’ fixture shapes as the easiest of all clubs following a horror opening few weeks in 2017 which saw them face reigning premiers the Western Bulldogs and runners-up Sydney in two of the first three rounds.
Collingwood finished 13th in 2017, meaning it was placed as the ‘first seed’ in the bottom third rung of clubs, just as Richmond was after its disappointing 2016 season.
The parallels between the Tigers of 2016 and the Magpies of 2017 are evident, although it would take a brave punter to suggest Buckley’s team can follow in the footsteps of Damien Hardwick’s side.
But as we know a “good fixture” does not guarantee success and the Magpies draw is not without its quirks.
Due to an awkwardly placed Anzac Day clash that falls on a Wednesday in Round 5, Collingwood will have a 12-day break leading into the match but just a four-day rest after it.
The condensed Wednesday to Sunday break will test the club’s depth and recovery ahead of a match against Richmond, who themselves will only have five days between games.
They have three Friday night matches, up from two last season. Although the Pies have been shafted from Thursday night blockbusters and will not feature in this timeslot in 2018.
Much to the delight of Collingwood and president Eddie McGuire, Sydney and GWS have arguably the most difficult fixtures in 2017.
Both New South Wales clubs have been drawn to play three other top six teams from 2017 twice however the Swans fixture difficulty has been somewhat offset by the fact they will have five Friday night matches compared to GWS’ one.
The Swans also have eight six-day breaks, which is more than any other club.
Good Friday footy will continue but North Melbourne will take on St Kilda instead of the Western Bulldogs.
“We made it clear that we wouldn’t lock in two teams and we’ve been true to our word there,” AFL fixture boss Travis Auld said.
“In the fixture process we allowed for a number of teams to play in that spot.
“North Melbourne have ended up with the opportunity for the second year in a row … they did a really good job with it.
“The Bulldogs did as well but they’e got a lot of other things in their fixture, which made it difficult to get them back on Good Friday.
“St Kilda have been keen for some time and now they’ve got their opportunity.”
Elsewhere on the Easter round, Melbourne is set to travel to Brisbane to take on the Lions at the Gabba on Easter Saturday, while the traditional Geelong-Hawthorn Easter Monday clash has been locked in.
More fixture snapshots:
— West Coast has won the battle between the two WA teams to host the first match for AFL premiership points at the new Perth Stadium, but Fremantle’s AFLW team will get first crack in February.
— Essendon recruit Jake Stringer’s first match against the Western Bulldogs is locked in, with the enigmatic forward’s Bombers to take on the Dogs in Round 3.
— Carlton will return to Kardinia Park for the first time in 21 years, with the Blues to face Geelong at GMHBA Stadium.
— Carlton will also venture into new territory for the first time in 2018 when it takes on North Melbourne in Hobartin a Saturday night Round 4 clash.
— Melbourne will again return to the Northern Territory in 2018 to play two ‘home games’.
The Demons will take on Adelaide in Alice Springs in Round 10 (May 27) at TIO Traeger Park, before hosting Fremantle in a Saturday night Top End clash in Round 16 (July 7) at Darwin’s TIO Stadium.
— The Gold Coast Suns have been forced to find alternate venues for home games with Metricon Stadium in use due to the Commonwealth Games. They will host Fremantle in Perth in Round 3, before taking on Brisbane at the Gabba in Round 8 then Port Adelaide in Shanghai in Round 9.