THERE has been so much said about Collingwood in the past three years, but there are three big issues that continue to plague this club.
Let’s break it down into three key areas: Skill, expectation and structure.
It was a familiar tale this season as the Magpies were competitive in basically every game they played, but the same mistakes meant they weren’t able to secure the three or four more wins they needed to play finals.
LIST GURU GARY BUCKENARA WILL BE ANALYSING THE LISTS OF ALL 18 AFL CLUBS OVER THE TRADE PERIOD. STAY TUNED FOR ANOTHER COLUMN TOMORROW
Ball use by hand and by foot in general play and in front of goal was atrocious.
Bad kicking is bad football and that has never been more true than when applying that theory to Collingwood’s 2017 season.
I’ve written for the past two years that recruiting players with skill is a huge need for the Magpies. Has the time finally come that the club realises it needs to clear out its poor ball users in favour of those who can hit a target? Was this year the final straw?
Without them Collingwood won’t get back into playing the finals footy it so desperately craves.
I do complement the club and the playing group on its competitive spirit. The Magpies have recruited genuine competitors, which you do need, who can win the hard ball and the one-on-ones, but unfortunately they can’t find a teammate when they win the footy.
The club has set high standards — to play finals and win premierships — but unfortunately those standards are at heights this list isn’t capable of achieving in its current form.
If I do an A, B and C-grade breakdown, where clubs need a combination of 12-15 A and B-graders to play finals and/or contend, it looks like this for the Magpies:
A-grade: Pendlebury, Sidebottom, Wells (when fit)
A-B: De Goey, Grundy
B: Elliott, Treloar, Moore (will be an A-grader), Hoskin-Elliott, Howe
B-C: Fasolo, Goldsack, Maynard, Reid, Adams (ball use holds him back)
C: Langdon, Dunn, Varcoe, Greenwood, Thomas, Crisp, Broomhead, Cox
D or developing: Scharenberg, Aish, Sinclair, Mayne, Brown, Daicos, McLarty, Phillips, Kirby, Wills, Ramsay, Sier, Smith, Crocker, Keeffe, Schade, Oxley, McCarthy, Mackie, Lynch
While there are about 10 genuine A or B-grade players on the list, the problem at Collingwood is it drops away quickly after that and that’s why the Pies struggle when injuries hit.
The depth isn’t there because when a senior player goes out, a developing youngster comes in who’s not yet ready to play the role consistently at senior level.
So how do they fix it?
I know there are reports Tom Lynch has said he is committed to Gold Coast for 2018, but if I was Collingwood that wouldn’t deter me and I’d still do everything to get him to change his mind.
He is the ideal target and would solve the issues with their structure and provide much-needed help for Darcy Moore. Of all 18 clubs, Collingwood is the one that needs a key forward the most.
At the moment, the Magpies are taking a risk by relying on Moore — he could burn out because of lack of support. Put a Tom Lynch in front of him and it takes the pressure off and will probably fast-track his development.
It would take a trade obviously, and a mega one at that. Two first-round picks or the trading of one of the club’s untouchables like Steele Sidebottom. You’ve got to give something to get something.
Would the Magpies do it to address the biggest area of concern for the list? I wouldn’t like to, but sometimes a desperate need means some brave decisions are required.
A key forward is an immediate need so the Magpies are better off trying to poach an established gun or a developing highly-rated potential star who is already in the AFL system and use its No. 6 pick to do it, rather than taking it to the draft table.
If it’s not Lynch then I’d keep looking around and asking the question of all the gun forwards in the game. Collingwood need a forward now, not in three years. That doesn’t do the club or Moore any good.
What bringing in a Lynch or an established key forward does is it allows Ben Reid to play in his best position, which is down back, and gives them that structure with Lynden Dunn at full-back, Reid centre half-back, Lynch or another key forward at centre half-forward, Moore at full-forward and Brodie Grundy in the ruck.
Collingwood is yet to be seriously linked to Lion Josh Schache and I can’t work out why. Schache is a former No. 2 draft pick and I still believe, despite his exposed AFL form and homesickness, that he will be a very, very good AFL player. If the Magpies can’t get Lynch then I would be turning my attention to luring Schache. He has been in the system for two years already and I believe he can thrive when back surrounded by family and friends.
Talent does not disappear overnight. I would take the risk on Schache and use pick No. 6, whether it’s in isolation or if more is involved in the deal either leaving Collingwood or coming to Collingwood from Brisbane with Schache, to do it.
Getting a forward who is either a) an established gun or b) a highly-rated youngster who has been in the system a few years already will have the Magpies in a better position than whoever it takes with pick No.6.
Schache, on talent, is better than the key forwards in this draft.
The Magpies have a very good midfield and that spine would see them be very competitive very quickly.
The other option, if the club can’t get an established key forward, is to dangle pick No. 6 in front of Adelaide for Jake Lever if the deal with Melbourne falls over, or another club with a key defender it likes so Nathan Buckley can use Reid — if he can stay fit — as a permanent key forward and get the structure right that way for 2018.
The acquisition of Dunn last year was underrated. He had a fantastic year and held down full-back extremely well. He was as solid as a rock.
WHAT THEY NEED
Collingwood needs to be very specific in the types of players it recruits this year and in the next 2-3 years. Outside of a key forward and a another experienced or developing key defender, the Pies desperately need outside players with pace, endurance and who are elite distributors by hand and foot to use through the middle, on the wings and across half-back.
The club needs players who are good ball users in general, whether they’re inside mids, forwards, or defenders. And the Magpies also need players who take the game on.
At the moment Brayden Maynard is the only one who really gets the ball and runs at the opposition — they need more of his type. He beats his opponent but then can kick the ball long, like a Matt Suckling in how he was used at Hawthorn. Or even Grant Birchall and Brent Guerra types — all elite users of the ball who create off half-back with their skill.
WHO’S UNDER THE PUMP
Tom Langdon returned mid-year after 12 months out due to ankle and knee injuries and he’ll need to put in a big season next year. He plays quite loose as a defender and he’s not a great kick, but he’s a really good intercept mark. He needs to work on his defensive game and his kicking over pre-season to make himself a regular best-22 player or risk falling out of the system because he gets exposed too often as a defender.
Chris Mayne is obviously under a lot of pressure. He’s a list clogger with three more years on his contract. Should the Magpies pay him out? That doesn’t really help at all because it will still be included in the salary cap. At least he can offer some depth and experience at VFL level but it’s expensive depth. He’s not a bad person, he’s a good and hard worker and team man but he just doesn’t help the side.
Next year will be huge for James Aish. He was pick seven to Brisbane then went to Collingwood via complicated trade but so far has done little, outside of his first season, to show why he was a top-10 pick. Can he find a spot somewhere in Collingwood’s best 22? Perhaps he won’t be a midfielder but a rebound or small defender.
Tim Broomhead is another one who has had a lot of injury troubles throughout his career and probably played more footy this year than he has any other year since joining Collingwood but couldn’t cement a spot. Is he a forward or a midfielder? The club needs to make a decision and stick to it to find out if he can play. He makes too many mistakes with ball in hand.
Jackson Ramsay has had injury problems too, but was exposed a lot one-on-one in defence this year and spent a lot of time in the VFL. He needs to have a big year next year and improve both his defensive game and his ball use if he’s to stay on the list.
Lachlan Keeffe came back from his drugs ban and was trialled up forward in the VFL but didn’t make much impact and didn’t force his way into the AFL side, which isn’t a great sign. If he stays he needs to put in a big pre-season and make a spot his own.
WHO SHOULD GO
Jesse White has retired and the Magpies are yet to announce any further list changes. Brayden Sier was the shock of the 2015 draft when he was taken by the Magpies with pick 32 and he hasn’t even got near making his AFL debut despite two years in the system, which is a massive concern. He’s had his injury troubles but given his form when he has played hasn’t been great I’d move him on.
He’s a premiership player and been a great servant of the club but I think it’s time for Collingwood to move on from Jarryd Blair. Adam Oxley fell out of favour this year and then got injured and unfortunately, I think his time is up. I’d also move Ramsay on and look for a more consistent small defender.
With some luck and a clear run of injuries Collingwood could play finals next year, but realistically the Pies are still in the 6th-12th bracket in terms of ladder position.
But if Collingwood could pull off a recruiting coup and snare Lynch or another experienced key forward then it can push itself into a 4th-10th side and push for top four providing it has a healthy list for most of the season.
Structure means that much because players have the confidence to pull the trigger with a long kick forward or quick play off half-back and through the midfield to get it into the forwards quickly. It can elevate you from a middle of the road side to a genuine contender.
As it currently sits, this Collingwood list is not capable of winning a premiership in my opinion. So much will depend on the development of the likes of Moore, De Goey, Josh Daicos and Callum Brown and the continued improvement of Adam Treloar, Jamie Elliott, Taylor Adams, James Aish and Will Hoskin-Elliott.