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AFL 2017 Season Review: Collingwood

They took it up to the best, had a strong midfield division and one of the best ruckmen in the competition. Where did it all go wrong?


Overview

Win-Loss Ratio: 9-1-12
Ladder Position: 13th
Percentage: 99.03%
Biggest Win: 54 points v North Melbourne (Round 20)
Biggest Loss: 37 points v Essendon (Round 16)

An ultimatum was set at the start of the season – make the finals or bust for Coach Nathan Buckley. After 5 rounds, the writing was on the wall as they had lost 4 of their first 5 games, the fourth against rivals Essendon on ANZAC Day. They then came out the next week and defeated Geelong who had started the season on fire, but that triumph only lasted the one week as they followed it with a further two losses. First to Carlton and then a heartbreaking 3-point loss against GWS after giving up a big quarter time lead. This did seem to be a turning point of their season as it started a mini winning streak of 3 games to take them within a game of the Top 8 at 5-6 at the midpoint of the season.

Unfortunately for Collingwood, this is where the real slump took place, as they lost their next 4 games, all of which were played at the MCG to all but end their season after 16 Rounds. Surprisingly, this and an injury to Skipper Scott Pendlebury, prompted them to win 4 of their final 7 games, as well as tie the eventual Minor Premiers in Round 19. This match was probably their biggest disappointment of the season given they gave up a 50 point lead only for the game to be tied by a kick after the siren. Although they finished the season 13th, management decided against relieving Nathan Buckley of his duties and re-signed him for a further 3 seasons. A decision which was clearly prompted on the back of a positive end to the season whereby the players rallied against higher quality sides out of respect for their coach. It remains to be seen whether this is a decision they will come to rue in seasons to come.


What they did well

Created midfield depth

The only advantage of having so many injuries to your star midfielders throughout the season is that you get to test out depth in big match situations. This was the case with Collingwood this season. Tom Phillips and Jack Crisp were the main beneficiaries due to these injuries, especially late in the season. Jordan De Goey and Josh Thomas are players that have been recognised as having potential that also started to string together some consistency in 2017. When you add these players to the five midfielders that are considered to be elite – Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams, Steele Sidebottom and Daniel Wells, you have a midfield division that matches it with the very best in the competition.

Turned Brodie Grundy into a one-man show

It was a breakout season for Brodie Grundy who was left to shoulder the load alone for much of the year to great effect. He jumped from averaging 26 hitouts per match in 2016 to 35 in 2017 which has been the knock on his game in previous years with most pundits of the belief he couldn’t compete against bigger opposition. When you add in that he averages 18 disposals and four tackles per match, he has established himself as one of the premier ruckmen in the competition, and would consider himself unlucky not to be included in the 40 man All-Australian Squad.


What they did poorly

Struggled with four quarters of intensity

Three times this season Collingwood found themselves in a winning position against high quality opposition before either being overrun or caught in the last second. The latter took place in Round 19 against Adelaide where they held a 50 point lead during the third quarter only to have that dwindle away until the final siren where they led by 6 points. Unfortunately, Mitch McGovern from Adelaide had taken a mark prior to the siren and kicked truly to level the scores after the siren. 

In Round 8 against GWS, Collingwood took a 26 point lead into Quarter Time only to have this evaporate by the time Half Time came along. The match ended in a 3 point loss which left Collingwood fans wondering what could have been. The third match-up took place in Round 12 against Melbourne where a Steele Sidebottom goal gave Collingwood a 28-point lead in the second quarter. Melbourne kicked 6 goals to 2 in the third quarter to take a one point lead into three quarter time and managed to hold on for a four point victory.

Defending

If taking flashy marks and gathering multitudes of cheap disposals were the pre-requisite to being a good defender, then Collingwood would have had some big winners. Unfortunately, these things often took such players away from their main role in stopping their opposition number from kicking goals. It was a case of too much of the same with the Collingwood Backline in 2017. Jeremy Howe and Lynden Dunn were too small to take on the monster forwards, whilst Brayden Maynard and Tyson Goldsack were not agile enough to control the crumbing and nimble small forwards. When your most recognised defender gets dropped and re-invented as a forward midway through the season because the make-up is simply not working, it’s a wonder that they didn’t get thrashed more often.


What they need

Key defender

They started the 2017 season on the back foot having traded away Nathan Brown and Jack Frost, whilst Jonathan Marsh retired prematurely. With Ben Reid proving himself to be better equipped in the forward line, the Pies had to rely on Veteran Lynden Dunn and Jeremy Howe playing undersized, whilst Matthew Scharenberg started to develop after so many seasons being injured.

 Jake Lever from Adelaide and Jackson Trengove from Port Adelaide are the two biggest names that may be available, Lever is currently uncontracted, whilst Trengove is a Free Agent. Adam Tomlinson from GWS and Aliir Aliir from Sydney would also surely be on the radar, the latter of whom has only played 3 games in the Seniors this season and may be looking for a fresh start with more opportunities.

A forward line structure

A side that has a dominant midfield is sure to create a multitude of Inside 50s, but it is no good if your Forward Line can not capitalise and score. The good thing for Collingwood is that they have the cattle to create a structure without needing to head to the trade table. A forward line consisting of Mason Cox as your resting Ruckman in the square, along with Ben Reid and Darcy Moore as your tall targets is what this needs to revolve around. 

All three proved that they are capable of booting bags of Goals, and the beauty of it all is that one of them gets the opposition’s third best tall defender. Jamie Elliott is your full time small forward ala Eddie Betts for Adelaide, whilst Will Hoskin-Elliott can roam up and down the ground as Tom Lynch does in the same set-up. Midfielders De Goey, Sidebottom, Pendlebury, Treloar and Wells could all rotate through the 6th Forward Line spot, making this a quite formidable outfit.


Final word

With six games to go in the season (five against sides in finals contention), skipper Scott Pendlebury heading off to have surgery and finals beyond reach, most would have expected Collingwood to buckle at the knees. Instead, they rallied and fought and won three of these games, and drew a match against the eventual Minor Premiers. 

Their fight was considered to be not only for themselves, but for much maligned coach Nathan Buckley. The only reason he is still in charge of this club in 2018 and beyond is the heart that those players showed in the last six games of the season. They proved at multiple stages throughout the season that they could match it with the best sides in the competition. 

It is simply confidence and sometimes a lack of intensity at pivotal moments that was the difference between winning and losing games. The cattle is certainly good enough moving forward, if the mind is able.

Grade: C+


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Anthony Armistead

28 years old and Support the Sydney Swans. Obsessed with almost all sports and have plenty of opinions whether they are good or bad.

AFL 2017 Season Review: Collingwood

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