Collingwood’s incredible rise from 17th to 4th place in 2022 has shocked the footballing world – and probably even Magpies fans – as the story of the season.
But was their roster just criminally underrated at the start of the year?
As Fox Footy commentator Anthony Hudson exclaimed during the final siren of the Magpies’ Round 18 win over Adelaide, “if you’re only watching one team this year, make it Collingwood”, at the amid an unprecedented number of narrow wins – and that was before several other epic triumphs.
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Most recently, the Magpies took the flag-favorite Cats all the way in last week’s Qualifying Final to continue Craig McRae’s exciting and eventful first year.
However, stepping back and looking at the big picture, this roster build took years – and as former Magpies coach Nathan Buckley pointed out, a five-year build – under the long-running boss. list date Derek Hine.
“I’m going to suggest – and I’ve been involved with club footy – but it’s been five years of good footy with a bad year last year,” Buckley told Fox Footy last month.
“The core of this team is established and we’re seeing young players come in and play really big roles – and that’s brilliant and exciting to see.
“What ‘Fly’ (McRae) has done is amazing, but it’s been built from the core of a senior core that’s been there for five or six years and is doing it now.”
Of course, it hasn’t all been easy to get to this point, not least the 2020 trade exodus which included Adam Treloar and Jaidyn Stephenson jettisoned from the club.
But despite being largely written off after last year’s horror season (which now appears to be an outlier), Collingwood’s senior core group are still among the most experienced in the AFL. This comes despite starting the season, with the Pies ranking 12th in average age (as well as sixth least experienced) and 10th in average games played on their entire roster, per Draft Guru.
But drilling deeper, their Round 23 team that played Carlton ranked fourth in average age and seventh in average games played against all 18 teams this weekend.
From nailing top picks to adding value picks, the latter of which has already been highlighted by the experts at Fox Footy, and everything in between, foxfooty.com.au breaks down how Collingwood built one of the AFL’s most unique rosters.
You have to go back to the 2006 national draft where it all started, when Collingwood took Scott Pendlebury (Choose 5) – the club’s all-time record holder and games as captain and perhaps the greatest player to ever don the black and white sweater.
Although no longer at his absolute peak, the 34-year-old’s impact for the Pies this season has been monumental as an on-field coach, constantly seen leading his troops and bringing the team together. But when the going gets tough, Pendlebury kicks in and more to go, including a season-best 34 kills against the Cats last weekend, where the skipper’s final experience really stood out.
Three years later, the Magpies drafted Steele Sidebottom (Pick 11)who, like Pendlebury, may no longer be the player he used to be, but remains an essential part of the team, especially from an on-field leadership perspective.
Jeremy Howe (traded via Melbourne in 2016) originally joined the club as an enigmatic top-flight striker but became a key defensive stalwart and co-vice-captain. It’s worth noting that after Howe suffered a knee injury in early 2020 and then again in 2021, the Pies’ backline has never quite been the same.
Supplementing their core veterans is Jamie Elliott, which was distributed to the Pies of GWS in 2011 during a period when the Giants could trade pre-roster players to other clubs. The clutch king of 2022, who finally got a good run on the injury front, provides a wise header in an otherwise inexperienced attack.
Collingwood has used father-son recruitment as well as any club over the years, including five players currently on the roster.
None of these had more impact than Darcy Moorewho, originally signed as a striker in 2014, is finally blossoming as one of the best defenders in the game after overcoming a host of soft tissue injuries early in his career.
Then in 2016, Collingwood added Josh Daicos and Callum Brownthe first who had a career-best season to become one of his most important players to be named to the 40-man All-Australian squad.
In the next two drafts, the Pies recruited Callum’s younger brother, Tyler Brown as good as Will Kelly to continue their surplus of father-son peaks at the time.
And of course last year they caught the prodigal son Nick Daicos, who exceeded the highest expectations placed on him at the start of the year. He was unanimously voted the winner of the Rising Star Award and has already cemented himself as one of the best players for the Pies who will no doubt be well questioned in their best and fairest tally.
Although Brodie Grundy (choice 18) has been out for much of the year due to injury and faces an uncertain future at the club, the impact of the All-Australian doubles has been profound since landing at Collingwood in 2012. It came in a crucial way in a draft where the Pies’ other two first-rounders, Ben Kennedy and Tim Broomhead, didn’t quite pan out.
The 2014 draft was particularly successful for black and white. In addition to drafting Moore, Collingwood took Jordan De Goey (choice 5) and Brayden Maynard (pick 30) in a key journey as three of its absolute stars.
Several years later, Collingwood recovered Nathan Murphy (choice 39) in the 2017 National Draft. Injuries hampered his early years in the league, but he’s become a key cog in their defense under McRae this year. The next draft the Magpies took Isaac Quaynor (Pick 13/Next Generation Academy)who, like Murphy, became an integral member of their back-six.
And as calamitous as the 2020 business exodus seemed at the time, Collingwood loaded the capital project to bring people like Ollie Henry (Pick 17), Finlay Macrae (Pick 19), Reef McInness (Pick 23/NGA), Caleb Pouter (Pick 3o) and Handsome McCreery (choice 44) this year. These names will help drive the club forward, although McCreery is already a crucial forward pressure machine.
The Magpies have also been very successful with rookie rookies, including cox mason, Jack Ginvan and Brody Mihocek as well as mid-season recruits John Noble, Ash Johnson and Josh Carmichael.
FILLING AT THE TRADE TABLE
It would be fair to say that Collingwood didn’t necessarily land big name names via trades and free agency, but did pull off several key pieces.
In 2013 and 2014, they caught Taylor Adams (via GWS) and Jack Crisp (via Brisbane) respectively, the latter which was infamous for “steak knives” in Dayne Beams’ early trade. Adams and Crisp are now key parts of the midfield, although they will be without Adams for the remainder of the series finale due to a re-aggravation of his groin injury.
Over the next several years, they continued their raid on the Giants, adding Treloar and Will Hoskin Elliott in addition to acquiring Howe of Melbourne.
Fast forward to 2019 and the pies have resumed Darcy Cameron (via Sydney) for next to nothing, and it’s now looming that he’ll be their number one ruckman in the future if Grundy leaves.
More recently, Collingwood landed Patrick Lipinski (via Western Bulldogs) and Nathan Kruger (via Geelong) Last year.Lipinski has played every game this season and has proven to be an invaluable pick-up, while Kreuger was restricted after a shoulder injury earlier this year but has shown promising signs.
What more can you say about Craig McRae that hasn’t already been said?
Arriving in Collingwood as a lesser-known figure in AFL circles, perhaps an off-Broadway coach was just what the club needed to lead it into a new era.
With a strong defensive system already in place upon his arrival and a roster full of talent, the freshman coach has clearly left his own stamp on the team – both on and off the pitch – to lead their impressive turnaround.
We got perhaps the best indication yet of McRae’s philosophies after Collingwood’s final loss to Geelong when he called out his players for lying on the floor after the game, saying ‘we want to act like winners.
The Magpies have moved to a more jovial and light-hearted approach – a style widely seen as key to the resurgence of the Tigers in 2017 (where McRae was assistant coach) and are a more family-friendly club, including the children of players involved in the signing . the song after the victories.
Players are encouraged to live in the moment and celebrate every win (and haven’t they had a few to celebrate). Put simply, Collingwood looks like a much happier place, and players have long preached that McRae provided a breath of fresh air as a big key to their turnaround.
And of course the Pies play a bolder, attacking brand under McRae where they embrace imperfection and chaos in a stark contrast to a side that has drawn criticism for playing too conservatively in recent years.
Then there was the formation of a specific simulation match in the very difficult situations the Pies constantly found themselves in – which clearly played a part in their 11-game winning streak which yielded an unprecedented number narrow victories.
Put it all together and, under McRae, the club that rival fans have long loved to hate has suddenly become unmissable and admired, perhaps even friendlier to some.
Even if Collingwood is ultimately not the team holding the cup on the last Saturday in September, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future under the management of the man affectionately nicknamed ‘Fly’.