Collingwood should not deceive itself into thinking the nightmare on Vulture St on Saturday night was a rogue flat performance. Yes, they were flat, but they were also flattened by Geelong and the problems that led to it were not contained to this season.
Key faults at Collingwood this year were also problems last year. Hub life, congested fixtures and travel magnified them, but the problems were there.
Injured or just out of sorts? Brodie Grundy wasn’t at his best in 2020.Credit:Getty Images
Last year the Magpies' ball movement was often static and slow. Last year they had the All-Australian ruckman and could not win clearances when it mattered. Last year they struggled to kick a score. These problems are not new and Buckley acknowledged after the game the scoring problems in particular were a longer term issue.
What Saturday night also revealed is when you have a game predicated on energy and effort you are more vulnerable to inconsistency.
A losing semi-final this year followed a losing preliminary final last year, which followed a losing grand final the year before. It suggests a club stepping away from contention. This incremental step backwards in finals has the feel of 2013 about it, with it a need to replenish the list.
Buckley agreed the Magpies needed a few more players pretty much everywhere except in defence . Troublingly, he appeared to cast doubt on whether the draft would offer them the answers they needed.
Hopefully this was not what he meant, for Port is a modern exemplar of a targeted draft approach. After false starts with other strategies they decided to shop players of value – Jared Polec, Chad Wingard – and attacked the draft with early picks. They were smart enough to do it in a very good draft year and then chose wisely. They have renovated, not rebuilt, and the new reno looks great.
Changes to playing personnel and fixing a salary cap that is perennially stretched (reaching a settlement with Dayne Beams would help) are important problems to solve, but a discussion also needs to be had around coaching.
Collingwood's midfield and forward line misfired for 90 percent of the year. They only had a few wins when they looked like a team with a plan and confidence about how to move the ball. That is not all down to the players.
Buckley is contracted for next year so he stays, but like post-2017 they need to change the dynamics of the advice he is getting. The loss this year of Justin Longmuir from the coach's box was significant. They need to look at the management of the midfield, ball movement and the forwards and change the mix.
Wings clipped: Jaidyn Stephenson (centre) walks off with his Magpie teammates after Saturday night’s loss to the Cats.Credit:Getty Images
Was Brodie Grundy injured or was it the suffocating relentlessness of football in hub life? It is an important question because in a financially regulated environment you cannot afford for one of your highest-paid players to have a year like that.
Jaidyn Stephenson has now had one very good year, one year in disgrace and one year of disappointment. From the outside, Stephenson looks like a player who won the Rising Star and thought he’d arrived. Next season will be critical for him.
The next big questions are about re-signing Darcy Moore and Jordan De Goey. The club is confident Moore will re-sign soon. De Goey is a more vexed issue not just for Collingwood but other clubs. A rare matchwinner, he is due to face court later this month on a charge of indecent assault.
QUERIES FOR CATS
Geelong's problem, if you can call it that, was that they played so well, while their opposition played so poorly, that they will wonder if they addressed some of the worries they had coming out of the qualifying final the previous week.
Deep dive: Rhys Stanley attempts a mark under pressure from Collingwood’s Taylor Adams (right).Credit:Getty Images
They were almost faultless from first bounce to last at the Gabba. Collingwood did not challenge their midfield nor exploit fringe players the way Port did.
What can be said with certainty is their regular Achilles heel in the ruck was nothing of the sort on Saturday.
Rhys Stanley was terrific for the second week in a row. He is so important to them because with Mark Blicavs they have a double act of athleticism and a point of difference with the other three teams.
Tom Hawkins kicked accurately. That’s all. The best thing about a romping win was it gave a confidence player like Hawkins the game he needed in front of goal.
The midfield was so imperious they could afford to play Patrick Dangerfield permanently forward. When Dangerfield plays like that it is reasonable to ask whether he is a better forward than midfielder anyway. Good players do that, they leave you with a sense that wherever they play you can’t imagine them being better used anywhere else.
HILL TO CLIMB
St Kilda's recruits from their aggressive off-season trades largely did well.
Even Dan Hannebery overcame his injuries to get back for finals, and was very good last week.
But Bradley Hill was a disappointment. He had poor finals and although Brett Ratten offered a valid defence of him earlier in the year his season is best reflected in where Hill finished in the Saints best and fairest – outside the top ten.
The best four teams in the season are the last four teams standing. Again.
This undermines perennial talk of a wildcard round to determine the last couple of spots in the finals.
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