Collingwood’s incredible rise from 17th to fourth in 2022 has shocked the football world — and probably even Magpies fans — as the story of the season.
But was their list simply criminally underrated going into the year?
As Fox Footy commentator Anthony Hudson exclaimed on the final siren of the Magpies’ Round 18 win over Adelaide, “if you only watch one team this year, make it Collingwood,” amid an unprecedented amount of close wins — and this was before several more epic triumphs.
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Most recently the Magpies took the flag favorite Cats all the way in last week’s qualifying final thriller to continue Craig McRae’s enthralling and eventful first year in charge.
However taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, this list build has been years in the making – and as former Magpies coach Nathan Buckley pointed out, a five-year build – under long-time list boss Derek Hine.
“I’m going to suggest – and I’ve been involved in the footy club – but this is five years of good footy with a bad year last year,” Buckley told Fox Footy last month.
“The nucleus of this side is established and we’re seeing some young players come in and play really big roles – and it’s brilliant and it’s exciting to see.
“What ‘Fly’ (McRae) has done has been amazing, but it’s been built off the nucleus of a senior core that have been there for five or six years doing this now.”
Of course, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing to get to this point, most notably the 2020 trade exodus that included Adam Treloar and Jaidyn Stephenson getting jettisoned from the club.
But despite being widely written off after last year’s horror season (which now appears to be an outlier), Collingwood’s senior core group is still among the AFL’s most experienced. It comes despite going into the season the Pies ranking 12th in average age (as in sixth least experienced) and 10th in average games played across their entire list, per Draft Guru.
But drilling in deeper, their Round 23 side that played Carlton ranked fourth in average age and seventh in average games played off all 18 sides that weekend.
From nailing early picks to adding value selections, the latter of which has already been highlighted by Fox Footy pundits, and everything in between, foxfooty.com.au breaks down how Collingwood built one of the AFL’s most unique lists.
You have to go right back to the 2005 National Draft to where it all began, when Collingwood took Scott Pendlebury (pick 5) — the club’s all-time games record holder and games as captain and maybe the greatest ever player to don the black and white jumper.
Although no longer in his absolute prime, the 34-year old’s impact for the Pies this season has been monumental as an on-field coach of sorts, constantly seen directing his troops and marshalling the side. But when the going gets tough, Pendlebury gets going and more hands on including a season-best 34 disposals against the Cats last weekend where the skipper’s finals experience really stood out.
Three years later the Pies drafted Steele Sidebottom (Pick 11)who like Pendlebury (also the two final remaining players from the 2010 premiership side), may not be the player he once was, but remains an essential part of the team, particularly from an on-field leadership perspective.
Jeremy Howe (traded via Melbourne in 2016) Originally joined the club as an enigmatic, high-flying forward, but has grown into a key defensive pillar and co-vice-captain. It should be noted that after Howe injured his knee early in 2020 and then again in 2021, the Pies’ backline never really looked the same.
Rounding out their core of veterans is Jamie Elliott, who was dealt to the Pies from GWS in 2011 during a period when the Giants could trade pre-list players to other clubs. The clutch king of 2022, who’s finally gotten a good run at it on the injury front, provides a wise head up forward in an otherwise inexperienced attack.
Collingwood has utilized father-son recruiting as well as any club over the years including five players currently on the list.
None of those have had more impact than Darcy Moorewho, originally drafted as a forward in 2014, is finally thriving as one of the best defenders in the game after overcoming a slew of soft-tissue injuries early in his career.
Then in 2016 Collingwood added Josh Daicos and Callum Brownthe former who’s enjoyed a career-best season to emerge as one of its most important players to get named in the 40-man All-Australian squad.
In the following two drafts the Pies recruited Callum’s younger brother, Tyler Brown as well as Will Kelly to continue their surplus of father-son picks at the time.
And of course, last year they nabbed the prodigal Nick Daicos, who exceeded the highest of expectations placed on him coming into the year. He was unanimously voted the Rising Star Award winner and has already announced himself as one of the Pies’ best players who’ll undoubtedly poll well in their best and fairest count.
Although Brodie Grundy (Pick 18) has been absent for much of the year due to injuries and faces an uncertain future at the club, the dual All-Australian’s impact has been profound since landing at Collingwood in 2012. It crucially came in a draft where the Pies’ other two first rounders , Ben Kennedy and Tim Broomhead, didn’t quite pan out.
The 2014 draft proved to be a particularly fruitful one for the black and white. In addition to drafting Moore, Collingwood took Jordan DeGoey (Pick 5) [with the pick it received from Brisbane in the first Dayne Beams trade]and Brayden Maynard (Pick 30) in a key haul as three of its absolute stars.
Several years later Collingwood picked up Nathan Murphy (Pick 39) in the 2017 National Draft. Injuries hampered his first few years in the league, but he’s emerged as a key cog in their defense under McRae this year. The following draft the Pies took Isaac Quaynor (Pick 13/Next Generation Academy)who like Murphy, has grown into an integral member of their back six.
And as calamitous as the 2020 trade exodus seemed at the time, Collingwood loaded up on draft capital to bring the likes of Ollie Henry (Pick 17), Finlay Macrae (Pick 19), Reef McInness (Pick 23/NGA), Caleb Poulter (Pick 3rd) and Beau McCreery (Pick 44) in that year. These names will help take the club forward into the future, although McCreery is already a crucial pressure machine up forward.
The Pies have also had great success with rookie draftees including Mason Cox, Jack Ginnivan and Brody Mihocek as well as mid-season recruits John NobleAsh Johnson and Josh Carmichael.
TOPPING UP AT THE TRADE TABLE
It’d be fair to say that Collingwood hasn’t necessarily landed any marquee names via trades and free agency, but has effectively plucked several key pieces.
In 2013 and 2014 they nabbed Taylor Adams (via GWS) and Jack Crisp (via Brisbane) respectively, the latter who was infamously known as the set of steak knives included in the first Beams trade. Both Adams and Crisp are now key parts of the midfield, although they’ll be without Adams for the rest of the finals series due to a reaggravation of his groin injury.
Over the next few years they continued their raid of the Giants, adding Treloar and Will Hoskin-Elliott in addition to acquiring Howe from Melbourne.
Fast forwarding to 2019 and the Pies picked up Darcy Cameron (via Sydney) for essentially nothing, and it’s now looming that he’ll be their number one ruckman moving forward if Grundy departs.
Most recently Collingwood landed Patrick Lipinski (via Western Bulldogs) and Nathan Kreuger (via Geelong) last year.Lipinski has played every game this season and proven to be an invaluable pick-up, while Kreuger has been restricted after a shoulder injury earlier this year but shown promising signs.
What more can you say about Craig McRae that hasn’t already been said?
Arriving at Collingwood as a lesser-known figure among AFL circles, perhaps an off-Broadway coach was exactly what the club needed to lead it into a new era.
While a stout defensive system was already in place when he arrived and a list with plenty of talent, the first-year coach has clearly left his own print on the team — both on and off the field — to lead their impressive turnaround.
We got perhaps the greatest indication yet of McRae’s philosophies after Collingwood’s qualifying final loss to Geelong when he called out his players for laying on the ground post-match, saying “we want to act like winners.”
The Magpies have shifted to a more jovial, lighthearted approach — a style widely said to be key to the Tigers’ resurgence in 2017 (where McRae was an assistant coach) and are a more family-based club including players’ kids getting involved in signing the song after wins.
Players are encouraged to live in the moment and celebrate each win (and they haven’t had a few to celebrate). Put simply, Collingwood looks like a much happier place to be, 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 are playing a more daring and offensive brand under McRae where they embrace imperfection and chaos in a stark contrast from a side that drew criticism for playing too conservatively in recent years.
Then there’s been the training of specific match simulations of being in the very tight situations the Pies have constantly found themselves in — which clearly played a role in their 11-game winning streak that yielded an unprecedented amount of close victories.
Bundle all this together and, under McRae, the club that rival fans have long notoriously loved to hate have suddenly become must-watch and admired, perhaps even more likeable for some.
Even if Collingwood isn’t ultimately the team holding up the cup on the last Saturday in September, there’s plenty of reason for optimism for the future under the lead of the man affectionately known as ‘Fly.’