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For same old Collingwood, it’s ‘Groundhog Day’ minus gags


James Aish, Tom Langdon, debutant Jaidyn Stephenson and Adam Treloar walk from the MCG after Collingwood’s loss to Hawthorn. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

For same old Collingwood, it’s ‘Groundhog Day’ minus gags

Rohan Connolly    

It’s 25 years since Bill Murray did his stuff in that Hollywood favourite “Groundhog Day”. Not quite old enough to have been made in black and white, but … yes, you know where this is going, Collingwood fans.

Of course you do. Because you keep reliving it. And last Saturday night at the MCG, while a new season dawned, for the Pies it might have felt like weatherman Phil buzzed awake by the bedside clock at 6am to repeat the same sequence of events over and over.

Magpie people know the drill. Win plenty of the ball, particularly the contested stuff. Tackle hard. Move the ball forward. Then either turn it over, or waste scoring opportunities.

And so it was against Hawthorn. Again. Collingwood finished with 9.13, completely in keeping with its record of poor conversion, having managed more goals than behinds in less than half its games of the past two seasons.

The Pies lost the inside 50 count by only two, yet finished six goals in arrears. Just more of the same. What’s changed. Absolutely nothing, it seems.

The numbers from last year painted a damning enough picture before Saturday night, even when Collingwood did manage to win the inside 50 battle. Victory there means victory on the scoreboard on average 71 per cent of the time. For Collingwood, however, it was just 54 per cent.

The Pies were top three on the differential rankings for disposals and both contested and uncontested possession, and fifth for forward entries, yet were outscored by 10 teams last season.

Where’s the class? As usual, on the sidelines. In terms of players on the Magpie list who can alter that picture, it’s hard to think of many bigger absentees than Daniel Wells, Jordan De Goey, Jamie Elliott and Alex Fasolo. That’s become like “Groundhog Day”, too.

But perhaps it also says something about the questionable quality of the rest of the Collingwood list that, as good as they are, a couple of small forwards and an injury-prone 33-year-old in Wells who has played just 10 games in black and white can be missed that much.

It seems the Magpies’ more skilled practitioners are always injured. And it seems like the more durable types (with the obvious exceptions of Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom) are serial abusers of the ball by foot, the likes of Taylor Adams, Brayden Maynard, Jack Crisp and Tom Langdon far from the only guilty parties.

And while perhaps it’s still early days for the likes of Josh Smith and Tom Phillips, the questions as to whether they’re anything more than honest toilers without being potential game-breakers are valid.

In short, Collingwood still lacks class beyond the big names patrolling the centre square, has an American in Mason Cox still learning the game and a converted defender in Ben Reid as key forward targets, and has swung a one-time forward in Darcy Moore into defence.

There are times at the moment when it feels like Collingwood players have mistakenly run to the wrong ends of the field. At best, Cox, Reid and even the much-vaunted shift of Moore to the backline seem like gambits rather than the result of shrewd planning, a sort of structural Polyfilla.

And the Pies still look a conservative outfit. In how they’re selected, and how they play. Sure, they’re usually competitive, just two of a dozen losses last year by any more than five goals. But they’re also not good enough to win merely on effort.

Risk equals reward might be a cliché, but why doesn’t Collingwood take more of them? At this point, having missed finals for the past four seasons and with coach Nathan Buckley’s contract extension putting to rest endless speculation about his future, at least for now, what do the Pies have to lose?

One of Collingwood’s most encouraging performances last season came in its very last game, upsetting a Melbourne side which only had to win against an also-ran to ensure its spot in the finals.

This 16-point win saw Collingwood throw off the shackles and play with an enterprise and sense of adventure it had lacked for much of the year. The Pies suddenly were willing to take risks with ball in hand.

Not surprisingly, that sort of exuberance came on the back, also, of the selection of a trio of raw but enthusiastic teenagers in Callum Brown, Josh Daicos and Kayle Kirby.

One game into a new season is obviously too early for blanket calls to “play the kids”. But perhaps a bit more boldness on the selection front from Buckley and co. might at least engender a little more on the playing field.

Try something new, anything, might well be the cry from the Collingwood army this week. Because as portents for the season ahead, performances don’t come a lot more depressing than were the Pies against the Hawks.

And another 21 versions of Bill Murray hearing that 6am alarm go off might just be enough to push them over the edge.

This article first appeared at SPORTING NEWS.

1 Comment
  1. Well said Rohan!I still don’t understand why Nathan persists with certain players that have not and will not improve as footballers. It’s time that players like Wills, Sier, McLarty, Kirby et al are given an opportunity or got rid of

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