For the newer generation of Collingwood fans, the infamous 2020 trade fire sale was rock bottom for their time supporting the club.
Certainly from an off-field and cultural perspective, it very much was a low-point in the Magpies’ recent history. Even if, in hindsight, losing Adam Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson and Tom Phillips hasn’t hurt the club a great deal.
The repercussions were felt on the field in 2021 though, where Collingwood slumped to second-last on the ladder to prompt significant change including Craig McRae eventually replacing long-time coach Nathan Buckley.
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So while the current Magpies list has ample stars across the board and the key core of their 2018 Grand Final side — signalling they were perhaps always primed to bounce back — it’s remarkable less than three years after that disaster trade exodus — and only two years removed from a 17th-place finish — the club is again contending for a flag on the last Saturday in September against Brisbane.
Plus, footy moves fast, and there’s no guarantees that Buckley-nurtured Magpies list was ever going to get back to the promise land.
“Too much is made of the dip of 2021. You don’t lose your ability and talent, there was just so much going on that year, coming out of 2020. It made it very difficult to perform,” Buckley told Foxfooty.com.au’s David Zita this week.
“Then the change takes place … the club hit a speed bump in the middle of the road.
“For ‘Fly’ (McRae) to come in and straighten that up really quickly with ‘Leppa’ and ‘Bolts’ (assistance coaches Justin Leppitsch and Brendon Bolton) and to allow the locker room to come and do what it’s always done – settle the troops and get them back on task, then guide the ship from there, has been first rate.”
Indeed, McRae and his lieutenants deserve due credit for helping reinvigorate this powerhouse club, and perhaps, all that was needed was a fresh voice and leadership.
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But the list calls — both in beefing up and rounding out this current Magpies juggernaut — have equally paid key dividends, creating a blend of experience and youthful exuberance.
It’s also wild to consider Collingwood’s draft immediately after the 2020 trade period, which at the time, was considered the club’s shot at redemption and a crop of hope to guide it into the future, appears to have more misses than hits.
The Magpies had six selections including first-rounders Ollie Henry, Finlay Macrae and Reef McInnes as well as Caleb Poulter, Liam McMahon and lastly (and therefore, making it even more extraordinary), Beau McCreery.
Only McCreery is a regular member of the club’s best 22 and playing in Saturday’s decider, while Henry, who they ironically took with the first-round pick they got from the Bulldogs for Treloar, Poulter and McMahon aren’t even at the club anymore.
It must be acknowledged it was an unpredictable draft after the Covid-impacted 2020 season, with several questionable selections from other clubs too, particularly at the top end, where there’s clearly greater importance.
But from a Collingwood perspective, if you’d known at the time it’s a draft with limited short-to-medium-term gain — and potentially long-term, too — it makes the club’s rise all the more remarkable.
The Pies also in the 2020 Rookie Draft took little known (at the time) Jack Ginnvan as a 17-year old, with the small forward emerging as one of the most exciting players in the competition under McRae and a feel-good grand final inclusion story into the team’s 22.
So effectively, from two of the club’s ‘least valuable’ draft selections that year, they added McCreery (Pick 44) and Ginnivan (rookie draftee) — key cogs for the future that have already made an impact.
The rookie draft is an area the club has had great success with in previous years including bringing in Mason Cox and Brody Mihocek.
Arguably the most important piece to the puzzle was brought in during the 2021 National Draft, with the Pies striking gold with father-son prodigy Nick Daicos, who they’d known they were getting for some time.
What gets a little lost over the last six months is how much Daicos lived up to mammoth expectations placed on him coming out of his draft year, stunning the footy world in his debut 2022 season. And if not for a late-season injury this year, the breakout superstar likely would’ve incredibly won a Brownlow Medal in his second AFL campaign.
On field, Daicos has probably been the most valuable recruit for any club via any any mechanism since he came into the system at the end of 2021. And just as importantly, off-field, Daicos, along with McRae, played a key role in transforming the feel of Collingwood — and crucially helped it reconnect with fans after many were left estranged.
The Pies in 2021 also added Ash Johnson (mid-season draft), Nathan Kreuger (traded from Geelong) and Patrick Lipinski (traded from Western Bulldogs). While none have necessarily had a major impact from an individual standpoint, they’ve provided invaluable depth and remain solid pieces.
In fact, had Johnson and Kreuger not been hampered by injury, they’d had been every chance to be replacing Dan McStay on Saturday instead of Billy Frampton.
Of course, McStay and Frampton were two of four Magpies — along with Tom Mitchell and Bobby Hill — brought into the club during last year’s trade and free agency period at very little cost — as well as recycled rookie draftee Oleg Markov — all of whom have played vital roles at different stages.
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All but McStay, who’ll brutally miss through injury in a grand final heartbreak story, will feature in Saturday’s grand final.
They’ve all also filled important list chasms and justified the decision to off-load Brodie Grundy to ease salary cap pressure. While the Grundy trade mightn’t have been even completely necessary to bring in such other names, it certainly put the club in a better overall position from a recruiting perspective.
Moving Grundy mightn’t have been possible if not for the bargain-basement trade Collingwood made for Darcy Cameron in 2019, with the big man impressing in the No. 1 ruck role in 2022 after Grundy got injured.
Again, having a stable core of stars has been paramount to everything. It was a case of improving something that was fractured, not broken.
As mentioned, 10 current Magpies — Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom, Jeremy Howe, Jack Crisp, Brayden Maynard, Jordan De Goey, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Taylor Adams, Mihocek and Cox were all members of that 2018 Grand Final side, while Mitchell played for Sydney in the 2016 decider.
That crop of experience doesn’t include Jamie Elliott, Nathan Murphy, Darcy Moore, Isaac Quaynor, Nick and Josh Daicos, who are all major pieces — the latter four making this year’s 44-man All-Australian squad.
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The father-son rule has evidently treated the club well too in helping it land star skipper Moore and the Daicos brothers.
Having Pendlebury (35 years old), Sidebottom (32) and Howe (33) in particular — the three elder statesmen and most experienced players on Collingwood’s list — totalling 922 games of experience — counts for a great deal.
The reality is, when the trio do eventually call time on their magnificent careers, it’ll be a period of unknown for the club — whether good, bad or indifferent — given their tremendous leadership and influence on the group.
It’s why Saturday’s opportunity for greatness while the threesome are still leading the charge is all the more important for the club to seize the moment.
“You just don’t get players like ‘Pendles’ or ‘Steele’ every decade, even ‘Howie’ at the defensive end — they’re significant. Not just the way they play and the effect that they have, but the way they direct, motivate and inspire their teammates. Those boys aren’t going to be around forever,” Buckley said.
“Clubs that consistently challenge are able to regenerate. But I think what has happened well in the last couple of years is that players have come in that have helped the side improve … they’ve all had significant moments and significant impact in their roles and helped the youth that existed to come together and grow.
“The challenge will be when the Pendleburys, Sidebottoms and Howes tip over, which will happen eventually, and how they replace that. Not so much their kicks, marks and handballs, but their direction and their leadership.”
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