IF COLLINGWOOD is to qualify for the AFLW finals, as it has for the past three seasons, the team needs to make its move right now.
The Pies have just one win to their name after four matches, and with a 10-round season, will need everything to go their way in order to make the top eight.
With a strong recent record in the past few years, and having regained star midfielders Brianna Davey and Brit Bonnici from torn ACLs, it was expected Collingwood would once again feature at the pointy end of the season.
What’s gone wrong?
The story so far
Collingwood opened its season with a fairly respectable loss to reigning premier Melbourne. No one expected the Magpies to win this one, and they showed patches of exciting and free-flowing footy. The margin pushed out to 42 points by the siren, but the Pies were far from disgraced.
A round-two win over Fremantle followed, the Pies getting out to 37-point lead before the Dockers dominated the last term, whittling it back to 21.
An inaccurate Collingwood lost to Gold Coast by 12 points, kicking 2.9, before the real damage was done on the weekend, conceding six straight goals as the previously winless St Kilda ran over the top.
First and foremost, the Pies have struggled with a growing injury list, last weekend naming a train-on player in Jess Bates as an emergency, indicating they had seven of 30 players unavailable.
Ruby Schleicher and Lauren Butler have both sat out the opening month with foot injuries, the star defenders leaving a hole in the backline, with Collingwood missing both their form and leadership.
The absence has been one of the factors in the Pies’ defensive woes, conceding an average of 7.5 marks inside 50 per game this year, up from 4.3 last year.
Classy forward Eliza James played one quarter in round one before injuring her ankle, and is a test for this week.
Another goalkicker in Imogen Barnett fractured her ankle in a round two tackle, while youngsters Jo Lin (foot) and Charlotte Taylor (knee) haven’t yet been able to get a run at it, the former coming off the injury list to be named an emergency last week.
A calamitous collision between Taylor and Schleicher during match simulation late in pre-season took the pair out, with Taylor’s knee landing on Schleicher’s foot.
Imogen Evans and Liv Barber weren’t on Collingwood’s injury list last Tuesday, but as VFLW player Bates was selected as an emergency, it indicates the pair were also unavailable for selection.
After a hectic trade period, it appears the moves made will be more of a long-term benefit, which doesn’t help the Pies in their quest for finals this season.
Collingwood lost impact player Chloe Molloy to Sydney, while former skipper Steph Chiocci took a longer contract at St Kilda, with three-time Pies best-and-fairest Jaimee Lambert joining her at Moorabbin.
Forward Jordan Membrey returned home to Queensland, moving to Gold Coast, while Al Downie retired.
In their place, the Pies brought in three forwards – Nell Morris-Dalton (Western Bulldogs), Grace Campbell (North Melbourne) and Eleri Morris (VFLW) – a winger in Tarni White, and Selena Karlson, a key defender with both AFLW experience and time with the Pies’ VFLW program.
White (22 years old) has effectively been a younger replacement for Chiocci (35 in December) on the wing.
Collingwood has continually tinkered with the make-up of its forward line, and with Sabrina Frederick moving to a full-time ruck role, it’s yet another different look this season.
In the long-term, it should be more effective to have Morris and Morris-Dalton working in tandem in attack, rather than an over-reliance on Molloy, but the pair are going to take some time to build chemistry with each other, and with the midfield delivering the ball to them.
An alarming fourth-term issue
Collingwood is only averaging 7.3 fewer disposals this season compared to last, however, quarters are longer by a minimum of two minutes each in 2023.
Handballs have dropped by an average of 16.9, with inside 50s only decreasing by 0.5.
The method of play has changed somewhat, with a greater emphasis on kicking – 70.9 per cent of Collingwood’s disposals comes from kicks this year (rather than handballs), up from 63.9 last year.
Scoring is actually slightly up, from 3.7 goals to 4.5 goals in 2023, while tackles have risen dramatically by 16.5.
Starting matches has not been an issue for Collingwood so far, but the fall-off within games – whether that be a concentration or fitness issue – is stark.
Cumulative quarter-by-quarter scores over four rounds
|Q1||9.6 (60)||1.6 (12)|
|Q2||3.9 (27)||5.8 (38)|
|Q3||6.6 (42)||7.5 (47)|
|Q4||0.4 (4)||12.9 (81)|
"Finals isn’t even in the thought process at the moment, it’s about us getting back to playing some good footy," coach Steve Symonds said after last weekend’s loss to St Kilda.
"We’re starting to see patterns in games – our first halves have been really strong, each of the four games we’ve done, and we’ve trailed away in the back half of games. We’ve got to find a solution to that, and quickly, before the season gets away from us.
"We know when we’re playing our best footy … we’re looking quite strong, but it’s that ability to maintain it for a full game at the moment, it’s posing a question.
"We’re confident our brand of footy at the moment stands up, we’ve seen that week in, week out, so far, we just haven’t been able to execute it for four quarters."
The run home
It’s now or never for Collingwood.
First up, an in-form Essendon side – the Pies should be too strong through the midfield, but it could be argued they should have been too powerful in the centre for St Kilda, too.
Then Brisbane on the Lions’ home deck, Carlton at Ikon Park, Geelong at Vic Park, Sydney at Henson Park and Richmond back at Vic Park.
Brisbane, Geelong and Richmond are all in the running for finals once again, while Sydney and Carlton are improved on last year and not easy push-overs.
It’s not too late to turn things around, and flip those 50-50 games from losses to wins. But if the Pies don’t salute over the Bombers on Saturday, time will have all but run out.