Craig McRae reacts after a Collingwood loss during round one, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

COLLINGWOOD coach Craig McRae isn’t concerned about a premiership hangover after a winless first fortnight to the flag defence, confident the process the Magpies have executed across his first two seasons will help rectify a 0-2 start to 2024.

After winning a record-equalling 16th premiership last season, Collingwood will need to overcome recent history if it is to go back-to-back this year. No reigning premier this century has lost the first two games of the defence and recovered to go all the way. 

Friday night started by the club unfurling the 2023 flag after club great Peter Moore carried out the premiership cup, but ended with the Magpies being soundly beaten by an undermanned and young Sydney side at the MCG.


"We’re not standing still here, there is a lot of time to go, which gives us great belief and comfort. The reality is there is a lot of hard work in the coming days, because we play again in six days’ time. We can’t look too far ahead," McRae said on Friday night.

"The hangovers and not (being at) the same (level as last year)… we’re here to qualify. That’s it. We’re in the process of qualifying and before we do any of that, there is no point in talking about anything else. We have trust in our processes. We’ve got great coaches who will get busy in this and have great leadership that will get busy on some stuff that we need to get better in.

"We have trust in the process. We’re trying to get better every single day; that has been our mantra for two years and it is not going to change. Our system has been really, really strong for us in recent times. We’ve got to get back being that team. Having trust in the system is the only way through. Process and system."


McRae was a member of the formidable Brisbane side that won three consecutive premierships between 2001-03 and is searching for signs of complacency in his group, revealing he has been reading books on how to repeat success after reaching the summit.

The 50-year-old, who has won 38 of his first 53 games in charge, forecast some personnel changes ahead of next Thursday night’s clash against St Kilda at the MCG, with out-of-form key forward Ash Johnson facing some time in the VFL after being subbed out in the third quarter.

"We’ve got to get some freshness in. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, so I don’t want to overstate it or who it is. let us work through it," McRae said.

"We want to back our players in; we want to be a coaching panel that back players in; we said that openly to Ash. It looks like it will be hard for him to keep his spot in the team now, but that doesn’t mean he is out forever. It might be one or two weeks.

"Just go back and be the Ash that we love, jump at the ball, take your marks, finish your goals, the things that are right in front of him. He is a good representation of what’s right in front of us. Get back to work and show everyone else."


McRae said Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell would have played if required but was left out of the 23 to manage an ankle injury the midfielder has carried since the AAMI Community Series game against Richmond a few weeks ago.

"We were reluctant to say out injured because if he had to play tonight he would have played. We kept him on standby just in case if there was a late withdrawal," he said.

"He has been managing an ankle since the Richmond game and it’s been grumbly. He’s been getting up to play but it’s been grumbling all week. Let’s give him this game off and get it right for the rest of the year. That’s my understanding of how it looks, but if he had to play tonight then we would have done it next week. Ideally a few days off playing will get this ankle better than what it is right now."

Fin Macrae made the most of his opportunity after entering the game late in the third quarter, collecting eight touches, two clearances and two tackles in 26 per cent game time to stake a claim for a spot in the 22 next week.

MAGPIES v SWANS Full match coverage and stats

Sydney coach John Longmire praised the maturity of his young midfield group that has not only coped against two seasoned sides across the first two rounds, but thrived despite the absence of captain Callum Mills, veteran Luke Parker and recruit Taylor Adams.

Chad Warner was dominant with 27 disposals, seven clearances and three goals. James Rowbottom laid a game-high 13 tackles to set the tone. Errol Gulden collected 19 disposals after half-time to finish with 30 touches, 11 score involvements and 650 metres gained.


"It was terrific. We looked at the draw at the start of the year and two top-four teams from last year, so it was a tough one. I don’t think there any easy ones out there. I thought our shape was terrific, our intent, our connectedness across the ground was really good," Longmire said after the 33-point win.

"We are still a really young team. From that perspective, it was a mature performance with a lot of young players playing really key roles."

Isaac Heeney has starred across the first fortnight and could have six Brownlow Medal votes to his name after spending more time in the midfield to help cover the loss of Mills, Parker and Adams.


Longmire expects the 27-year-old, who was named All-Australian as a forward in 2022 after kicking 49 goals, to continue to spend plenty of time in the midfield even when the experienced names return.

"It has worked for the last two weeks and he has been super. We’ve had so much experience out of the team, if you look at our midfield group tonight, he was clearly the older one there and he is only 27," he said.

"We will play him where we need him. If we need him forward we will play him there, but he is going really well as a mid. He has been super. I just think he will play both roles. He was All-Australian half-forward, too, so he is a good player. Wherever you play him he has an impact.

"I think it’s good for our team because he just works so hard because he is just runs, has such an amazing engine. The terrific thing we’ve seen over the pre-season is his ability to put himself forward, put himself mid when he needs to."

Sydney hosts Essendon at the SCG next Saturday night.