Players react as the final siren sounds in the round four match between Collingwood and Hawthorn at Adelaide Oval, April 7, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

COLLINGWOOD coach Craig McRae says the Magpies will use the next fortnight to review a disappointing 2-3 start to their premiership defence and reset during an early season bye, before facing Port Adelaide at the MCG in round six. 

After becoming only the second defending champions to start 0-3 in the AFL era – after Geelong in 2023 – the Magpies have steadied the ship with two interstate wins across the past fortnight, including Sunday night’s escape against Hawthorn in Adelaide.

But they are still a long way off the level they reached in McRae’s first two seasons in charge and will need to defy recent history if they are going to do any damage this year. 

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Only 10 per cent of teams have recovered from 0-3 to play finals since 2000. North Melbourne was the last team to recover from 0-3 and reach a Grand Final in 1976, after doing the same thing a year earlier when they went all the way. 


McRae has been upbeat and optimistic, regardless of result, across almost all of his 56 post-match press conferences, but the 50-year-old’s tone was different on Sunday night, knowing improvement is needed – and fast – if Collingwood is going to return to September this year. 

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“We’ve played five games, we’ve had a pretty tough run, we’ve played some really good teams and we’ve learnt a lot about ourselves. We’ll do a deeper dive later on this week and the week coming on things we’re doing well, things we need to get busy on. We’ll do a bit of a temp check because we’ve got a body of work now to work through that,” McRae said after the five-point win.


“We’re not standing still; we know we need to get better, but we showed some signs today that we haven’t shown in previous weeks; some parts of our game looked strong in the first half, hence why we are sitting here with a win, but we know this is a four-quarter game in a tough competition and we need to improve. 

“Winning is important in this competition. We’ve played five games, so you’ve got to get the thing moving. 14 games is our marker to qualify, that’s all we’ve got an eye on the prize on that. Until we get there, there is no point thinking any more. We’re process driven towards that.


"We’ve got two critical wins in the last fortnight and we’re becoming a better version of us, understanding that we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Collingwood veteran Scott Pendlebury was subbed out of the game at half-time due to a blow to the ribs, but the 36-year-old is expected to be available for the clash against the Power at this stage.


Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell was equally disappointed and proud in the aftermath of a game where his young and inexperienced side recovered from 38 points down at half-time and almost pinched a stunning upset over a side that has mastered the close finishes over the past 24 months, after kicking the final five goals of the game.

“I’m disappointed for the players because I thought if you look at the course of that game or the course of the year, they deserved that winning feeling and they didn’t get it,” Mitchell said. 

“I’m torn between being proud of the resilience and the fight and staying all the way through, and then I’m also disappointed that we allowed five goals in a row and lost control of the game.


“I was so disappointed looking at their faces after the game, at their disappointment after leaving so much out there. I think all the people at the ground would have been proud watching them.”

Defender Blake Hardwick was the star of the show, kicking four second-half goals after being moved at half-time to boost an attack that was without Mitch Lewis, Nick Watson and Luke Breust following injuries on Easter Monday.

Mitchell would love two Hardwicks to be able to play at either end and was thrilled for the 27-year-old who showed how dangerous he is forward of the ball, after training there all pre-season before returning to his usual role down back in round one.

“Moving him out of the backline you’re always a bit nervous, but I was proud of him. I thought he had a fantastic performance. Even in the first half I thought he was excellent back. To go forward and nearly drag us over the line,” Mitchell said.


“He is a frustratingly good player. I’m really nervous to move him out of the back half at any time because he is so important for us back there.

“We knew the contest in front of the game was an area where we struggled. We made a few changes at half-time and I think everyone who has watched him train and play at times forward thought that was happening and thought he was going to be able to kick a score at some point.”

After making progress in the rebuild project under Mitchell in the past two seasons, Hawthorn has started 2024 0-4 and will now head to Queensland to face Gold Coast next weekend.