John Noble and Nick Daicos hug after the 2023 Grand Final between Collingwood and Brisbane at the MCG. Picture: AFL Photos

THE WOUNDS are still raw for John Noble.

Last September was devastating. But it won't prove to be defining for someone who has made a living proving the doubters wrong. 

After playing every game of the home and away season, Noble was brutally dropped ahead of Collingwood's qualifying final against Melbourne, snapping his streak of 83 consecutive games. And he didn't get back in. 

The 27-year-old was forced to watch on from the Ponsford Stand as Craig McRae's side beat the Demons and then Greater Western Sydney at the MCG, before winning a record-equalling 16th premiership by defeating Brisbane in the 2023 Grand Final. 

Now Noble is back in.

The South Australian put his head down over the summer and was rewarded with a spot in the 23 in Opening Round. He was squeezed back out after being the sub at Engie Stadium, but after a fortnight in the VFL, Noble was recalled for the Easter Thursday clash and has played with a point to prove against Brisbane and Hawthorn. 


"'Fly' (coach Craig McRae) sat me down and spoke to me (before the qualifying final). It obviously didn't go the way I wanted. It was really hard to take at the time," Noble told after the five-point win over the Hawks on Sunday night.

"I'm getting emotional talking about it because you obviously strive to taste the ultimate success and play in a premiership for a team you've been a part of for so long.

"It was really challenging, to be honest. It was one of the hardest things I've ever experienced. It was an amazing time for the club, and I like to think I contributed a fair bit to that, but it was challenging, really challenging. We're in 2024 now, so we move on."

Noble didn't drop his bundle during the off-season. He is not hardwired that way. He transferred the pain of September into his gain in October and November, ensuring he turned up on day one of pre-season ready to fight for the spot that had been taken by Oleg Markov and Will Hoskin-Elliott during the finals series.  

John Noble in action during the match between Collingwood and Brisbane at Marvel Stadium in round 23, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

"I went back to my body and my craft. I wanted to improve and come back as a different player," Noble said.

"It drives you a lot. When you're not in the team you want to come back and get that spot back. For me it was about going to work and I leaned on a lot of my mentors that I've used my whole career.

"I think it is important to have self-belief and confidence in what you can bring to the table. I feel like I still had that and never wavered from not believing in myself or not believing I couldn't contribute to our best 22. For me, it was about getting back to work, getting clarity amongst confusion. It is good to be back."

John Noble during Collingwood's training session at Gosch's Paddock on November 27, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

McRae hasn't had to make too many tougher decisions than the Noble call during his first 56 games as a senior coach. There is no room for sentiment in September, but those decisions take a personal toll, especially for a coach that prides himself on his empathy.  

Noble's response since then hasn't surprised McRae. The dashing defender has not only won the spot back, but played two games that have accrued coaches votes, after collecting 24 disposals, six intercepts and 440m gained at the Gabba and 23 touches, eight intercepts and six rebound 50s at the Adelaide Oval. 

"We are really proud of him," McRae said at the Adelaide Oval on Sunday night. "We want everyone to get better and he has gotten better from his adversity. You wouldn't expect anything else from 'Nobes'."

Football trauma is relative, but Noble has endured plenty of disappointment. First it was the pain of being overlooked in underage representative teams – he never played for South Australia until representing the SANFL in 2019 – then not attracting the attention of a single AFL club until the age of 22.

Before veteran Collingwood recruiter Derek Hine dialled in remotely for the 2019 Mid-Season Rookie Draft and changed the course of his life, Noble was stacking shelves at Foodland during the week and playing for West Adelaide in the SANFL on the weekend.

"My pathway has been hard enough getting to the AFL, so I've never really struggled for self-determination and to strive to get success. But it does add another layer to that, it is like a fire in your belly that goes off," he said. 

John Noble warms up prior to the match between Brisbane and Collingwood at The Gabba in round three, 2024,. Picture: Getty Images

Noble grew up in Adelaide after his father, former North Melbourne coach David, relocated to South Australia to coach Glenelg in 2003 after working at the Western Bulldogs as an assistant and reserves coach. He then spent a decade at Adelaide as an assistant coach, list manager and then head of football, before heading to Brisbane as the Lions' GM. 

Melbourne is now home, but Adelaide will always be home for Noble. Collingwood trained at his old club West Adelaide last week and banked four premiership points by defeating Hawthorn in the final game of the second edition of Adelaide.


"I love Gather Round; I think it is a great concept," he said. "Everyone has their opinions on Adelaide – you either like it or you don't – it is a beautiful place. I'm obviously biased because I grew up here, but I think it is a great way to experience the state in different areas with different games at different ovals. I'm all for it."

After gathering himself over the off-season, Noble has regathered his spot in Collingwood's best 22. He has always played with a chip on his shoulder. That chip is just different now.