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ANALYSIS: Magpies have to face key question

Will Darcy Moore put up his hand to fill the key position gap at Collingwood, or will he head to Sydney? - AFL,Collingwood Magpies,Grand Final,Nathan Buckley
Will Darcy Moore put up his hand to fill the key position gap at Collingwood, or will he head to Sydney?

WHEN the sting of the Grand Final loss eventually fades, Collingwood has a lot to look forward to.

It can take enormous confidence from the way it toyed with West Coast early in Saturday's decider, piling on the opening five goals to jump to a 29-point lead late in the first quarter .

It can also take confidence from how it responded when the Eagles' inevitable response came, holding them at bay until Dom Sheed's ice-cool set shot put the Eagles in front for good with less than two minutes to go.

But the manner of West Coast's comeback would have reinforced to Collingwood's hierarchy the one genuine deficiency on its list – a lack of key-position players.

MATCH REPORT Sheed gets Eagles home in a Grand Final classic

The Eagles took increasing control of the aerial battles at both ends of the ground in the second half of Saturday's match, eventually winning the contested mark count 23-15 and overall marks 104-79.

After the match, Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley lamented how Eagles key defenders Tom Barrass, Will Schofield and Jeremy McGovern had got on top after his team abandoned its daring ball movement of early in the game and started to kick long down the line.

Star West Coast forwards Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling also helped turn the game in the second half, with Darling taking six marks in the third quarter alone.

Jack Darling took control in the air in the third term. Picture: AFL Photos

That the Magpies ultimately had no answers for the Eagles' aerial dominance underlined why they threw their hat into the ring for Gold Coast spearhead Tom Lynch and why they remain in the race for Suns full-back Steven May.

Richmond should be confirmed as Lynch's new home next week, so the Pies will have to look elsewhere for a key forward, while Melbourne is shaping as the favourite to land May if, as looks increasingly likely, it trades Jesse Hogan to Fremantle.

The Magpies' key-position stocks would be immediately bolstered next year if injury-prone youngster Darcy Moore could play a full season. But the prodigiously talented 22-year-old remains out of contract and has been strongly linked to Sydney ahead of the upcoming NAB AFL Trade Period.

Collingwood was missing injured talls Lynden Dunn, 31, and Ben Reid, 29, against the Eagles, but neither veteran will provide a long-term solution to its key-position needs.

A dejected Jeremy Howe gets a hug after the Magpies' five-point loss. Picture: AFL Photos

So if Moore does ask for a trade to the Swans, the Magpies should try to exact a price that helps them barge in front of Melbourne in the race for May or, failing that, positions them to make a play for another contracted defender – the free agency and out-of-contract pools are almost exhausted.

Port Adelaide's Jack Hombsch is believed to be available at the right price and is worth a look, while we've learned during recent trade periods anyone is available if a Godfather offer is on the table.

Talls aside, Collingwood's list is in exceedingly good shape.

With Steele Sidebottom, who had a rare quiet game against the Eagles after dominating the opening three weeks of the finals, Scott Pendlebury, Taylor Adams, Adam Treloar and emerging pair Tom Phillips and Brayden Sier, the Pies have a good mix of inside grunt and outside run, while Levi Greenwood remains one of the competition's best taggers.

In attack, Jordan De Goey, who should eventually spend more and more time in the midfield, is a rare talent, while Will Hoskin-Elliott, Jaidyn Stephenson and Josh Thomas have emerged as one of the most potent medium-small fleets and Travis Varcoe's defensive pressure still makes opposition defenders extremely nervous.

Which means Alex Fasolo's expected departure to Carlton via free agency and Jamie Elliott's ability to return from injury will not make or break the Magpies' front six.

And despite the need for another quality tall, Mason Cox's continued development has been remarkable – whoever thought they'd hear "USA, USA, USA" chanted during a preliminary final? – and mature-age recruit Brody Mihocek has stepped in this year and been a more than handy role player.

In defence, re-signing Tom Langdon, 190cm, should be a priority in the wake of the Grand Final. The 24-year-old was outstanding against the Eagles, finishing with 23 possessions, seven marks (three contested) and 11 one-percenters, but he remains uncontracted.

In Langdon, Brayden Maynard and Jack Crisp, the Magpies have a good mix of medium defenders who can generally neutralise any opposition ground-level threats, while the Pies will also be hoping the talented Matthew Scharenberg can make a strong return from his third knee reconstruction.

Trading for someone like May would also enable Collingwood to give Jeremy Howe more licence to fly for his marks. The former Demon has risen to the challenge of playing as a key defender as the Magpies' injury toll grew this season, but he will be more damaging if released to play an intercept role.

It's easy to nitpick a list in the wake of a Grand Final loss but make no mistake,  the Pies' list is talented enough and young enough – of its key players only Pendlebury and Varcoe have hit 30 – to give the premiership another almighty shake next year.

Which leaves Collingwood's ability to rebound mentally from such a shattering loss perhaps the biggest question hanging over it.

Remember, this year we saw Adelaide miss the finals after finishing runner-up in 2017 despite appearing well placed for sustained success.

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley is consoled in the rooms after the Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

However, where the Crows have admitted they made crucial mistakes in their psychological preparation for 2018, Buckley is in no doubt his team has the mettle to come back bigger and stronger in 2019.

"We'll find out about ourselves as everyone does, as we have to face this reality and then how we respond to this reality, but it won't be for lack of support, it won't be for lack of love or care for each other," Buckley said.

"But that needs to be something that is continually tipped into, it's never taken for granted and it's finite unless you keep producing it.

"That's going to be a big challenge for us, but I've got no doubt that that has become us and that's part of our personality, part of who we are, and I look forward to seeing where that takes us."