EVEN by long-established Collingwood standards, these are tumultuous times for the AFL's most famous club as it settles into a week of life in Sydney before a month in Perth.
And while concessions are being justifiably granted for certain questionable actions of individuals and clubs during the stress of COVID-19, most of the Magpies' problems in 2020 are old-fashioned, self-inflicted ones.
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This time two weeks ago, Collingwood was unbeaten after three matches, a 44-point win against the emerging St Kilda in round three following a draw against reigning premier Richmond and a belting of the Western Bulldogs.
Even this time last week, the Pies, publicly at least, were still looking OK. Bad news had come in the form of serious knee damage to important defender Jeremy Howe, but a gallant two-point, on the road loss to last year's Grand Finalist GWS suggested positivity.
But the past week has been an unmitigated, self-caused, season-destabilising public relations crash.
Steele Sidebottom's inexplicable and conveniently forgetful bender, Eddie McGuire's ridiculously defiant public response to it, indecent assault police charges laid against perennial problem player Jordan De Goey, and the appointment of a professor to head a review of accounts of racism levelled by a former player are individually confronting matters with which to deal.
Collectively, and coming in the space of seven days, they have, for coach Nathan Buckley, the dreaded potential to yet again destabilise his never-reached premiership dream.
De Goey won't play against Hawthorn in Sydney next Friday night.
McGuire's unwavering public support of his players is admirable, as it absorbs a large chunk of the initial media storm and he does it simply to protect his club and those who represent it. But, it's also stupid practice as well as hypocritical.
In his 22 years in charge of the Pies, his players have continually let him down with behaviour and lies. Either strategically or unknowingly, McGuire, when he aggressively defended Sidebottom on Channel Nine last Wednesday, made no reference to the player's behaviour being so disturbing that police were required to intervene and drive him home the morning after his bender.
When McGuire in late April publicly said that COVID-19 protocol breaches by AFL players should be met with $100,000 fines and season-ending suspensions, and when he – rightly – sought more public detail on the stabbing of Cat Jack Steven, he relinquished the right to pick and choose revealing specific details of his own players' infringements. His use of the word "proud" to describe his view of Sidebottom's acceptance of an AFL-issued four-week ban may be the most ridiculous use of that word anywhere in the world in all of 2020.
They're a mess, the Pies, and now they're on the road.
And just as this current period away from Melbourne right now doesn’t have an official end date, there is seemingly no end to the ways this club can find itself in the news for bad reasons.
The Richmond way will find a way
We know that unavailability of key players won’t derail a Richmond premiership push.
That become fact last year, when the Tigers scrounged their way to a 7-6 scoreline before the bye, despite being without Alex Rance, Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt, Toby Nankervis, Bachar Houli, Jayden Short, Kane Lambert, David Astbury and others.
So when the Tigers finish a round five 2020 match with Cotchin, Dion Prestia and Nankervis injured on the sidelines, it's actually not the crisis it would be at other clubs.
Richmond desperately needed a win on Sunday, and got it against Melbourne. Little has gone right for it this year, and yet with two wins and draw, it is just two premiership points out of third place on the ladder.
Bachar Houli and Shane Edwards won't be part of their travel party to the Gold Coast, adding to the problems caused by the unavailability of the three key players injured during Sunday's game.
When Richmond resumed from the bye in 2019, it didn't again lose, winning 12 consecutive times through to a second premiership inside three seasons.
Its next two assignments are Sydney at the Gabba and North Melbourne at Metricon Stadium. It will start favourite in both, no matter the composition of its 22. The Richmond way just finds a way to deal with adversity and cover the loss of stars.
Roos' risk doesn't pay off
Medicos loathe it when non-medicos assess their work.
So North Melbourne medicos won't like this: the decision to play Ben Cunnington against Western Bulldogs on Saturday night was highly questionable.
Having missed the previous two matches with nerve-related back and leg issues, Cunnington seemed to be wearing an invisible straight jacket at Marvel Stadium.
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North started 2020 well, winning the opening two matches against St Kilda and GWS. Without Cunnington, it then lost to Sydney and Hawthorn. With Cunnington immobile, it lost badly to the Bulldogs.
It was a woeful performance against the Dogs, who have impressively reignited their season with three straight wins. No coincidence that Tom Liberatore returned for those three games.
There's no doubt about the Lions
Not on our turf.
Brisbane provided a reality check for the then-unbeaten Port Adelaide on Saturday night, setting up a cruisy victory at the Gabba with a blistering second quarter.
The Lions midfield may be the best in the competition, and while the established gun is Lachie Neale, the effect of the ultra-impressive Hugh McCluggage, now in his fourth season, Jarryd Lyons, now at his third club having been drafted way back in 2010, in the fourth round, and Jarrod Berry is equally impactful.
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After their straight sets Gabba finals exit of 2019, I was sceptical of the Lions' ability to go deep into 2020. Time to remove the doubt. They're as equipped as any team, are encouraged to play with a beautiful flair, and have the competition's premier backman – maybe by some distance – in Harris Andrews.
A loss like that suffered by Port prompts big questions. Did it just get lucky in round one against the Suns, which had yet to realise they were OK? Were wins in round two and three, against the Crows and Dockers, against teams which will finish down the bottom of the ladder?
The Dockers win and the following week's big victory against West Coast came at Gold Coast's Metricon Stadium. Will eagerly await the outcome of next Sunday's match against GWS at Metricon Stadium, before delving deeper into those Port questions.
The Bombers should be unbeaten
Didn't expect to be saying this at this stage of 2020: Essendon should be unbeaten.
Having played a game less than the five that 16 clubs have endured, due to the Conor McKenna COVID-19 infection-enforced postponement of a round three match against Melbourne, the Bombers are positioned beautifully in fifth place on the ladder.
Their Dylan Shiel and Jake Stringer-inspired win against Collingwood on Friday night was their most impressive of the year.
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They are playing with minimum fuss, too. The backline is functioning smoothly, with Jordan Ridley continuing his sound development alongside stalwarts Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker.
Essendon's only loss came in round four – by one point to Carlton. The match against the Demons needs to be jammed into AFL fixturing, somewhere, but the way this club is embracing this season, it will no doubt be viewed as a positive.