THERE was frustration, elation, a series of setbacks and a couple of unforgettable wins all packaged into the 2020 season for Collingwood.
Aspirations of a flag looked within reach following a remarkable round one victory over the Western Bulldogs back in March.
But the loss of several key players to injury, in addition to the other hurdles that this year has thrown in the way of AFL clubs, put a dent in those plans. So, was a semi-final exit acceptable?
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Collingwood's backline continued to work cohesively and effectively, resulting in the Pies finishing the season with the third-ranked defence behind only Port Adelaide and Richmond. Darcy Moore was an All-Australian, Brayden Maynard made the 40-man squad, while Jack Crisp ended the year as the second-ranked general defender in the competition. Then there was continued development from youngsters like Isaac Quaynor and John Noble. Even without Jeremy Howe, who was lost to a knee injury in June, Collingwood continued to remain as steadfast and resolute as ever in its backline.
If the backline kept Collingwood in matches, the team's inability to string together consistent and reliable attacking stretches always gave its opposition a chance. Brody Mihocek was the only Magpies forward to finish the season with more than 14 goals, with Jordan De Goey, Jaidyn Stephenson and Mason Cox all struggling with either form or fitness issues – sometimes both – at different stages throughout the year. However, as Nathan Buckley alluded to frequently, the issue relates more to the team's collective inability to connect its midfield to its forward line than the form of any individual.
Taylor Adams. It was a year where Adams became arguably the most influential and important midfielder at Collingwood. His toughness and class in the contest saw him become a first-time All-Australian, having averaged 22.6 disposals, 5.4 tackles and 5.2 clearances per game. Expect a maiden Magpies best and fairest as well.
Josh Daicos. After just 17 games in three seasons, a move to the wing saw Daicos become a critical part of Collingwood's midfield. His footy nous and his ability to create gave the Pies a new dimension with the ball, while he also averaged an improved 17.3 disposals per game and kicked 10 goals. Currently uncontracted beyond 2020, expect Daicos to re-sign soon.
It is for no fault of his own, but a season-ending knee injury for Jeremy Howe – sustained in June – was perhaps the most disappointing moment of the year for Collingwood. Howe was in All-Australian form, becoming one of the game's most influential interceptors across half-back, before his year was prematurely ended. What could have been, had he stayed fit?
An upset one-point elimination final victory over West Coast was undoubtedly the highlight of Collingwood's season. On the road, against a hostile Eagles crowd at Optus Stadium, having quarantined all week, the Pies pulled out something special to advance to the second week of finals. It was enough for the season to be deemed acceptable.
Conceding 11 straight goals in a round eight loss to West Coast was bad, but a 56-point defeat to finals rival Melbourne later in the season was worse. The Pies were abject at the Gabba, with injuries to Brody Mihocek and Ben Reid adding to the loss of Jordan De Goey, Jeremy Howe, Isaac Quaynor and Adam Treloar. Then 6-5-1 on the year, the season risked slipping away. But, credit to the Pies, who fought through the mess of the Demons defeat.
How should they approach list management?
The question is perhaps better reframed: how can they? The club has already tied Brodie Grundy to a seven-year contract, while it still has to lock away stars at either end of the field in Jordan De Goey and Darcy Moore. Then there's crucial role players like Josh Daicos and Brody Mihocek, who also remain without deals for 2021. Nathan Buckley has said the club wants to be "aggressive" during the Trade Period, but they may need to shift players elsewhere to do that. Does that mean a tough decision on Mihocek? And maybe even someone like Tom Phillips? If they're willing, expect a frantic window for the Pies.
Early call for 2021
Collingwood is still in its premiership window, so a flag should once again be the main focus heading into 2021. How much the club can improve its list this summer in order to take the next step, though, is another question. An intriguing Trade Period awaits the Pies.
B. The club would have targeted a flag, but a semi-final appearance given the hurdles it overcame – including the loss of several key players to long-term injuries – is acceptable.