THE PIES were hoping 2021 would be the readjustment from a stumble. It turned out to be the fall off a cliff. With plans to make finals approaching the season, they lost their president, sacked their coach and finished above only North Melbourne. To make matters worse, the No.2 pick is in the hands of GWS after a deal struck during last year's NAB AFL Draft.
They were able to debut nine players – the equal most in the competition with Adelaide. First-round pick Finlay Macrae showed promising signs, Beau McCreery and Jack Ginnivan proved they'll be part of the future forward line and Caleb Poulter and Trent Bianco were more than comfortable at the level. Plus, after a quiet start to his maiden campaign, Ollie Henry produced a strong last six-week burst in a tick to the development. Jordan De Goey's second half of the season also confirmed he can be a bona fide midfielder – if he wants to be.
The leadership at the top got messy and then Nathan Buckley lost his job at the midway point of the season. Jeremy Howe was reduced to eight games after back-to-back hamstring setbacks and Taylor Adams managed just 14 of his own after two knee injuries. Moore's move to attack was also short-lived before he returned to defence, only to injure his knee and miss the last two months. The scoring also regressed, averaging the third fewest points in the game. Even more damning was the fact that five of the top six goalkickers from the 2018 Grand Final side (ranked fourth for scoring) were available – Jordan De Goey, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Mason Cox, Brody Mihocek and Josh Thomas.
From half-back to midfielder, Jack Crisp was the Pies' most complete player. He also polled coaches' votes in five of the six Pies' wins meaning he should be a frontrunner for the best and fairest.
Darcy Cameron had to wait until round five to win his first game of the season but proved to be the ideal foil for Brodie Grundy as a forward/ruck. He bumped Mason Cox out of the best side and ranked third for goals and first for contested marks at the club. Cameron played 17 matches after a combined 10 across 2017-2020.
The departures of Adam Treloar and Tom Phillips left key roles in the midfield up for grabs which Brayden Sier failed to grasp. The inside midfielder enjoyed a breakout finish to 2018 but has played just 16 games since – including seven in 2021. He battled niggling injuries at various stages but had to watch youngsters picked ahead of him for much of the year.
The send-off for Nathan Buckley in round 13 was first class. Travelling to Sydney to coach a red-hot Melbourne outfit less than a week after he had been sacked, Buckley steered the Pies to their win of the season. Brayden Maynard played his heart out, Jordan De Goey had 32 touches and Darcy Cameron kicked four goals.
Only six days after 78,113 were at the MCG to watch the Anzac Day loss to Essendon, just 24,397 arrived to watch a four-goal loss to Gold Coast. At that point it was the club's second-lowest home MCG crowd this century. The Suns took 146 marks and ran the Pies ragged.
How should they approach list management?
Their hands are tied in attracting big names given head of football Graham Wright conceded recently there was a "hangover" of last year's salary cap woes. They'll land Nick Daicos but must hold onto their 2022 first-rounder when mustering points to match the bid when it comes. Retaining young talent is a given but the rebuild could be accelerated by entertaining an offer for Steele Sidebottom or Brayden Maynard who becomes a free agency next year.
Early call for 2022
A new coach should come with a new captain so Taylor Adams to lead a midfield including the Daicos brothers, Finlay Macrae and Jordan De Goey to within touching distance of the top eight.
2 out of 10. A nightmare campaign. The Pies' lowest finish in 15 years and we don't actually know if the real pain has set in or is still on its way.