2019 Finals Dossier: Collingwood

In the lead up to the 2019 finals series, I’ll be highlighting each team’s style of play. How they move the ball, how they defend, their strengths, weaknesses, and much more. And yes, just to get the obvious out of the way; this is primarily a North Melbourne site – I have nowhere else to put this and it doesn’t affect the analysis. Today it’s a focus on Collingwood.

By the time you get to the end of this piece, three more Collingwood players will have found a way to injure themselves. Nevertheless, we press on and hope this won’t become immediately out of date.

But in all seriousness, with the cavalry now returning – unleashing Jordan De Goey and Jaidyn Stephenson in the first final is almost unfair – things are rounding into form at just the right time and it feels like they’re flying a little under the radar.

At least as much as Collingwood can.

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Collingwood’s forward setup

The beauty of Collingwood’s forward setup is how it inverts the norm.

Playing two talls – although Brody Mihocek is hardly a traditional ‘tall’ – with four smalls isn’t mind blowing, and on paper it’s not unique in any sense.

However, a normal forward line would work around the two talls as the focal points. For the Pies, it’s all about creating as much space as possible for De Goey, Stephenson and co.

The first thing to note is how the talls are usually much higher up the ground than the remaining forwards. Mihocek and Jordan Roughead will push high into the middle third of the ground; in addition to creating space, they look to provide a get out kick from Collingwood’s defensive 50, and – most importantly – take a key position defender as far away from goal as possible.

Although this is from early in the year – and Reid doesn’t appear to be in the reckoning for a game – Collingwood will still have the same base forward setup once De Goey and Stephenson are back in.

Collingwood 1

In a way, there are similarities to how Brisbane like to isolate Charlie Cameron as the deepest forward with plenty of space to work in.

While De Goey and Stephenson can’t match Cameron’s raw speed, the two Pies are more of an aerial threat, making them a matchup nightmare for defenders.

Assuming both are at full fitness when they come in, and conditions suit, we’ll all be quickly reminded of the damage they can cause.

How Collingwood move the ball

Perhaps taking directly from their Grand Final conquerors in 2018, Collingwood have incorporated slightly more kick-mark into their style this year.

When it’s all clicking, you see the perfect mix of the 2018 and 2019 ball movement and it’s unstoppable.

In their back half, the Pies attempt to move the ball methodically out of danger areas.

Once they get between the arcs, they’ll keep probing until the instant they think there’s an opportunity to get a high quality inside 50.

If Collingwood find that opportunity, the light turns green and it’s off to the races. An example of the process, if not the result:

Note how the aforementioned forward setup worked to perfection there. The Melbourne defence is drawn high, and there was plenty of space for Varcoe and Hoskin-Elliott to exploit while forcing the Demons into a series of no-win decisions.

Without Stephenson and De Goey working in tandem for the second half of the year, it’s been easy to forget how dangerous Collingwood are when their ball movement is at its best.

However…

How to beat Collingwood

Where Collingwood’s kick-mark style differs to West Coast’s is how the Pies have fewer get out options when their ball movement is slowed down.

As was touched on briefly in West Coast’s dossier, there’s a tightrope to walk on if a team is going to carry out a kick-mark style, and Collingwood have fewer tools at their disposal to adapt if their opposition shuts it down.

If sides can force Collingwood into slow and long kicking, the defences of Geelong, Richmond, West Coast and Brisbane will be able to control the skies against Roughead and Mihocek, leaving the Pies scrambling to put together a winning score.

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If you missed the first two dossiers, you can find them at the links below. Two more teams remaining:

Sunday: West Coast
Monday: Geelong
Wednesday: Richmond
Thursday: Brisbane

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Nevertheless, if Collingwood’s pressure game is working and their midfield is on top, it won’t matter who their marking forwards are.

The problems come when Collingwood don’t win the ball first and can’t control the tempo through their star-studded midfielders.

Although it doesn’t happen often – Collingwood are third in both contested and uncontested possession differential – they can be dictated to when the opportunity presents.

While Collingwood score well after opposition turnovers, they don’t force a huge quantity of them. It means teams who use the ball well will get greater reward.

In these two examples from their worst quarter of the season against GWS, note how both plays don’t have the sense of inevitability that a score is coming.

There are Collingwood players in the vicinity at nearly all times, but they just don’t get a spoil in, a deflection – anything to reset the play.

Not that Collingwood or Geelong would say it out loud, but I’d wager the winner of the qualifying final would like to see Richmond get up the following night. They match up against Brisbane, GWS and the Bulldogs much better than the Tigers.

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