Look Back/Look Ahead: Collingwood

Welcome to Look Back/Look Ahead, a series where every team is analysed in-depth, and their temperature taken. The plan here is to figure out where a team is at with their on-field style and overall list health before transitioning to their most pressing issue, and whether they can solve it over the off-season.

It’s a little awkward looking at Collingwood with a dispassionate, analytic lens after they provided one of the most feel-good seasons of all time.

We all know about the numbers, the close wins and the off-the-chart vibes that’ll stick in the memory for years to come.

Now comes the next part of the story. What does Collingwood’s next step look like?

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Look Back/Look Ahead will run during the weeks of September, taking us right up to Grand Final day and finishing with the top two shortly after.

$10 Patrons will have exclusive access to these posts for the first 24 hours after publishing and they’ll be free for all after that. Now that we’re into the finalists, here’s the schedule for the top eight:

RichmondReadWestern BulldogsRead
MelbourneReadFremantleRead
BrisbaneReadCollingwoodToday
SydneyReadGeelongSeptember 27

Here are all the Patreon details and how to sign up.

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Barring any late change of heart, in a couple of weeks’ time the 2027 column will have nothing in it.

Brodie Grundy’s imminent departure is surely the last step of Collingwood’s salary cap reshuffle over recent years, given there’s not a huge amount of long-term money on the books after that – even allowing for Jordan De Goey’s new deal. Based purely on vibes, I’d be surprised if De Goey left, especially with the new reports of a five-year deal now on the table.

Ollie Henry is the other player in the 2022 column who will attract attention.

Henry’s an intriguing one, because his rate of improvement has been solid right from the start. After looking far from ready in his AFL debut (and I may have written as much), he went back to VFL level and progressed to the point where he played the last seven games of 2021 and looked solid.

Then this year Henry got to the point where he was unequivocally best 22 for a stretch, before the natural fade out of a second year player and the rise of Ash Johnson combined to send him out of the side.

To go from clearly not ready, to best 22 (for a period) in 18 months suggests there’s still plenty more growth in Henry and wherever he’s at in 2023 will reap the rewards.

There have been enough reports of Henry’s camp not being overly impressed with Collingwood’s contract offer, which, to put two and two together, likely means they know he’s set for a breakout 2023 … whichever club he ends up at.

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Posts continue to come thick and fast. If you’ve missed anything recently, here are links to catch up:

Wednesday 21st: Look Back/Ahead: Brisbane
Tuesday 20th: Look Back/Ahead: Fremantle
Monday 19th: Look Back/Ahead: Melbourne
Sunday 18th: Sydney v Collingwood: The last minute
Friday 16th: Look Back/Ahead: Western Bulldogs

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Only Geelong handed more minutes than Collingwood to players in their age 29 year or above.

It was that strong, experienced, available core which gave necessary shelter for the likes of Nick Daicos, Jack Ginnivan, the aforementioned Henry, and Beau McCreery to truly flourish and develop into genuine AFL players.

So often those youngsters are thrown into situations where they’re not able to perform to the best of their abilities. For (a hypothetical) example – could you imagine Daicos or Ginnivan having half the year they did at North Melbourne or West Coast?

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As the older players start to transition out, the draft pipeline needs to be constantly refreshed – which makes Collingwood’s options this year fascinating.

They currently have their first round pick, nothing in the second round, and three third rounders. Depending on what Grundy nets, Collingwood’s suite could be an option for teams who need points for father-son or academy selections.

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As we head towards free agency and trade period, a reminder that the plan is to have a post for every move that involves a player. To clarify, posts won’t start until free agency officially commences, despite the flurry of announcements recently.

With all these rumours going around it looks like there’ll be words on the hour, every hour:

For first access, head to Patreon to sign up.

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The area of improvement for 2023

Collingwood’s system was the star of their season. By creating opportunity after opportunity through the turnover game, it gave the forward half weight of numbers to overcome personnel issues.

From their Finals Dossier (stats as at the end of Round 23):

Collingwood’s defensive strength – forcing turnovers – works hand in hand with their offensive strength – scoring in transition.

No side has forced more turnovers this year than Collingwood. They’ve also conceded the sixth most turnovers, so their games exist in a perpetual state of openness.

Because the Pies’ defence can cover most mistakes, a weight of numbers approach – coupled with the blistering ball movement – works best on offence. As illustrated by Richard Little on Twitter, Collingwood kicked to a contest more than all but one team, but also lost their fair share.

Add the two together and this area looms as the ‘easiest’ area of improvement in 2023 given the ball movement and defence is already great.

But the players coming in aren’t going to move the needle too much in this particular area. Frampton is depth at whichever end he’s used, McStay isn’t a contested beacon, Hill will be valuable but at ground level, and Fiorini shapes as a steady addition to the midfield.

Looking internally, a full season from Kreuger looms as the biggest possible boost to Collingwood’s forward line. He did show brief glimpses very early on before his year was ruined by a shoulder reconstruction.

That, plus a full season from Ash Johnson who supplanted Ollie Henry in the best 22, is likely where the most significant improvement can come from for Collingwood’s forwards. Will it be enough to help keep them at their 2022 level? Only time will tell.

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