2022 Free Agency Analysis: Daniel McStay, Collingwood

Welcome to the 2022 Free Agency & Trade Period analysis series. Over the next fortnight, the plan is to look at every player heading to a new club. It’s not going to be a ‘who won the trade’ series, but rather a look at how players fit into existing setups, or what changes they may force.

A five-year deal sees Daniel McStay head to Collingwood as the centrepiece of their off-season list overhaul.

An important role player in Brisbane’s recent success as a forward and occasionally second ruck, all signs point to a similar role at the Pies.

I’m conflicted though, because as things stand in the current landscape, I can’t see how this move helps Collingwood take the next step. Which I’ll explain in a moment, but…

I can also see an avenue where it significantly changes the state of play. This year Collingwood were at the forefront of an evolving league when it came to ball movement. It’s not a leap of faith to suggest McStay can be the next step of that evolution if carried out in a certain fashion.

We’re going to start with the negative part first because then that flows into the positive.


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The case against McStay moving the needle

To be clear, before anyone gets the wrong impression, McStay isn’t going to make Collingwood a worse team. This is all through the lens of whether Collingwood can take a step forward on 2022.

In their list analysis post, I wrote the following:

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.

McStay’s value at Brisbane came from his ability to roam high, cover plenty of ground, and work to give the focal points (Daniher, Hipwood, Cameron) more room to operate with.

As a third or fourth aerial option, he was able to take his fair share of contested marks. At Collingwood he won’t have that luxury, at worst taking the second best defender – especially if he’s the back-up ruck instead of Mason Cox.

If Collingwood continue to play with the same willingness for a contest in 2023, it’s an unknown how McStay fares as a featured player in this setup, simply because we haven’t seen it before.

Then if McStay isn’t the second ruck and plays purely as a forward, how much does his skill set fit into Collingwood’s 2022 preferences? And, perhaps more importantly, how much of an upgrade is he over other options? There’s also the opportunity for a bigger ground level presence close to goal, with Bobby Hill on his way from GWS.

It’s a lot of questions with few available answers, but the key is that this section is based on how Collingwood’s forward line worked in 2022.

2023 could be a different story.


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

Tuesday 4th: Trade Analysis: Blake Acres
Tuesday 4th: Free Agency Analysis: Liam Jones
Monday 3rd: Free Agency Analysis: Jayden Hunt
Monday 3rd: Trade Analysis: Bobby Hill
Friday 30th: Free Agency Analysis: Karl Amon


The case for McStay moving the needle

I’m adamant in the belief the game is in an offensive phase of evolution. Teams have figured out that a speedier, higher-risk method for ball movement is the best way to break down defensive setups. The measured kick-mark should now be used largely for tempo, rather than a foundation to hit the scoreboard with.

Collingwood led the charge with that in 2022. The speed and risk when they were in possession frequently caught teams out, combined with the willingness to kick to a contest. As I covered in their Finals Dossier, it played a large part in their ability to stick around when outgunned in a match, and powered their surges when on top.

It also seems fair to think what we saw from Collingwood this year in possession wasn’t the finished article. After all, what coaching staff can go from 0 to 100 in one off-season?

Here’s my theory – McStay represents the next step of Collingwood’s process. If he doubles up as the second ruck, suddenly there’s no traditional key forward to work as a beacon, and it’s extremely mobile.

Something like McStay/Mihocek/Johnson/Elliott/Ginnivan/McCreery/Hill as a forward seven isn’t winning many traditional pack contests, but would be torture to defend against in space.

This year Collingwood were happy to let their speed and risk lead to plenty of contests, with a middling success rate.

What if in 2023, that speed and risk is now directed towards a forward line using, to steal an NBA term, pace and space?

It’d be a unique setup compared to how other finals teams work. But Collingwood led the way in 2022. Why can’t they do the same thing in 2023?


In case you missed it, the Look Back/Look Ahead series recently wrapped.

Every team’s list was analysed in depth, with a key question picked out for 2023. In some ways the posts work hand-in-hand with these individual analyses, understanding needs and priorities.

Here are all the links to catch up on:

North MelbourneReadWest CoastRead
Gold CoastReadPort AdelaideRead
St KildaReadCarltonRead
RichmondReadWestern BulldogsRead

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