The Collingwood Football Club has endured much in 2018, and yet for every soldier that falls, another takes his place.
When Adam Treloar stumbled forward along the boundary line against Carlton in Round 14, his body angled forward in an awkward fashion and his legs struggling to stay under him, anyone who has ever torn a hamstring knew he was in trouble. The human body, and the human hamstring is simply not designed to run at top speed whilst at that angle.
Treloar collapsed to the ground and clutched at the back of his legs. Though he would later state that he was fine, and that there was no issue, there was. And there wasn’t just one issue. Not just one hamstring injury – two of them; and they were two bad ones.
It looked to have been the straw that may have broken the Magpies’ back in 2018. Treloar had emerged as Collingwood’s hard-running, line-breaking midfielder this season. He was the perfect complement to the grunt work of Steele Sidebottom and the silky skills of the “Rolls Royce” Scott Pendlebury. And now he was out for an extended period of time, and with him went the belief that the Magpies could be premiers.
For many, this was the icing on a very poorly-decorated cake. It was a half-eaten cherry on top of a days-old milkshake. The Pies had covered the loss of Jamie Elliott with the emergence of a teenager in Jaidyn Stephenson, and the re-emergence of Josh Thomas.
They filled the void left by the absent Ben Reid and the seemingly always injured Darcy Moore with Brodie Mihocek, and they unleashed a 6’ 10” monster to prowl the forward line and mark the ball at its highest point, in Mason Cox. Yet the injuries continued to bring the club back to Earth.
Full back Lynden Dunn went down with a season-ending knee injury. Jeremy Howe copped a knee to the head that sat him on the sidelines, and Darcy Moore, to no one’s surprise, got injured again.
Despite the continued plague of ailments at the Holden Centre, Collingwood continued to perform. At the conclusion of Round 18, the Pies sat in third position on the AFL ladder. Many who predicted the demise of the Magpies after their Round One loss to Hawthorn, and the sacking of Nathan Buckley as a result, were now eating their words. The Pies were defying the odds.
When it was announced that Treloar would miss extended time, the collective groan of the Collingwood army was almost audible. They knew the implications. The Treloar loss was like no other to that point. He seemed as close to irreplaceable in the Collingwood side as you can get, sans perhaps Brodie Grundy and Scott Pendlebury. He was their leg-speed, their run up the guts, and their penetrating kick inside 50. He was their drive, and he’d blown his wheels out traveling at top speed.
We’re all Game of Thrones fans, right? I mean, yeah it’s been a long while since we saw a new episode, but we’re still fans, and we remember that shifty bugger, Littlefinger, right?
“Chaos is a ladder,” he said, indicating that as things look to be a little out of hand, there is always the opportunity to better your position. It rang true at Collingwood after the Treloar injury.
In the weeks following the fall of Treloar, the Magpies did not capitulate. They did not go quietly into the night. They remained, and stood strong. They did not wilt, as many thought they would. They charged at their contests like wounded bulls, and there were a few teams that stood like a petrified matador as the Pies had their way. Essendon, Gold Coast, North Melbourne and Brisbane all fell by the wayside as the Pies terrorised their midfields.
And the man doing the terrorising was Taylor Adams.
Adams had become something of a forgotten man in the Collingwood midfield rotation in 2018. Playing a bit off half back at times, he’d cycle in and out, but his impact wasn’t as great as people hoped it would be when he made his way down from Greater Western Sydney to commence 2014. Whilst able to compile prolific numbers, Adams was not having the impact on games many envisioned he would, and his use of the footy was… questionable. As a result, he would often find himself as the fourth midfielder in a very strong quartet. He was the Ringo Starr of the Collingwood Beatles.
Pendlebury was McCartney… smooth and serene, always looking at ease under the intense pressure of the spotlight. Sidebottom took the Lennon role – angsty and unafraid to get down and dirty, and Treloar was Harrison – a bit younger, but starting to come into his own as one of the premier midfielders in the game. There was definitely ‘Something’ about him.
And that left Adams holding the drumsticks.
What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?
After a brilliant personal 2017 where he averaged a career high of over 29 disposals per game, Taylor Adams fell off the pace a little early in 2018. Through the first 10 games of the year, he sat right at 23.9 touches, which is respectable for any 24 year old, but when you have players like Sidebottom, Pendlebury and Treloar all compiling more, and doing more with the ball, it would be easy to relegate him to the back blocks.
But just as The Beatles required a little help from their friends, when Treloar’s hamstrings gave way in Round 14, Adams was asked to do more. He grasped the opportunity with both hands.
If you look at his performance since Treloar’s injury, Adams has gone through the roof. In seven games, he has averages of 29.71 disposals (better than his career-high numbers last season), more clearances, more contested possessions and more tackles. He has relished the increased responsibility.
Taylor Adams – A season of two halves
As the Lennon/McCartney coupling struggled against both the seasoned Sydney and young, determined Brisbane midfield combinations, it was Adams who stood up when Collingwood needed him. He had 32 disposals against the Swans, including 22 contested touches. He added 11 tackles and 10 clearances to his totals, almost dragging the Magpies over the line in a tough contest. Against the Lions, he was at it again, matching it with former Pie, Dayne Beams, en route to compiling 33 disposals, 16 contested touches and eight clearances.
In the space of a couple of weeks, he’d gone from fourth rung on the on-ball ladder to the top. The question is, can he stay there?
The Magpies have no easy path to the finals, and to get there, they’ll need Adams to continue performing at the level we’ve seen since Round 15. They take on Port Adelaide in a game that will have huge ramifications for the composition of the final eight, and they finish the season with a trip to Western Australia to take on Fremantle with a returned Nat Fyfe. Whilst both games are definitely winnable, an upset is also not out of the question.
Port Adelaide will be desperate and they have no shortage of seasoned midfielders to match it with the aggressive Adams. Ebert, Rockliff, Wines or Boak are all hardened combatants, and the explosion of Taylor Adams over the past seven games will not be missed in their planning.
Adams has made a believer out of many this season. As the sun sets on the home and away season, he is poised to become one of the most enthralling subplots of the 2018 finals. Some leaders are earmarked from a young age. They’re groomed and moulded into the person that clubs believe others will follow, whilst others have a moment, borne of opportunity or stemming from either good or bad luck. Others lead by their actions, and seeing Adams step into a more prominent role, and embrace it with open arms screams of a maturity and understanding that sacrifice is required to achieve team success. When his number was called, he responded.
The Collingwood Magpies may go on to prove the doubters wrong. They may give the flag one hell of a shake despite their injuries, or they may crash and burn as the toll of an injury-plagued season finally catches up with them. Regardless, their year has been noteworthy on many levels.
The team has shown resilience, intestinal fortitude, and self-belief. They have overcome that which would have resigned many a team to looking at next season and wondering about what could’ve been. They have positioned themselves for a run at the flag despite myriad reasons to discount them from contention, and they have done it as much on heart as they have on skill.
One only has to look at the Ringo Starr of the Collingwood midfield quartet to see just what makes this side tick. This season may have been a Long and Winding Road for Collingwood, but with Adams leading from the front, the Pies may just Come Together at the right time.
Damn, I love The Beatles…
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