The Pies came from the clouds to give the entire competition a mighty shake in 2023.
Remember, this was a team that was bottoming out, they said. This was a team in disarray, they told you. The president and the coach were gone, the board was filled with infighting and back-biting, and the team was expected to feel the heat under new coach, Craig McRae.
However, it was Collingwood applying the blowtorch, playing an irrepressible brand of football as they attacked relentlessly, used the corridor, and forced teams to adjust. It was like footy’s version of evolution. Opponents either evolved…
… or they died.
The Magpies were steady under pressure and relentless without the footy in their possession. Though they fell short of making it to the last day in September by one kick, the club could stand proud after all the nonsense that dominated headlines just 12 months before. This was the Collingwood Football Club standing before their loyal supporters and stating, via their actions that “this is who we are. Come with us.”
And their supporters loved them all the more for it, embracing the club and all those involved.
As we approach the 2023 season, there are many questions about the Pies and how they’ll travel. Some have called their incredible record in close games “luck”. In my experience, the harder you work, the luckier you get.
This is not a team looking for the easy way of doing things. It is choc-ful of belief, desire, and a hunger to prove to all that the best is yet to come.
Can they do it?
Well, that’s what I am here to look at.
It’s that time of year, already.
As we head toward February, it is time to get serious. The holidays are a distant memory for AFL players, and the hard stuff is well underway. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head further into 2023, the ante is upped and the intensity increases.
This is where premierships are won and lost. This is where improvements are made and lists come together. This is where the culture is set. New faces, new colours, old heads with renewed passion… so much feeds into the making of a contender. And as the days tick down toward to the intra-club clashes, practice games, and eventually the real stuff, questions are raised about each team and how they’re going to perform in 2023.
We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel. When we do a season preview, we go all out to make sure it is the best, most comprehensive coverage you’ll receive. We pride ourselves on it. If you are going to read one season preview for your team, or any team, this series provides it.
The way it works is as follows.
Each club has a minimum of 15 questions asked about their 2023 season, their coaches, their players, and their expectations. The answers are not glossed over. We dive deep on each and every one – some singular answers would normally be long enough for an entire column. The first five questions/answers are free for you to consume. The next 10-14 for each club are for our members, including a special appearance from Mrs Mongrel to throw her two cents in the mix.
You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it.
And with that, let’s jump into The Big Questions relating to the Magpies in 2023.
WHAT DOES TOM MITCHELL MEAN TO THIS TEAM?
Before I give some lazy journalists and the lemmings that listen to them a whack, I want t apologise to those who have read something similar to this from me before. I think I touched on it in the Hawthorn season preview.
There is a perception that Tom Mitchell does not hurt teams with his disposals. Ironically, this perception was perpetuated by then-Collingwood coach, Nathan Buckley, after Mitchell torched his club for 50 touches back in 2018. Bucks said something along the lines of putting more effort into stopping Isaac Smith, whose run and carry were deemed more damaging than those of the Hawthorn centreman.
Of course, it was a great quote and the media ran with it. And they kept running right up until the last game of 2022.
Let’s get something straight – Tom Mitchell has never been recruited for his leg speed and ability to break lines. Nope – no one has ever identified that as his strong suit. What he is in the team for, and why he is such a valuable piece to any puzzle, is his ability to find the footy and distribute it to the players streaming by on the run – the players that DO break lines and punish with long, penetrating kicks.
Can you name the players who were capable of that at Hawthorn in 2022? I’ll wait…
There were bloody none! Mitchell would get the ball, look up for someone on the move and the Hawthorn mids would all be standing there having attempted to do exactly what Mitchell just did – none of them were on the move; they all wanted to play the same role.
What that did was make them easily coverable and with pressure then mounting on Mitchell, he found himself having to do a U-turn and throw the ball onto his boot as the walls closed in around him. Yes, some were wasted kicks, but way too often, he had no one else running past to take the handball and get the team off and running.
People looked at the end result – “oh, Mitchell has just thrown that on the boot” and ignored why it happened. They were like idiot doctors diagnosing you with a sore leg when you’ve walked in limping. Yes Doc, we know our leg is sore… now what was actually wrong? These commentators didn’t address the issue, just the result – it was lazy and irresponsible analysis of a midfield setup born to fail.
Lack of outside runners is an issue Mitchell will not face at Collingwood.
A quick perusal of the Collingwood team demonstrates a side far better constructed than the 2022 Hawthorn team. Jack Crisp can burn an opponent off, Nick Daicos just took out one of the time trials, Taylor Adams loves getting on the burst, whilst both Josh Daicos and Steele Sidebottom are outside run specialists. Mitchell must be licking his lips at the possibilities.
If you’re a stats-driven man, you may ask what the pass mark is for Mitchell in 2023. I’d love to tell you, but the simple fact is that Mitchell does not need to carry this group the way he did at Hawthorn. He has wonderful support in the middle and will likely see his numbers dip a little from the 28 touches per game he averaged in 2022. If he sits at around 25, that is fine with me, but the big improvement will likely come in his disposal efficiency.
At 70.8% last season, Mitchell had his worst statistical output since landing at the Hawks. I doubt we’ll see that again at the Pies – here, he is spoiled for choice. If he hits 75%, I will feel pretty vindicated, and I am guessing he will as well.
And the whack – if you hear a journo spout that nonsense about Mitchell not hurting teams, or someone else parrot it, I have a question for you; who is the bigger idiot? The Idiot, or the idiot who copies him?
CAN DARCY CAMERON SHOULDER THE LOAD IN 2023?
Big DC was a surprise packet in 2022.
With Brodie Grundy struck down by injury, he was asked to carry the ruck load for Collingwood and did an admirable job of it.
No, scratch that – the bloke did a top flight job of it en route to capturing The Mongrel’s Ruck Championship Belt and managing six successful title defences throughout the season. Doesn’t mean much to you? Get yourself educated here.
DC averaged career-high numbers in disposals and hit outs as he teamed with Mason Cox to provide a strong one-two punch that more than matched it with some of the heavyweights of the game. But can he do it all again?
Have you ever filled in for someone at work, performing higher duties? You know, they go on holidays and it’s a nice little leg-up for you in terms of wage, you get to see how things work behind the scenes and go to boring-ass meetings that could be resolved with a quick email, but you put up with it, because you know this is only for a little while and then you can go back to being a goofball with your mates in your regular role?
Is there a chance that this was Darcy Cameron in a football sense in 2022? Brodie Grundy was still there… he was just hurt, and it seemed as though for quite a while, Grundy was going to be back at some point in 2022. History tells us he wasn’t, and Cameron’s secondment was extended a couple of times, but now with Grundy out the door and employed elsewhere, the club has elevated DC into the main role on a permanent basis and the expectations on him are elevated substantially.
This kind of thing reminds me why I should listen in those boring-ass meetings!
Cameron will go into the season with all guns blazing. He had a taste of being “the man” in 2022, and if he liked it, there is a nice big helping of it on his plate. I hope his eyes are not too big for his belly.
In terms of numbers, you’d be hoping that Cameron could provide a marginal improvement on his 2022 efforts. I know it is a bit to ask, but even a ten percent gain would see him sit at 14.5 disposals and close enough to 20 taps per game. If he can maintain his four goals every five games clip of scoring, as well, this could be a very big year for the 27-year-old. If the door opened in 2022, he could barge right on through and set up shop for the next few years with an impressive display this year.
As for the Mongrel Ruck Championship Belt, DC gets the first shot at current champ, Mark Blicavs, in Round One. Can he become the fourth man to become a dual champion?
To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man. It’s as simple as that.
HOW DOES DANIEL MCSTAY CHANGE THE FORWARD STRUCTURE?
If you’ve heard people talk about Daniel McStay and the role he provided in Brisbane, you might get a mix of opinions as t his effectiveness.
There were times that he did not get a heap of the footy – this is true. There were also times when he had some of the stickiest mitts in the competition… and it wasn’t from sneaking doughnuts while the missus was in bed, as the bloke writing this sometimes does. I know she knows…
In 2022, I commenced recording stats for what I call the “Get out of Jail” mark. I’d been noticing certain players providing the outlet option for their teams when they were pinned inside defensive fifty, and a big, relieving mark between half-back and half-forward often acted as the bridge between defence and attack. Early in the season, it was Daniel McStay leading the way – it prompted me to pay closer attention to him and the way he goes abut his footy. Maybe there was a bit more to him than the relatively modest overall stats?
Indeed, there was. Collingwood saw it, as well.
The man is a workhorse – he makes double and triple leads to find space and give his teammates an option. The ball does not always go to him, but what his continued movement and presentation do is draw in opponents like he has his own gravitational pull. And, in turn, that tends to open up space behind him for teammates to run into.
On a Collingwood side that managed to operate without someone playing this role in 2022 (at least to the level of McStay), this could very well aid them in being even more potent. If McStay is left alone to run and jump at the footy, he’ll mark it. If he has a direct opponent with him, he might outmuscle them and take the grab, but if not, he will bring the footy to ground and bring his teammates into the play. And if the numbers converge on him, well… that’d leave some numbers free somewhere for the Pies, wouldn’t it?
Look, I’d love to tell you that he is going to come in and kick 40 goal for the club, but I don’t want to lie to you. Big bags are not his game. Working hard, making those around him better, and being a more valuable player than stats indicate are the attributes he can, and likely will provide in 2023 and beyond.
Ad if he kicks snags, as well… the Pies are getting a bonus.
DOES NICK DAICOS START HIS MOVE INTO THE GUTS?
It seems logical, but if all midfielders actually play in the midfield, we may start to see a logjam in the middle for the Pies.
And as we saw at the Dogs last year, and even the Pies back in 2019, when they had Pendlebury, Treloar, Adams, Beams, and Sidebottom compiling an impressive list on paper, having too many quality mids can hinder as much as it can help.
But Daicos is too bloody good to sit at half-back for the majority of the year, isn’t he?
Based on his 2022 season, yeah he is, and given that he is tearing up the track (you don’t win time trials unless you are) there is the chance he is preparing for the inevitable. This may require some sacrifice from an old head to get it done.
There were times in 2022 when I watched Daicos play and he’d make a quick handball in traffic to a player he had no right even seeing, let alone getting the footy to. It was as though only he saw this avenue as a legitimate option and then had the audacity to try the difficult handball and worse, make it! I hadn’t seen someone in black and white with those types of skills since… since… well, since I looked just a bit to Daicos’ left and got a glimpse of Scott Pendlebury.
The former captain was trialled across half-back at points in 2022, but with Daicos having such a blindingly good influence back there, Pendles was able to freelance through the midfield more often. Remaining around the 23 high-quality disposals per game mark, Pendlebury, who is now 35 years of age, may have been a step slower, but finding the footy is not something he has to worry about – the footy finds him.
Could a waxing between Pendlebury and Daicos, with both players splitting time across half-back and the middle work for the Pies? It gives Daicos a softer entry into life as a midfielder, and allows the Pies to reap both the benefits of wisdom from Pendles, and the youthful exuberance from Daicos at two positions.
With some players, they play in the guts and that is all they’re ever going to do. They are see-ball/get-ball players. With both Pendlebury and Daicos, we see so much more. Daicos has demonstrated it to begin his career as a brilliant rebounding defender – could we see Pendles finish that way?
A rolling stone gathers no moss, and a team that tinkers with its lineup without making wholesale changes refines the good into something great. Pendles has been the pillar the Pies have built around for over a decade. A new pillar has been erected (settle down…) in 2022, and maybe it is time Pendles started sharing some of the weight with Daicos as he makes the next logical step on his path to stardom.
WITH HIS CONTRACT DONE, WHAT IS THE CEILING FOR JORDAN DE GOEY?
Is he Dustin Martin, or is he Jake Stringer?
I know which one I’d prefer, but I reckon he is somewhere right in the middle. 2023 will tell us a lot about de Goey
After a season that saw JdG castigated by the AFL Media for an incident in a Bali pub that looked conspicuously like two adults having fun, and was then confirmed as two adults having fun, he elevated his game in the first two finals to be amongst Collingwood’s best, answering plenty of critics along the way.
Sadly, he was unable to do the same in the Preliminary Final, as the Pies fell by a point.
De Goey remains an enigma. His potential is limitless. He could be the best player in the league on his day, yet he still manages to have games where he fades into the background and looks either disinterested or disgruntled.
It is usually the case with players who have not developed the maturity to fight through the poor games and find a way to have an impact in other facets of the game. I was hopeful Jordan would have found a way to do that, by now.
He hasn’t, which makes the comparison to Stringer a decent one.
The Essendon forward/mid can play in bursts of high intensity, possibly swinging a game with his heroics, but my big knock on him is that he only cares when there is money to be made – he plays well in contract years. Is this something Collingwood can expect from de Goey now that he has locked away his big deal?
You’d hope not.
Concerningly, Jordan de Goey booked in for shoulder surgery AFTER returning from his post-season break. Whilst he had every right to do this, and enjoy the holiday doing whatever took his fancy, a player who just signed a five-year deal could’ve maybe had the procedure done a couple of months earlier and been able to return to partake in preseason on time.
Whilst I am sure some will argue that he was correct to get the surgery done “on work time”, this is an area that always makes me question how much players want to be at their best and how much they want to win.
De Goey is a man that has fluctuated in terms of his conditioning. To have him on the sidelines over December and January… Crag McRae can’t be thrilled with that outcome.
With his future secure (or as secure as long-term deals at Collingwood get), what would be the pass mark for de Goey in 2023?
He is one of the few players that has the capacity to average 20 touches and two goals per game. I know, it sounds simple – believe me, it is not. The last person to do it was Stevie Johnson, in 2011.
Could de Goey break a 12-year drought?
I’d love to say yes, but if I am looking at a player who could let the Pies down in 2023, de Goey’s name is the first one to jump into my mind. Every damn time.
If he comes out fit and firing after working himself into immaculate shape, I will bow my head, apologise, and slink away, but I just get the feeling that Jordan is pretty happy he’s been paid. I hope he isn’t, but an injury-riddled season as a result of a late start to getting in shape, and the Pies may have just bought their version of Jake Stringer.
This ends the free component of the article. The next five or so thousand words are for our members. Want to join us?