As Round One looms, the prospect of a season opening win offers early bragging rights to kick off 2023.
A win for the Carringbush* would be a win over the reigning Premiers, and the side the Pies led at every change, before losing to them by a goal in a Qualifying Final thriller. A win would be the Pies first against the Cats at the MCG since the 2019 QF.
Historically there’s been a run of wins or losses between the Pies and Cats. The Cats have won the last four, the Pies won the two prior, the Cats got three on the trot and the Pies claimed the three prior.
One has to go back to 2007/2008 before this pattern is broken. Since the 2011 GF, it’s 9 wins to 8 losses in favour of the team from Sleepy Hollow.
The Cats were the standout team from start to finish over 2023, with Chris Scott finally clearing the hurdle of doubt on his finals legacy.
Geelong had played finals in 11 of the past 12 years, but they hadn’t won in the first week of September since 2016.
So as the goalposts are erected on the MCG ahead of season 2023, what has changed to allow the Pies to get over the line, and reverse the ledger against the Cats come Round One?
There have been statements :
“We want to be known as that exciting fast forward footy team. We will have some minor tweaks in the game plan but can’t wait for the season to start now.”
– Steele Sidebottom on what has changed at Collingwood in the off-season
There have also been definitive changes to the Pies’ playing style, where they’re evolving into a high possession, low turnover side :
. Round 3 2022 (Collingwood vs Geelong) = -13
. Qualifying Final 2022 (Geelong vs Collingwood) = -6
And there has been action on the personnel front :
Messrs McRae and Wright have recruited players from other clubs expecting them to play Round One. If fit, Dan McStay and Tom Mitchell will start, nothing surer.
For the rest like Billy Frampton, and Bobby Hill while it’s still technically pre-season, it is up to them to stake a senior selection claim to push out the incumbents prior to Thursday night selection.
For Hill, the task has been made a little easier, following Jack Ginnivan’s ‘cubicle’ indiscretion, leaving open the window of opportunity. Hill appears blessed with all the attributes required to be an excitement machine; pace, ground level awareness, and head surfing ability. This will not only worry opposition defenders, but also Ginnivan.
Collingwood’s lack of scoring potential has been a factor for several seasons, and over 2022 this was a clear statistical anomaly they have sought to address.
Over 2022, and 22 games they spent 16 games or 72.72% of the time in the Top 8, with a final percentage of 104.3%. The Pies spent 48% of games in front, winning nine games by single figures.
Throughout 2023, Macrae will be looking for the same four-quarter effort, but with a more structured and dynamic forward line.
The scoring potential with the addition of McStay and Hill looms as a catalyst to improve the Pies’ winning margins.
Throw Naicos onto the half-forward flank, while rotating through the middle potentially goes a long way to addressing a lack of scoring potential.
STAT / RANK
Tackles i50 15th
Tackles 63.44 – 3rd**
Meters Gained 6,030.64 – 4th^
Shots at goal 12th
Possessions 349.80 – 5th ** J.Crisp, and S.Pendlebury cracked 100 tackles for the season. Only 36 players cracked the ton.
Collingwood’s ‘link players’ in Nick Daicos, Pendlebury, Crisp and Pat Lipinski had 283 (ranked 22nd), 281 (23rd), 280 (24th) and 278 (27th) handballs respectively.
Post undergoing shoulder surgery, Lipinski will be missed. This, however, might quell the debate of whether John Noble claims a spot in the starting 22.
Many have excluded Johnny Noble from their starting 22, however the way this lad keeps presenting would be firmly the way the coach would like to see all players approach their game. Noble, while maligned, perhaps because of his size, sits in my starting 23.
Fly Macrae has given his players opportunity to evolve their game, and encouraged fast, rebound football, and demanded defensive accountability.
The likes of Crisp, Jaicos, Noble and Lipinksi have been prime examples of this, with their ball carrying meters gained having proved impactful over the course on season ’22.
On stats, interesting to read the Meters Gained / Efficiency Stats for the league. J.Crisp no.9, 11479 meters gained at 66.20% efficiency, Jaicos no.21, 10357 meters gained at 70.20% efficiency, and Naicos no.23, 10,205 meters gained at 75.60% efficiency. J.Noble also cracked the top 50, coming in at no.48, 8,570 meters gained at 75.60% efficiency.
So, roll on Round One. What changes do we expect the selected side from that of the Preliminary final?
The Cats will be without back six regular Jack Henry.
Top 5 Leading Goalkickers: [*] 2022 = B Mihocek , J Ginnivan , J Elliott , O Henry , D Cameron 
Tackle, chase, tackle, chase, repeat.
McRae clearly wants pace in his forward line, and pressure is part of a system that he views delivers goals. Repeated pressure acts cause turnovers. Turnovers inside 50 result in goals. Beau McCreery and ‘ice-cold’ Jamie Elliott provide this week in week out.
Although the talk of ‘pressure’ reminds me of the old Keith Miller quote when asked about pressure within context of Test Cricket “Pressure? There is no pressure in Test cricket. Real pressure is when you are flying a Mosquito with a Messerschmitt up your arse…”
While the Pies deficiencies up forward are well known, it’s particularly glaring when you compare the lack of a spearhead given the likes of Curnow, Lynch, Hawkins averaged 5+ shots on goal per game, followed closely behind by Cameron, King Walker and McKay, all above 4.50.
The Pies closest was Brody Mihocek at 2.71.
Ash Johnston averaged 7.41 in his 9 games, so at that rate it’s safe to say John Coleman’s season goal record is set to be smashed in 2023. ‘Reports’ of Johnson returning from the off-season in poor condition might just see him spend a longer stint in the VFL, giving him time to reflect on what is required to play in the big time.
New recruit, McStay rarely started deep forward at the Lions, however, if he plays as a true Full Forward, this will likely result in him kicking more goals. Observations at pre-season training and trial matches showed him leading well from deep in attack.
Over 2022 McStay averaged 1.86 shots on goal, albeit not a permanent forward, averaging 17.89 games. So, not only do we get a new key target, but a durable key target, playing more games than ‘special teams’ Mason Cox, Cameron and Kreuger as a key forward over 2022.
I continue to rate Mihoceks bullocking work rate, where his second efforts often result in crumbing style goals. I’d be more inclined to leave him at Full Forward and use McStay as the more mobile option at Centre Half Forward.
Hill is blessed with pace, evasiveness and ground ball gathering ability. Since he arrived at ‘the whatever they’re calling it now centre’, reportedly Hill has been instructed to focus all Summer on tackling. The coaching staff haven’t gelded his ability to stand on shoulders, crumb and snap goals flair, but they do want him to use his pace to add tackling pressure. I think ‘ice-cold’ Elliott in close proximity will be a great teacher for Hill, and to lean into ice-cold’s experience and determination.
‘Special teams’ Cox is good for 1 / 2 goals per game, notwithstanding he is experienced having played in nine finals over four campaigns. McRae has had one season with him, let’s see what he has in store for Big Maso over 2023.
Cox provides match-up headaches for opposition defences, and offers a chop out in the ruck to Cameron. Hill and Elliott crumbing at the feet of Mason provides a 1-2 combo the Pies can run with deep into the season.
Centre & Followers :
Nick Daicos appears to have every attribute to tear the game and the competition apart. There hasn’t been greater expectation placed on an individual since Jesus wandered out of the desert.
Naicos’ ability was clearly on show during his debut season. Back, Midfield or Forward, he’ll be equally as dangerous. Still, in order to hone his craft, expect to see him play a variety of roles, before he makes his way into the middle as a permanent fixture in seasons to come.
For the incumbents, Taylor Adams remains as hard as a cat’s head when it comes to contested footy. Hopefully I’m not alone in thinking that the recruiting of ‘I stole Sidey’s Brownlow’ a.k.a ‘the thief’ Tom Mitchell, is a motivational catalyst for Adams to further elevate his game. I view Adams as Collingwood’s spirt animal, and if his body stays right over 2023, expect him to be a core reason for them playing deep into September. This ageing warrior might benefit from ‘the thief’ joining the Pies in season 2023, where Adams’ hamstrings can gain a rest rotating as a defensive forward.
As far as the Followers go, I expect to see a blend of Cameron, Adams, Mitchell and Naicos form the backbone of this ensemble for Round One, and over season 2023.
The Centres, well it’s going to be ‘bulls on parade’. Jordan de Goey, ‘age shall not weary them’ Steele Sidebottom, ‘I was robbed of goal of the year’ Josh Daicos, and perhaps Jonn Noble on opposite wings.
Geelong are set to be without Tom Hawkins and potentially Jeremy Cameron.
The delivery out of the backline from Collingwood’s recently announced 48th captain, Darcy Moore, Brayden Maynard, Isaac Quaynor, ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ Scott Pendlebury, and potentially a redefined Will Hoskins-Elliott dropping back, sets us up for some exciting rebound footy.
Competition leading head-surfer, Jeremy Howe along with Moore, were ranked 23rd and 27th respectively in the competition for marks, with 141 and 133 marks respectively over the season.
Nathan Murphy looks set to anchor himself in the back sextet, putting seasons of injury behind him. Murphy in my book remains a quietly evolving quality defender. He’s not the one to provide the dash and run, but ever reliable to do the team things, and follow the game plan.
But what of Billy Frampton? Ideally I want to see him earn his spot through the VFL.
‘If’ the reports from the training track are coupled with strong performances in the scratch matches, we might see him yet debut Round One, but I think the Collingwood faithful are getting ahead of themselves.
Frampton has played 24 games over five seasons, and hasn’t played AFL senior football since Round Eight, 2022. If he dominates in the VFL, then consider him on merit.