Where do you start with this team? They have come so far in two years that, if I jumped in a time machine and went back to that time, told you the Pies would have a flag within two years, I reckon you may have laughed at me.
They looked down and out after the 2021 season. President gone, coach gone, board in disarray, reputation damaged… there were some who were basking in the downfall of the Collingwood Football Club.
Their basking proved to be short-lived.
2022 proved that it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down – it is how often you get back up that matters. The Pies bounced straight back into contention, falling one kick short of a Grand Final berth after an incredible run of close finishes.
But that was just the place setter.
2023 was the year it all came together. Under Craig Macrae, the Pies played with an irresistible energy and belief, surging to take the flag after a brilliant season. In two seasons, the club had turned things around from being at one of its lowest ebbs to standing on the dais as the best team in the land.
It was bloody remarkable. Brilliant.
And now, the talk is of back-to-back flags. It is a feat easier said than done, but if there was something that was never in short supply at Collingwood over the past two seasons, it was belief.
And this group believes in themselves.
It’s that time of year, already.
The break after Christmas and New Year is over. The holidays are finished for AFL players, and the hard stuff starts now. Yes, the teams had been training for well over a month prior to Christmas, but as we head into 2024, 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. 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 2024.
We don’t do things by halves here, at The Mongrel Punt. 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 the upcoming 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.
Isn’t it a bit early for a season preview? Well, I suppose, but do you know how long it takes to write seven thousand words? That’s 18 x 7,000… gets out the calculator… that’s 126,000 words. The average novel is about 85,000 words, so buckle the hell up with these previews.
Also, if there are any issues that arise after the publication of the preview, they will be covered in standalone articles to act as additions to this preview.
You will not read a deeper season preview than this – I guarantee it. This is where we start the run to the new season and believe me – nobody does it better than The Mongrel.
WHICH PLAYERS PROVIDE THE LIFT IN 2024?
It’s a tough team to break into – most premiership teams are – but one thing Craig Macrae has demonstrated over the past couple of seasons is that he is quite willing to give players an opportunity and play them on form, not reputation.
When the Pies picked up Billy Frampton after the 2022 season, I wasn’t all that convinced he was going to play a role in their team, at all. I saw him as injury insurance, at best. And you know what? He was!
With the Pies’ big men down and out early in the year, Frampton was asked to play ruck to cover for Darcy Cameron and Mason Cox, and he answered the call like a man who wanted to prove something. In four straight games, Frampton not only went and contested in the ruck… he actually started winning! The Pies were viewed as easy pickings in the ruck contests at this point, but here was Billy Frampton winning battles on what appeared to be heart alone. Let’s face facts… he wasn’t doing it on ruck craft or skill, right?
Of course, he is now a premiership player, being asked to perform the role of keeping Brisbane’s power defender, Harris Andrews, under wraps in the Grand Final. And he did that very well, despite the jokes some made. Make no mistake, anyone who mocks Frampton’s game really doesn’t understand what his role was and how important he was to the team on the day. They can keep checking stats and using supercoach points to determine the effectiveness of a defender…
… like idiots.
Oleg Markov was another – the last man on the list in 2023, and now a premiership player with the Pies. He was given his shot and he clasped it with both hands.
Who will it be in 2024 jumping out of the pack to make an impact?
The easy answer is Lachie Schultz, but we probably need to look a little deeper than the obvious, bigger name recruit.
Fin Macrae is one to watch. Turning 22 before the start of the season, Macrae has been made to be patient. He is a midfielder at heart, but chances in the Magpies’ onball cohort have been few and far between. With Pendles another year older, and Taylor Adams now completely out of the mix, perhaps he gets his chance in 2024. Working into the mix with de Goey, Crisp, and Mitchell, he adds a little more leg speed to the mix.
Reef McInnes is another to keep an eye on. He has done a couple of years apprenticeship with the club and will be looking for more opportunities. The club will also be looking for a bit from him, as well. Sometimes, you have to force your way in – make it impossible to ignore you. I reckon that is what McInnes has to do this year.
Or maybe Nathan Kreuger finally gets a run at it after battling shoulder injuries over the past couple of seasons, and works his way into the spot vacated by Dan McStay? More on him, later.
Good teams continue to evolve. The Pies did that following the heartbreaking loss to Sydney in the 2022 Preliminary Final, by recruiting Tom Mitchell, Dan McStay, Bobby Hill, and Billy Frampton. However, they’ll have to do it again to go back-to-back. A rolling stone gathers no moss, and a footy club that explores options and makes tweaks stays ahead of the game.
Maybe there is another ready to claim a place in the premiership defence.
WHERE DOES LACHIE SCHULTZ FIT INTO THIS TEAM?
He slots straight into the forward line, and we wait to see just how he gels with the established Collingwood forwards.
The great thing about Schultz is that he is blue collar. He is a grunt worker, and whilst he does get on the end of plenty of goals (he kicked 33 in 2023 after 30 in 2022), a lot of his scoring chances come as the result of pressure inside 50. He made a great little combination at Freo with Sam Switkowski, and will be looking to improve on that with Bobby Hill.
The blue collar thing is important when it comes to Schultz, because that is something the Collingwood forward line prides itself on. Blokes like Beau McCreery, Jamie Elliott, and Brody Mihocek are second, third, and fourth effort players. A lot of teams house forwards who provide one effort – they run at the footy and try to mark it, and that’s their job done. The cue kind of goes in the rack. No names… I am sure you know who they are.
The Pies don’t rate one-dimensional forwards, and if you’re not willing to put in the hard yards, you’ll likely find that there is soon no place for you in the Magpies’ forward half.
Below, I have a section on Bobby Hill, and how he was able to push right past Jack Ginnivan and into a permanent place in the team. He did it so easily because he worked his arse off. Schultz would have likely done the same, given the way he applies himself. He was ranked fourth for total tackles inside 50 in 2023 and will be looking at repeating the dose this season. Right behind him was Elliott.
If the Pies get the 2023 version of Lachie Schultz, they’d be laughing. If they get an improvement on what he produced for Fremantle, their sides will absolutely split – happening upon a player like this who is right now at the peak of his powers (he just turned 26), the Pies are going from a team winning the flag with a potent forward line to a team defending the flag with an even more potent forward line.
Schultz will fit into this team like he was born to play in it. Mark my words – his bread and butter is pressure, and he backs it up with opportunism and skill. He is set to have a massive year.
IS IT TIME BRODY MIHOCEK STARTED TO GET SOME DAMN CREDIT?
Most diehards will be well aware of this, but every year at the Copeland Medal count, they present an award for the player who kicked the most goals for the club. It is not an award they take lightly – it is named after the great Gordon Coventry.
In the history of the trophy, there have been some wonderful names associated with it. Peter Daicos has five of them. Brian Taylor has five, as well. Sav Rocca has seven, Peter McKenna eight, and Gordon Coventry… the lazy 16 trophies named after himself.
As of the end of 2023, Mihocek, an unsung hero of this club and one of the hardest workers in footy, has five of his own. Right up there with BT, Daics, and Chris Tarrant. Great company.
Mihocek has done things the hard way. He did not come through the traditional channels to find his place in the league, and instead was selected in the rookie draft in 2018 after seasons with Werribee and Port Melbourne in the VFL. He is the epitome of giving everything to the club and leaving nothing on the field, and it has placed him in a position where he will be remembered as one of the club’s greats.
Whoa… hang on there, HB… a club great?
Yep. That may sound funny to some, as to list Mihocek as a great seems to go against everything his personal game represents. He is not spectacular, not the type of player to contend for mark or goal of the year on a consistent basis, and whilst he might have the occasional big highlight, his goals are run-of-the-mill, and based on second efforts. He is the Pies’ “everyman” and I reckon that’s why they love him.
Above, I wrote about Lachie Schultz fitting into this forward line due to the pressure he applies. Mihocek brings the heat, as well. Hell, the Brody Mihocek way IS this forward line. The way he plays is how they all play. It is a collection of players with a similar mindset working toward one goal – pressure the opposition. When you have your key forward as one of the main blokes driving this, how can the others not follow? How can they not be successful?
And meanwhile, we have other key forwards on other teams with their one-and-done efforts… we see you! And when I compare you all to the effort this blokes put in, he puts you to absolute shame!
I have all the respect in the world for Mihocek. His work ethic would be the envy of every forward line coach in the game. He turns 32 before the start of the season, having not been handed a gig in the AFL at a young age, he knows that every year he gets in the system is precious.
Is a sixth Gordon Coventry Trophy on the cards for him?
Well, he has improved his number of total goals in each of the last three seasons. If he is able to do that one more time, we can mark it down and start to mention him amongst the best forwards the club has had.
And, in an era where big bags are not common, he will have done that the hard way, too. I called him a potential club great… he is now knocking on the door. If he claims his sixth-straight Coventry trophy, it’ll open up for him.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM PENDLES IN YEAR 19?
19 years… there are adults who were not born when Scott Pendlebury debuted. How does that make you feel?
What’s that? Aroused?
Wow, I didn’t expect that answer. Nice one!
Anyway, one look at the track record of this icon of the game, and you can see why he is held in such high regard by everyone involved in the game – from those at AFL House, to the blokes on network TV, to spuds writing season previews.
Here are his all-time ranks.
Disposals – 1st
Kicks – 13th (If he replicates his 2023 season, he will move to 10th)
Handballs – 1st
Tackles – 1st
Inside 50s – 6th (a replication of 2023 sees him move to 3rd)
Clearances – 6th (will be 5th with a replication of 2023)
Contested possessions – 4th (he is one game away from moving into 2nd)
Uncontested possessions – 1st
Goal assists – 3rd (may be second after this season)
Guys, these are an incredible set of numbers. There was a period when Gary Ablett Junior owned a few of those spots, and we all know how people regard him. Pendles has the opportunity, not just to be regarded as an all-time great, but statistically speaking, perhaps the greatest of the modern era.
Is that a stretch?
Maybe a bit – the other blokes have a few individual awards that Pendles doesn’t, but he now has two flags, and a Norm Smith Medal. The case for him is getting stronger, particularly if he decides the games record is something he would like to chase, as well.
With 383 games under his belt, the 400 is within reach in 2024. He played 25 games last year, so even a slight dip would see him notch the milestone before the finals. And from there, his form will dictate whether the games record is within his reach.
In 2024, what do we expect from Pendles?
More of the same. Perhaps not as often, but if he is able to hover between 21-23 touches per game, the class and patience he displays will no doubt be worth their weight in gold. Maybe the mooted move to half-back will be more of an option this season? Or maybe he just cruises through the middle, doing only what he can do.
Pendles is a star of the game. He is a class act and has the ability to do almost anything out on the ground (I have not seen one other person bounce the footy on a pigeon, have you?). In 2024, what we will see from him will either tell us we’re looking at a man who will go after the record of most games ever played, or we’ll see a bloke play his 400th and be content with a brilliant career.
Regardless of his decision, I’m not sure anyone loses, here.
DID JORDAN DE GOEY SILENCE HIS CRITICS IN 2023?
Yep, shut them right up. He gabbed their shit opinions, turned them sideways, and jammed them right up their arses!
I’m sure you all remember the calls for Jordan de Goey’s head back in 2021. Apparently, he went to Bali and had a good (consensual) time at a club, and people didn’t like it. Even when the woman in question waved off any suggestion of anything untoward, the pearl-clutchers refused to stop, decrying de Goey and demanding Collingwood take a stand.
How many stands does the club have to make to satisfy these people?
The midfield bull let his play do the talking in 2023, and produced his most effective season to date. His goal average was down to under one per game, as he played more midfield, but the impact he had on the contest was significant.
De Goey recorded career-high numbers in disposals and clearances, providing the Magpies with a powerful option at stoppages. His ability to crash into tackles, take the hit, and dispose of the footy enabled teammates to get out into the open. In effect, de Goey crashed and bashed doors open for his teammates to walk through.
Whilst there were no big bags of goals to punctuate his ability to run forward (he kicked two or more goals four times), what we saw from him in 2023 was a healthy dose of consistency mixed with footballing maturity.
Look, if you’ve read my stuff on here before, you would know that I am not one to concern myself with what a player does in their time away from footy. If de Goey was going to go on his merry way and live life the way he wanted, I would not care one bit, as long as he was able to show up and perform at the highest level for Collingwood when they needed him to.
He did that in 2023, and he made a huge difference to the way their midfield functioned.
There were few retractions of their opinions in 2023. It was as though those with the loud voices who shot de Goey down were biding their time, waiting for him to give them another reason to say “I told you so”, but by playing the way he did, at the level he did, de Goey rewarded the faith of the Magpies and repaid their trust.
In a way, it was like he and the team looking back at the Helen Lovejoys of the world and saying… “No, I told YOU so”.
And he has the premiership medal to prove he, and the club were right when they decided to extend their relationship.
And that concludes our free section of this season preview. The next five thousand-or-so words are for our members. I told ya, nobody dives in like us. You can join if you like?
As mentioned above, the first five questions are free – the next 14-15 are for our members. Yep, I believe my work is worth twenty-five cents per day. If you don’t, that’s fine. You’re welcome to join and keep reading