Imagine for a moment you’re Nathan Buckley. Apart from looking like the MGM lion, life’s not that bad, right? You’re a head coach of an AFL team. You’ve got yourself a nice two-year contract extension at, what was until recently, Australia’s biggest footy club (G'day Richmond). You’ve had a storied playing career and won countless awards. You’ve done things most ordinary people dream of. But you can’t solve one pressing problem with your current team. You can’t get the forward set up right.
Word out of Collingwood is that several of their star players will spend time off half back in the coming season, using their ability to read the play to cut off attacks and propel the Magpies forward. Already, names like Scott Pendlebury and Taylor Adams have been floated as possible part-time defenders, as the Pies look to sure-up their defence.
However, there is one name mooted to spend more time down back in the new season that should cause more than a little concern for Collingwood supporters. Standing 199cm (6’ 6” for us oldies) and weighing 93 kilograms, Darcy Moore is built to be a marking forward. But Collingwood, and Nathan Buckley, have seemingly grown impatient with him as they desperately attempt to work out a structure that will see them take marks inside fifty. After just three seasons, and what has seemed like consistent development, the club is looking for different ways to use Moore. The question is, why?
Two years ago, the Essendon football club found itself in a similar spot with their young forward, Joe Daniher. After three years in the game, Daniher had shown glimpses, but had not set the football world alight with his play. He was tall and gangly, and was taking time to repay the faith the Bombers were placing in him. He was not clunking marks the way they'd hoped he would, and was struggling to make an impact. The Bombers were languishing in 15th position, and were in the midst of a saga that is best not revisited again here. They were looking for answers to stop the bleeding down back. Did they panic? No, they did not.
Essendon remained committed to their young forward, and two years later they’ve reaped the rewards. Daniher is now not just one of the best young forwards in the game – he is one of the best forwards in the competition overall. He amassed 65 majors in 2017, up from 43 the year before. Even a minor improvement from him in 2018 will see him sit comfortably in the top 3-4 forwards in the league. A Coleman Medal is not out of the question. Are Collingwood shooting themselves in the foot with their impatience with their own young forward? If left to develop in attack, could Moore make a similar leap?
The numbers for Moore and Daniher are strikingly similar at the same stage in their careers. Whilst Daniher has a slight edge in goals, Moore is ahead of him in disposals, marks and importantly, contested marks. It was year four and five that Daniher made significant improvements to his output. Moore is about to enter year four. Unfortunately, it looks as though he’ll spend a fair amount of it in defence.
Year Three Comparison - Moore vs Daniher
So why is Collingwood looking to take a young man out of the forward line and throw him down back so readily when it appears as though he may be ready to take the next step to become exactly what they drafted him to be – a star forward?
Nathan Buckley’s contract with Collingwood could’ve gone either way at the last negotiation. The succession plan, and the transference of power from Mick Malthouse to his protégé was supposed to yield results. It has – poor ones. Collingwood went from a Grand Finalist in 2011 to fourth in 2012, then sixth in 2013. The slide has not stopped, to the point where the Magpies have finished 11th, 12th, 12th, and 13th in the last four years. The Magpies succession plan should be renamed the ‘ION’ plan, because it has been completely devoid of success.
Buckley’s record as coach has a dismal win percentage of just 51.47%. He needs to arrest this, and quick wins are required to do so, even if that means squandering the opportunity to develop Moore as one of the AFL’s next elite forwards. It is quick term gain for possible long term pain.
Moore’s father, Peter is a great of the club, and of the AFL in general. A dual Brownlow medallist, he knows a few things about the game, and he sees great flaws with the club’s use of his son, and the way the Pies are using their forwards in general.
In an interview with Melbourne Radio station SEN, Peter labelled the way Collingwood was delivering the ball inside fifty as “absolutely hopeless” in the first half of 2017. He lamented Buckley’s coaching style and stated that “Collingwood forwards don’t kick a lot of goals.”
Hardly the environment that aids in the development of a tall forward.
David Cloke, former Collingwood and Richmond star, and father of Travis, has also been outspoken about Buckley and Collingwood’s use of forwards. Cloke claims his son was made a scapegoat by Collingwood in his time there, and stated that soon, they’d so the same with Darcy Moore.
“They will destroy him,” said Cloke, going on to say that the Collingwood game style revolves around midfielders gaining high disposal counts, instead of getting it into the forward half.
So with Moore roaming the half back line, who will be left to kick the goals for the Magpies?
Scott Pendlebury said what a captain had to say in regards to moving Ben Reid forward in place of Moore, stating in an interview with the Herald Sun that Reid “showed last year that he can clearly play forward.”
Reid did go forward in the second half of 2017 and netted bags of 3 against Gold Coast, and 4 against Port Adelaide. He totaled 14 goals for the year, but will need to do a lot more as the number one marking option.
There seems to be a bit of a push for Mason Cox as well this season. This big man has been in the system for only two years, but at 211cm, is a daunting prospect to defend. Sadly, his 2017 averages of 7.78 disposals and 3.22 marks per game don’t tell a story of someone you’d put your faith in to be the focal point of an attack.
Jamie Elliott led the Pies in 2017 with 34 goals at 2.00 per game, and has hopefully been able to put his ankle-injuring, bin-urinating off season to rest and focus on a big 2018. Alex Fasolo snagged 29 goals in his 19 games and behind them was Darcy Moore. Mason Cox kicked only ten for the year.
Looking at it as a whole, the Magpie forward structure does not scream “potent” without Moore playing there. On current form it doesn’t scream “potent” with him positioned there, either. However, unlike the others mentioned, Moore looks most likely to develop and become a consistent threat, and isn’t that what you want?
The Magpies will toy with their line up as the season progresses. An injury, or bout of poor form will force Buckley's hand and necessitate changes. I would not be surprised to see Darcy Moore moved back into the forward line in short order in 2018. He is a potential match winner, but like all good things, he will take a bit of time. Collingwood and Nathan Buckley can't rush this one. They have a diamond in Darcy Moore, and they're treating him like coal.
Wanna talk AFL? Hit us up on Twitter @themongrelpunt or check out our Facebook page.