A bandwagon international Collingwood supporter asked me the other day, “where will the Magpies end up this year?” After careful thought, I said potentially top six, but in three years time they will be the best side in the competition by a long way.
There are five reasons for my prediction and it starts with a list assessment.
Elite: Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan, Dayne Beams, Ben Reid and Travis Cloke
Above Average: Steele Sidebottom, Luke Ball
Rising Stars: Josh Thomas, Taylor Adams, Marley Williams, Paul Seedsman, Jamie Elliot, Alex Fasolo, Ben Kennedy, Brodie Grundy, Jarrod Witts, Matthew Scharenberg and Nathan Freeman
Average: Jarryd Blair, Heriter Lumumba, Lachlan Keeffe, Clint Young, Jesse White, Tyson Goldsack, Alan Toovey, Sam Dwyer, Brent Maccaffer and Ben Sinclair
Poor: Nick Maxwell, Quinten Lynch, Tony Armstrong, Nathan Brown and Pat Karnezis
Unsure: Adam Oxley, Tim Broomhead, Jackson Ramsay, Tom Langdon and Jonothan Marsh
Rookie: Ben Hudson, Kyle Martin, Jack Frost, Caolan Mooney, Peter Yagmoor and Corey Gault
From that list, it’s possible seven of them will retire at most in three years time. The ‘rising stars’ category is on par with the ‘average’ category with 11 players in both. It’s likely that Nathan Freeman, Brodie Grundy and Taylor Adams will move towards the elite category by 2017 and a fair portion of the rest of them will rest between average and above average.
REASON ONE: Not an abundance of quality edging towards retirement
Collingwood has five players over 30 years old at this point in time (Swan, Maxwell, Lynch, Ball and Hudson). Lumumba and Young are both 28. Swan of course is a huge loss, as is Ball. However, Pendlebury is the second best midfielder in the competition and Beams is arguably a top 10 midfielder in the AFL on his day. Therefore those two losses are well covered. Maxwell, Lynch, Lumumba, Young and Hudson are certainly no world beaters and can easily be replaced.
REASON TWO: Quality of drafting
The Pies currently have 11 players on their list that were taken in the top 20. Derek Hine is one of the best in the business in recruiting, with many praising his work late in the draft. However, the biggest reason why Hine is such a successful recruiter is because he doesn’t take too many risks when it comes to drafting certain body types. Even the smaller, crumbing type players are well built.
Hine knows that some body types just cannot add enough muscle to make it to AFL, no matter how talented the player is. Currently, only eight players on the list started at another club. Of their rising stars crop, only Adams wasn’t originally drafted by the Pies. Clearly, Hine picks players that he knows the club can develop.
REASON THREE: Developing players the right way
Collingwood’s average age is a tick under 24 years old, which is 13th in the league. However, their average games is almost 70, which is seventh in the AFL. Keeping in mind there are only four players on the list to have played between 200 and 300 games (therefore no real outliers creating misleading stats), the Pies genuinely have a young, yet experienced list.
It is expected that each of their Rising Stars players will tally between 10-15 games this season. Freeman and Scharenberg may play less due to injury, but both should make their debuts. Unlike other teams, Collingwood has elder statesmen in each position on the ground to shield their young players. This is ideal as the Pies can still push for finals whilst still fielding a team with around ten players under 24 years old. Nathan Buckley has clearly got the balance right when he brings in young players.
REASON FOUR: Strong spine
Travis Cloke should still be a dominant force at 30 years old. Grundy and Witts are both agile enough to roam around up forward and their midfield can also kick goals. This means that Ben Reid can play as a key defender alongside the very solid Keeffe. The ruck duo holds as much promise as any other tandem ever seen, with Grundy looking as though he could easily become one of the premier ruckmen, especially given his finish to the 2013 season.
REASON FIVE: Perfect midfield
Pendlebury and Beams are close to perfection. Both can play inside and outside, both can kick goals and both will still be in their prime when 2017 rolls around. Freeman has elite speed, kicks very neatly and is an absolute bull on the inside. He looks to be the type that can make it as an elite midfielder. Their primarily inside group of Thomas, Adams, Blair and Langdon is complimented by outside types in Sidebottom, Seedsman and Elliot. Don’t forget about Scharenberg either, if Buckley chooses to rotate him through the middle.
There seems to be no weakness and no real liabilities going through there. The depth is immense and the quality will arguably be the best in the league in a few years time.
Fremantle and Hawthorn at this stage look to still be title contenders by 2017, but keep an eye out for good old Collingwood.