Collingwood began their 2015 campaign having faced harsh scrutiny over the pre-season regarding how far they could go with Nathan Buckley at the helm.
Under Buckley, Collingwood have a win-loss ratio of 30-11 pre-bye and 20-26 post-bye. Premierships aren’t won in the first half of the season and if this doesn’t change, Collingwood won’t become contenders with Buckley leading their charge.
After 11 rounds they were sitting comfortably in the top four, with only three losses to Adelaide, Geelong and Richmond. However, since their bye in round 12 they have lost six consecutive games.
For the second week in a row Collingwood were outplayed by Melbourne, a team they were heavily backed to beat.
While for many Collingwood are where they were expected to be, any six-game losing streak should not be taken lightly. The losses have raised questions about Collingwood’s on-field development that just a few weeks ago appeared to be tracking well.
Despite a light draw in the first half of the season, an unfavourable draw midseason still proved they are capable of matching it with the top teams, having had admirable losses against Fremantle, Hawthorn and Port Adelaide. However, admirable losses don’t equate to a season pass-mark and now there is nothing to show for improvement.
The notion that Collingwood will be a real contender in three or four years time should not be accepted as an excuse for the deteriorating form. The club has an abundance of young talent in addition to players who are in, or just reaching their prime and should be contending for finals.
So, what has changed in the space of six weeks to take this club from top four to 11th with a finals berth now seemingly impossible?
Notable absences of Travis Cloke and Jamie Elliot have shaken up the forward line, and while they are irreplaceable their absence should not excuse sub-par performances.
Poor structures and set-ups have also lead to the recent string of losses.
Nathan Buckley himself conceded that the shorter structure they have played with in an attempt to hold the ball in the forward 50 has not worked.
Jesse White was traded to Collingwood to take pressure off Cloke and, in his absence, play as the number one forward target. However, White is not capable of becoming a number one target in the forward 50, but expecting youngsters Darcy Moore and Brodie Grundy to act as those number one targets leaves the forward line vulnerable.
Collingwood’s forward 50 entry has lacked purpose and there has been clear confusion in structure while the ball is in there. Despite players applying offensive pressure, there has been no cohesion among the playing group.
Alex Fasolo believed a lack of communication and a lack of connection with one another were to blame for the team’s loss to Melbourne. To what degree can a team be successful if on-field communication and connection is non-existent?
Over the past six weeks Collingwood’s inferior skill level has been exposed. They are now ranked 17th for kicking efficiency for rounds 13-16 and have won just four of 16 quarters during that same four game period.
For the first 11 rounds Collingwood were manic with their pressure, ranking second for scores from turnovers: however, now they rank 17th.
At the conclusion of round 11, Collingwood were considered ‘premiership standard’ in their average of points for (101) and points against (76). However, now at the conclusion of Round 18, they stand at just over 90 points for and more than 80 points against – a significant change in such little time.
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley admits that the shift in the way they were playing came against the Eagles and that this has occurred largely due to coaching, personnel and belief issues.
He said that the “age and profile” of the club doesn’t explain the last six weeks and shouldn’t be used as an excuse, just like it didn’t explain the first 11 rounds of the season.
Collingwood have moved away from the basics that result in ‘good footy’. While there have been some good elements in their games, a consistent level of intensity is not delivered.
Collingwood’s next five rounds include facing three top eight teams in Sydney, Richmond and Geelong, as well as cellar dwellers Essendon and Carlton. Suddenly, Saturday’s match against 16th placed Carlton becomes a pivotal moment in defining Collingwood’s 2015 season.
It is time to turn up the heat on the Pies: six losses in a row should never be deemed acceptable.