Collingwood Magpies: September is the key

12 March 2010

Written by: Matt de Neef

Where do you start with Collingwood? Their ‘feral’ supporters? The heavy amount of media coverage that they receive? Their one premiership in 52 years? Eddie?

Love them or hate them, Collingwood have and always will be a powerhouse of the AFL. From a financial perspective, every team wants to play the Pies because they always seem to draw a large audience. With a packed and deafening MCG behind them, they are near impossible to combat.

However, the one thing that continues to elude them is a premiership. Since 1959, the Pies have only won a single premiership, back in 1990. Two decades later, they need to perform on the big stage in order to regain the full respect of the football public.

2009 review: Collingwood started last season in unconvincing fashion, slumping to 11th position after eight rounds. But in typical Collingwood style, they fought back.

With their backs against the wall, they went on to win 12 of the next 13 games finishing 4th at the conclusion of the home-and-away season. Notable wins included a 23-point win over Sydney at ANZ Stadium and a gutsy one-point win over the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium.

In the finals, they lost to eventual grand finalists St.Kilda in the first week but were able to bounce back against Adelaide the following week in a last-gasp semi-final win. Even though they were blown away by eventual premiers Geelong in the preliminary final, fans would’ve been elated with an appearance in the penultimate week of the finals.

The appointment of Nick Maxwell as captain at the beginning of last season was the best decision the club had made for quite some time. The captain of a sporting team shouldn’t necessarily be the best player on the team. It should be someone who will lead by example both on and off the field and Maxwell didn’t disappoint.

He was the fairytale story for Collingwood last year and his leadership both on and off the field was nothing short of outstanding. Maxwell’s courage to go back with the flight of the ball, his ability to read the play and his aggressive tackling earned him All-Australian selection for the first time.

The continued improvement of Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Leon Davis was also an encouraging sign for the Pies. Swan averaged a career-high 31 possessions per game while Pendlebury averaged 29. Davis enjoyed more time through the midfield but was criticised heavily for his poor output during Collingwood’s finals campaign.

Player to watch in 2010: It never seemed to click for Luke Ball under Ross Lyon at St. Kilda. It seemed as if he was out of favour with the coach because he didn’t suit Lyon’s game plan. He was dropped a number of times last season due to poor form or injury but eventually forced his way back into the side for the Grand Final and was one of his side’s best – 22 possessions in only half a game.

But after limited opportunities and a heartbreaking Grand Final loss, Ball’s wish of playing for the Pies was granted at the end of last year. It was, however, an anxious wait for him after Collingwood and St. Kilda failed to reach an agreement during the trade period. But Collingwood gave him a second chance, taking him at pick number 30 in the NAB AFL draft.

Ball comes to the Pies with plenty to offer. Originally taken by the Saints at pick two in the 2001 ‘super’ draft, he is a tough inside midfielder whose prime focus is to win the contested ball. Swan and Pendlebury are classy outside midfielders and Ball’s role will compliment them well.

However, the question on everyone’s lips will be – can Ball’s body hold up? During his time with the Saints he endured serious groin problems and a hamstring tear. St. Kilda always denied that Ball had succumbed to osteitis pubis and he probably never did. But it was clear that at times he could not accelerate properly during a game.

If Ball can stay fit, he could be that x-factor that Collingwood need. He’s an experienced campaigner and his leadership will be invaluable.

What to expect in 2010: The biggest positive to come out of the Pies’ pre-season was that they were able to secure two vital recruits while still holding onto their key personnel.

Ball is one of those recruits, but the other is former Sydney player Darren Jolly. Regarded by many as one of the best tap ruckman in the competition, Jolly will relieve a lot of pressure and will allow Josh Fraser to play more as a key forward. Jolly is the key ingredient in the Pies’ midfield success this season.

On paper, the Pies have an outstanding list and their fans are entitled to get excited about their 2010 potential. They still don’t have the star power that top-four-contenders Hawthorn or Brisbane possess but I’ve got this funny feeling that Collingwood are ready to perform on the big stage.

Their performances during September will define their season and they have the potential to cause some serious damage to teams who finish higher than them in the home-and-away season. The next step – a grand final appearance – is something they are certainly capable of.

Final ladder position: 6th

Ben Waterworth is in his second year of a Bachelor of Journalism. The previous instalment in Ben’s look at the 2010 AFL season was a piece about the Carlton Blues. You can read more of his work at A short sport thought.