Collingwood followed up their 2010 premiership with another stellar season, finishing with 20 wins and two losses and making it to the grand final. The Magpies took out the minor premiership, had six players receive All-Australian honours (Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury, Dale Thomas, Ben Reid, Leon Davis and Travis Cloke) and Dane Swan’s dominant season awarded him the Brownlow Medal. Everything seemed to be going right for the black and white until they failed to win the premiership. The reason; Collingwood lost just three games including the Grand Final, all at the hands of Geelong. The Cats have proved the biggest challenge for the Pies for the duration of their recent rise to dominance, winning eight of their last eleven encounters. Combined with a less consistent second half of the season including the injury and suspension of key players, the Magpies’ back-to-back dream was to be undone.
Dane Swan needs to continue his omnipresence in the midfield if Collingwood are to keep their Premiership hopes alive this year. While winning the Brownlow in 2011 for his consistency, opposition teams are looking for more and more ways to shut him down. The Pies have the depth, but if Swan goes quiet this year it will leave a big hole in the Magpies’ midfield arsenal.
Travis Cloke is equally important in the forward line as Swan is in the midfield. Cloke dominated the league last year in contested marks, and lead the team in goal scoring, booting 69 in the home-and-away season. Again, while Collingwood have depth in their list and have a consistently broad spread of goal kickers (nine players kicked more than 20 goals last year), Cloke stands as the spearhead forward and is a nightmare for opposition defenders. His ability to mark under pressure and work up the ground is instrumental to Collingwood’s attacking prowess, and if he can continue to work on his set shot accuracy the Magpies may go all the way in season 2012.
Teams to beat:
Geelong, as said already, has seemed to possess class a cut above Collingwood for the last half decade. The Cats were the hurdle that was too high for the Pies last year, when the latter seemed unstoppable heading for back-to-back premierships. In the Grand Final, a dominant performance from Tom Hawkins over defender Ben Reid marked the turning point of the match and decided the outcome of the season. Collingwood need to utilise their mid-level players in the best possible way this year to quell Geelong’s array of superstars.
Hawthorn endured a two-year form slump following their 2008 premiership upset over Geelong, after which they lost many key players including club icon Shane Crawford. However, the Hawks have successfully moulded their list to re-emerge arguable favourites for the flag this season. With Buddy Franklin in top form, along with Sam Mitchell, Luke Hodge and Josh Gibson, Hawthorn will be a tough task for any side this season. Collingwood have proven their capability against the Hawks in recent years, but inconsistent results mean that just about anything can happen.
The biggest question about Collingwood this year is if Nathan Buckley, replacing Mick Malthouse under what is known as a ‘Kirribilli agreement’, can deliver the same success as the triple-premiership coach. Will he stick to the game plan, or remodel it entirely? With Rodney ‘Rocket’ Eade watching over his back as football and coaching strategist, Buckley sets out this season with much to prove. Only time will tell if he can continue the club’s success.
Despite some predicting the Magpies’ outstanding form over the past two years will hit the inevitable decline this year, Collingwood will no doubt be looking to reconsolidate after being denied the flag. A top-four finish would be expected alongside Geelong and Hawthorn, while Carlton and West Coast remain a step behind the big three.
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Andrew Miller is a second-year Bachelor of Sports Journalism student at La Trobe University.