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From the grandstand: Give Pies the flag now

It's only round three and there's still six months left in the AFL season. But Ben Waterworth believes Collingwood already has the 2011 premiership in the bag.

The unfurling of Collingwood’s 2010 premiership flag moments before it took on traditional rivals Carlton at the MCG on Friday night certainly wasn’t a minute and discrete presentation.

It was a party, an extravaganza. Not only did it rejoice in its most recent premiership, but it also celebrated its 14 other grand final victories in the process.

In front of over 80,000 spectators, the 2010 flag was paraded around the AFL’s colosseum by a host of Magpie legends, including the popular Lou Richards. President Eddie McGuire then blessed the flag before it was erected by retired full-back Simon Prestigiacomo at the top of the Ponsford stand after ascending over the joyous Collingwood cheer squad.

Pies fans were proud and jubilant, while bitter Blues fans sneered in disgust.

But looking ahead to the future, the AFL could have saved the Pies a heap of time on Friday night. Not only should the club have unfurled its 2010 flag on Friday, it should’ve also paraded the 2011 one at the same time.

Yes it’s an early call, perhaps even a silly call, especially with so many games still remaining in the season. But barring any major injuries or a dramatic form drop, the rest of the 2011 season is pointless because Collingwood is so much further ahead of any other team in the competition.

Like champion racehorse Black Caviar, the Pies are perfect. They haven’t lost a game and don’t look like losing one for the rest of the season. You could even call them ‘Black and White Caviar’.

No one knows what to expect from recently successful teams such as Geelong, Western Bulldogs and St Kilda. However we know what to expect from the Pies: professionalism, tenacity, consistency and a constant willingness to improve.

Stats don’t lie. The Pies have scored 51 more points than any other team over the first three weeks of the season. They average 238 kicks a game, the most in the competition.  They also score the most goals from forward 50 stoppages. In Layman’s terms, they are breathtaking. They are the team to beat.

Collingwood’s game plan is no secret. With or without the footy, every player is drilled to be incredibly selfless. With ball in hand, each player is always on the lookout for a teammate in a better position. Without the ball, they hunt in packs of three or four to create maximum defensive pressure and increase the likelihood of a turnover.

But perhaps Collingwood’s biggest strength is its incredible depth. Premiership players Tyson Goldsack and Brent Macaffer, as well as Cameron Wood and Brad Dick, all played for the Collingwood VFL side on the weekend. All four players are more than capable of performing at the top level and will be determined to eventually break in to the senior side.

Footy experts used to say Collingwood’s midfield had no stars. That is now no longer the case.

Statistically, Dane Swan has overtaken Carlton’s Chris Judd and Gold Coast’s Gary Ablett as the most elite midfielder in the competition. Scott Pendlebury always looks like he has an extra one or two seconds to dispose of the ball. Add the grunt of Dale Thomas and Luke Ball, the experience of Ben Johnson, the relentlessness of Sharrod Wellingham and the magic of Andrew Krakouer, and you’ve got the best midfield in the competition.

Up forward lie two intimidating big men in Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes. The former has an enormous aerobic capacity and has significantly improved his kicking in front of goal. The latter is perhaps the most improved player in the competition and is poised to join the likes of Nick Riewoldt, Jonathan Brown and Matthew Pavlich in the elite category of tall forwards.

Not only do Cloke and Dawes take contested marks and kick important goals when needed, they also create immense forward pressure. The Pies create more goals from turnovers than any other team in the competition and a big reason behind that is the amazing pressure applied by those two men.

This Collingwood juggernaut hasn’t just developed overnight. It has taken time for this team. In 2005, the Pies finished 15th with five wins from 22 games. Opposition teams averaged 110 points against them that season, the second worst in the league.

Now they are the ones dishing out the big thrashings.

Maybe the only team who has the ability to spoil the Pies’ premiership aspirations is Hawthorn. With the likes of Lance Franklin and Shaun Burgoyne up forward and Cyril Rioli and Luke Hodge running through the midfield, there is every chance the Hawks could upset the Pies. After all, the Hawks have won five of their past six matches against Collingwood.

But the Hawks are too inconsistent and there are still some question marks over their back six. Whereas you know what you’re going to get with the Pies every week and their defensive unit is extremely solid.

The scary thing about Collingwood is that the average age of its playing list is 23. Not only is it a premiership threat this season, it also has the potential to create a dynasty over the next few years.

The Pies are a strong juggernaut and a super footy side. It is scary how far ahead they are compared to any other team in the competition at the moment — both physically and mentally.

May as well give the Pies the flag now.

Ben Waterworth is a third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is upstart’s sports editor. You can follow him on twitter: @bjwaterworth

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