One solitary point. That’s the entire difference between another week of scrutiny on Buckley and his men, and the positivity coming out of the club that we’re currently witnessing.
The blowtorch was firmly focused on the Pies’ inefficiency by foot and the lack of defensive effort and execution from the star-studded midfield squadron.
What resulted was a 4-quarter effort by a playing group clearly driven to alleviate the mounting pressure on their coach Nathan Buckley. From the outset, three things were noticeable; the foot skills were clinical, the tackling and pressure on the ball were sublime, and Bucks’ had done his research.
The Pies, led from the front by the midfield group, laid 113 tackles (Adams 11, Treloar 15, Pendles 10, Sidebottom 12), the 2nd highest tally in Collingwood history, a stark difference from the preceding weeks.
The ferocious attack on the opposition put immense pressure on the young Swan’s players, allowing the defensive setup to effectively operate without free, uninterrupted ball movement from the opposition.
The return of veterans Travis Varcoe and Levi Greenwood provided a spark and a sense of confidence, both performing highly-valuable roles.
Varcoe pulled off countless 1-percenters, harassing the opposition with his trademark tenacity, magnified by his ‘back with the flight’ spoil in the dying moments of the game.
Greenwood was also a welcome addition, clunking impressively strong marks for an inside midfielder, and providing the grunt work the Pies originally signed him for.
So, are the pies back on track? One thing to note is the pre-season queries over Collingwood’s back half haven’t been nearly as catastrophic as many predicted. Ben Reid has gotten through unscathed, albeit not at his elite best as of yet, and the young Henry Schade has left his opponents in the dark. Goldsack and Maynard commit to the contest as passionately as any player on the list, more than making up for their often-shaky foot skills, and Jeremy Howe has transformed into an elite intercept marker.
The imminent returns of Jamie Elliot and Daniel Wells are a good reason for positivity, with the health of the playing list as clean as it has been over Buckley’s entire tenure.
Elliot will immediately address the Pies’ most glaring need, that being the lack of firepower up forward, gifting Alex ‘the prince of Perth’ Fasolo, a partner in crime. The high-flyer had surpassed the 30-goal mark in each of his last three seasons prior to 2016, and his accurate kicking for goal will be a great relief given the team’s early season yips. Elliot adds versatility to the front half of the ground, being able to compete in the air and at ground level, similar to that of Fasolo, with the duo potentially forming an ominous threat for opposing coaches.
Wells is returning via VFL football this weekend, in a bid to gain match fitness ahead of a crucial couple of weeks for the senior side. Given an injury free bout in the reserves, Wells has a chance to appear in his first ANZAC day clash, assisted by the generous recovery time as a result of the Tuesday fixture. Presumably playing a midfielder/half-forward role, Wells will assist the likes of Sidebottom, Pendlebury, Adams and Treloar in hitting targets up forward and further bolstering an elite midfield rotation, allowing the likes of Sidebottom to spend time as a forward.
It's extremely early days, but the signs are all of a sudden looking up for Buckley and his men.
If the Pies can reproduce their ferocity at the contest, while maintaining a reasonably clean injury list, they’ll give even the best of sides a run for their money.
The issue over the last couple of seasons has not been their ability to beat quality opposition (Wins against GWS, Geelong, West Coast + close losses against Hawthorn, Western Bulldogs in 2016), but their inability to produce their best football at a consistent level against lesser-ranked outfits.
The interstate win against the Swans has presented a foundation in which to build upon and should have instilled trust in the coaching system within the playing group.
Let’s see if they can replicate it against the Saints.