“May you live in interesting times” is an expression that many otherwise insulated people around the world have had an opportunity to familiarise themselves with this year, along with the ill intent contained within it. Over the past week, it has become clear to Collingwood supporters that the one escape they might have enjoyed throughout this lingering pandemic is not going to be immune to the curse.
We’ve had Sidebottom suspended for four weeks after taking the Gary Busey Most Drinkingest Man on Earth challenge and winding up on another plane of existence — which turned out to be Williamstown in the early hours of last Sunday morning. In the wake of our loss to Essendon, Jordan De Goey has now been charged with indecent assault for an incident that occurred in 2015. We also have, of course, the still unresolved saga surrounding Lumumba’s time at the club and the Dayne Beams contract.
One shudders to think what might follow in the wake of our next loss, let alone the creeping fear that we could be in the midst of an annus horribilis.
After an inconsistent start to the year form wise – something that I’ve been fairly forgiving of due to the disrupted season – our loss to Essendon on Friday night has brought home the reality that our issues are playing out both on and off the field. Whilst we chalked up solid wins against the Bulldogs and Saints, a pattern has emerged whereby we get off to fast starts, then struggle to fire a shot thereafter.
I gave the club some latitude after our loss to GWS, owing to the Giants being a quality outfit on their home deck needing to turn their season around. The loss on Friday night however was a dismal performance, where we once again failed to adapt to wet conditions and laboured to construct anything even slightly resembling decent football.
The game started promising enough, as Stephenson wreaked havoc with two early goals and a classy snap from Daicos put us in a commanding position in a game which, owing to the conditions, always shaped as a low scoring event. Despite dominating the first 10 minutes of the game, we flirted with danger by relinquishing field position with a misguided attempt to switch the ball, turning it over at half-back and handing Essendon their first goal.
We would never gain control again and it would be two and a half quarters before we scored our next goal — an all too familiar drought through the middle of games.
In our loss to the GWS, it could at least be said that we had several opportunities to win that game. The same could not be said for our loss to Essendon, where the opportunities were virtually non-existent after quarter time and we once more struggled to generate chances for our forwards.
The absence of Sidebottom denied us an accumulator throughout the middle of the ground, but Treloar’s return offset this somewhat. Treloar found plenty of the ball in his first game back, but his 30 disposals didn’t translate to much on the scoreboard. We were well beaten in the clearances and Essendon managed to generate two thirds of their score from stoppage situations — an indictment on our engine room.
Given that we’re breaking down regularly when transitioning the ball, the one area that we can’t afford to lose is at the coal face. It appears that after seeing some light at the end of the tunnel throughout 2018, we’ve returned to the laborious and disconnected brand of football that haunted us for the better part of 5 years prior to our premiership challenge.
Stephenson has looked dangerous, particularly when we’ve managed to generate some quick forward entries early in games. Once the opposition warms into games however, the fluency of our ball movement falls to pieces and Stephenson is denied the opportunity to burn his opponent on the lead. Our other forwards face similar struggles, as Mihocek isn’t a contested marking option and Cox is failing to even bring the ball to ground.
Our over-possession of the ball by hand, particularly given the conditions on Friday night, was mind boggling. You would genuinely hate to be a forward trying to lead to a midfield who throws it around as much as we do: one in five leads is likely to be honoured, whilst the opposition is given ample time to get numbers back.
Of individual silver linings, Maynard fought diligently and tried to provide some drive from half-back; as previously mentioned, Stephenson was at least one target who looked capable of kicking a goal; and Josh Daicos continues to build, looking cleaner than a lot of others when he did win the ball.
Outside of that, there were few positives to be found. Grundy’s numbers were solid, but his actual dominance in hitouts is rarely converted to impact and whilst he has done well to contain the rushes of blood that once plagued him earlier in his career, I can’t help but feel the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction. He puts in a lot of work in following up his ruck work, but the killer instinct appears absent. When opposed to someone of Andrew Phillips’ calibre, this was a game that he should have taken by the throat.
Of course, our failure to really capitalise on Grundy’s hitout dominance has a lot to do with our failure to really establish some dynamism and chemistry in the middle. Outside of De Goey’s burst from the opening bounce – which came unstuck immediately, a microcosm of his current form – we’re rarely on the move at stoppages. Sier was a player who had some instinct in this regard, but who knows where he is at right now.
Grundy does get his hand to more hitouts than most, but the art in his tapwork is lacking. Once more, this is a mix of deficiencies in this particular part of his craft, but also a lack of variation and moving targets to feed the ball to.
The loss of Howe was evident, as we just didn’t have that player who could keep his man accountable but also had the nous to break free and intercept. Scharenberg will need a few weeks to find his feet and I’m happy to give him the opportunity to build some form — depending on what occurs at the end of the year, if he does become a potential trade option it would be beneficial to give him some exposure to build his currency.
Varcoe had minimal impact, failing to register a single rebound 50. I like Varcoe as a solid character to have around the club and he gave us some edge in previous years with his physicality and overlap running. However, it appears that his time may be up and whilst he might plug a hole when the cupboard runs bare, given how this season is shaping up I believe it’ll be more beneficial to give further exposure to Quaynor, Noble or even Murphy.
Callum and Tyler Brown are struggling to impact proceedings and depending on how Rantall and Bianco are tracking in our improvised scratch matches, it might be worth blooding one of them. The problem is that whoever steps back isn’t exactly going to be able to build some confidence or form in the lower grade, owing to the current predicament. Any move feels like it might result in more of the same, but we might just be surprised.
The issue at the moment is that we’re carrying too many role players, and the players who do have some weapons are failing to fire. Buckley needs to own the fact that we’re not really switching things up at any point in games, and we desperately need to find something that breaks this rut.
The season had the feeling of a write-off before it even started, but regardless of the situation with the pandemic, this was nonetheless an opportunity for the club to build some character and put its best foot forward under unique circumstances. All clubs were faced with the same predicament and whilst we’re not alone in our poor performances, that doesn’t excuse us.
Judging ourselves by the lowest bar is a recipe for mediocrity; to not stand up through this period is a missed chance at solidifying a winning culture.
Steele Sidebottom’s brain-fade in the wake of a disappointing loss, despite his otherwise clean record, does speak to a current lack of professionalism and raises questions about our leadership. When your vice captain can drop the bundle so egregiously at a time of heightened focus is hard to fathom — it lends itself to the faithful rightly querying what is going on behind closed doors.
The way we turned things around in 2018 bought the club – president and coach in particular – a lot of goodwill amongst the wider supporter base, but our current on-field struggles and the off-field circus are quickly eroding that credit. Our poor showing in the preliminary final last year – not to mention diabolical patches through the home and away season – raised questions as to just how deep the fire burned within our club in the wake of premiership defeat.
Sliding back into those pre-2018 years would be a tipping point. The Murphy review seemed to be the catalyst for some beneficial changes, but if they were to dissipate almost as quickly as they materialised then the logical conclusion would be that the club needs a more substantial overhaul — dare I say it, a new start.
It would be disastrous to not consolidate on the gains that we made in 2018 and after last year’s disappointment and our current position, the omens do not look favourable.
Whilst there are shortcomings within our playing list, I believe that we nonetheless have enough talent and capable components there to perform a lot better than we currently are. Our list needs work, but there is something there to work with if we can stop shooting ourselves in the foot. The loss of Howe has hurt and our list is somewhat haunted by the Beams situation, but we can reinvent and build on what we’ve got.
It must be said however that whilst to look at our list now and feel that we might just need to find one or two components to put us back into contention, with Pendlebury in the twilight of his career; Sidebottom unable to break a tag; Sier seemingly in no-man’s land; the return of Beams being a bust; and of course, De Goey’s future resting on a court case at the end of October — depending on which direction fate takes, we can also very quickly find ourselves in a situation that goes beyond reinvention into the realm of rebuilding.
Some of this might be answered if NGA prospect Reef McInnes lives up to some of the early reports and Nick Daicos proves that Rendell’s recent assessment was more than hyperbole, but this only works if our current senior crop holds their form against time and the brackets below continue to improve.
I’m not writing this season off by any means – despite the fact that like many others, I’m struggling to invest in this patched together Covid Cup – but clouds are gathering. I fear that any tribulations might get waved off due to the unusual circumstances, but given that there are no guarantees that next year won’t be similarly impacted, the club cannot be handed blanket immunity.
The next month is crucial and in a shortened season, could put our prospects to rest if we continue to see more of the same. Next up is Hawthorn on Friday night, where we can either respond or begin to resign ourselves to the potential of mid-table purgatory once more.