Collingwood will prove in 2023 they’re not a one-season wonder

Immediately after Craig McRae was appointed manager of the Pies at the end of the 2021 season, a sense of uncertainty surrounded the club due to rare changes and untested new ideas.

Filling the void left by a club legend in the form of Nathan Buckley after 10 years in charge would inevitably be a formidable challenge with added pressure to perform at one of the AFL’s most prestigious sides.

At the same time, however, the lower expectations created the potential to play without fear and have less pressure on their shoulders, something Collingwood demonstrated last season when they batted impressively over their weight when McRae made an instant impression.

Arguably one of the most intriguing teams to follow in 2022, the Pies defined Clutch, sealing a staggering nine of their 17 wins with seven points or fewer.

Doubts and haters were quick to comment that these games were a godsend and a lot of fortune was laid in the laps of the magpies.

Only, it was anything but a coincidence.

Early in the campaign, it was clear to understand the game plan and patterns of play that propelled McRae’s men against all odds into a provisional final.

The Blues' Zac Williams and Adam Saad look dejected while the Magpies' Jordan De Goey and Nick Daicos celebrate.

The Blues’ Zac Williams and Adam Saad look dejected while the Magpies’ Jordan De Goey and Nick Daicos celebrate. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

High pressure from defense to attack to choke every opponent, quick footplay and quick combination play, and strong cohesion were the main blueprints for a successful season.

The good news? They have the same fundamentals to make another deep push in September.

Earlier this year, a leadership change paved the way for influential hero Scott Pendlebury to step down and hand the captaincy over to elite defender Darcy Moore.

The 27-year-old takes charge at the perfect time, finding his form and confidence again after a difficult individual start last season. A new perspective and direction can always be positive as Pendlebury will still show his leadership abilities tagged or untagged.

Brodie Grundy’s deal with the Demons, breached for most of last year, doesn’t seem like the greatest of disasters. Mason Cox and Darcy Cameron have proven more than capable of rising in the big games, particularly Cox who has found form again towards the end of 2022. Watch out for 19-year-old South Australian Oscar Steene being given breakthrough opportunities.

They have the right staff around the ball to open the game. Last season, the Pies had seven players in the top 100 for most clearances, tied for first place with Geelong and the Bulldogs.

As previously mentioned, the unrelenting pressure Collingwood has shown throughout most of last season is a testament to their speed of work and camaraderie within the group, which will ultimately form the basis for further progress.

Aside from the Swans, the 15-time Premiers were the most dominant team in the tackling department, averaging 63.4 tackles and 11.3 tackles within 50 under McRae.

Balance is everything when it comes to building consistency and long-term success, something Collingwood pushes with the right amount of characters, big and small, to offer great versatility.

Fans of the black and white should be delighted that that depth has been further bolstered with the addition of Bobby Hill and Daniel McStay to join an already talented front line featuring the likes of Jamie Elliott, Jack Ginnivan, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Ash Johnson and more Brody Mihockek.

Add in Cox’s and Cameron’s ability to score key contested points and one can’t help but feel that this sense of stability is bound to cause chaos and fear for every team in the competition.

Although many things were uncertain prior to McRae’s arrival at the club, it was always expected that midfield would be one of the Pies’ strengths, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Former Brownlow Medalist Tom Mitchell is a brilliant draft pick who will no doubt fit into the system surrounded by other talent like Pendlebury, Taylor Adams, Jack Crisp, Steele Sidebottom and the Daicos brothers.

Josh Daicos from the Magpies collects the ball

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

This central midfield group will prove instrumental in the transition game that the Pies are looking to emulate and approach the game with the right intensity.

It’s safe to say that nothing was more unexpected than the incredible rise of Nick Daicos, who ran the show as a half-back with a raw skill and talent that surprised many at his young age.

It has been widely reported that the 20-year-old Rising Star winner will be spending more time in midfield. If true, expect him to be a dark horse by the end of the Brownlow season as his exits increase and the opening was created to showcase his footballing prowess.

Overcoming the odds with the unfortunate events involving the likes of Ginnivan and De Goey has only pushed the team even more to play their best game of football. The recent scandal surrounding Ginnivan and his use of illegal drugs shouldn’t throw the squad off course if anything from last season is over.

It would be unfair to call Collingwood a “lucky guy” and a “one-season wonder” after their consistent performances and 11-game winning streak over the past year.

No one will want to play them, including the sitting prime ministers. Let’s not forget that the Pies led the season by 30 points after three quarters and narrowly lost to the Cats in the qualifiers by six points. To underestimate them would be a big mistake.

Finally, it’s worth noting how calm and level-headed McRae has been in front of the media. The way he handles pressure, not getting too down when things get tough while bringing his players back to reality after a string of victories speaks volumes for the 49-year-old’s maturity and experience.

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Undoubtedly, this is a representation of how he addresses the dressing room and motivates his players.

Collingwood fans can expect another roller coaster season of emotions, with more ups than downs. Collingwood will prove in 2023 they’re not a one-season wonder

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