Spoon? Pfft. Collingwood and Craig McRae were amazing

Craig McRae deserves more credit than he gets for the way he keeps the Collingwood Football Club playing mid-season.

Let’s take the bandage off before we get too deep into this – this was the piece I wrote in March that predicted a season of gloom for the Magpies.

Yes, it was a tumultuous time for the club. Definitely, it was a bunch of experienced players who ensured that the club outperformed their finishing position in 2021. These things still hold true in 2022.

But this time there is a method and purpose behind the way Collingwood plays. The footy brand is fresh and different in a way that suits a team looking to build on the run.

Sure, there’s still a lot of reliance on the guys who have been with the club for a long time, but there’s a similarity and competition in the group that will excite fans of the club going forward.

If Justin Longmuir is a mid-season certainty for the unofficial title of Coach of the Year, then McRae is a close second.

Craig McRae

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Collingwood was the lowest-ranking inside-50 team in the league last season. They were in third place for points and relied on their 11th-ranked defense for points awarded to keep them in games.

They were a remarkably high ball possession team (ranked fourth). There was little point in moving the ball, the pressure wasn’t there and overall it was a pretty tough time.

2022 has had an offensive focus and it was just fun to watch. Of course the defense suffered a bit.

Last year they were awarded 82.64 points per game, now it is 85, seventh in the competition. But they play with speed, they play instantly and once the movement flows it’s hard to stop.

Need proof for the pace of the game? Collingwood scores an average of 8.5 more in a 1950s game this year. That’s huge. What’s even more impressive is the fact that they’re making an average of 20 fewer divestments in the process.

Their average of 8.15 sales per within 50 in 2021 was sickeningly low and by far the highest. It has fallen to 6.52 this year, putting them in the same zone as Richmond, Sydney and Geelong.

In terms of forced turnover, they were in eighth last year and are now forcing the second most turnover in the league, squeezed between Melbourne and Fremantle.

Last year their oversight was very expensive – they pulled in the fifth most tackles within 50 in the league. Because the ball goes out of defense faster, they don’t get caught closer to the goal, attracting the second fewest tackles within 50.

Understandably, numbers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but these are irrefutable improvements that deserve a credit for Coach McRae.

Here’s a simpler measure: they beat St Kilda, Fremantle and Carlton. They pushed Geelong and Brisbane to their limits. Of course their inefficiency cost them against West Coast, but that will certainly happen with a group expected to finish outside the finals.

Jack Ginnivan (left) and Oliver Henry of the Magpies

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

They’ve done all of this without Brodie Grundy, who has long been one of the best players on the team, although he has caused a bit of division in terms of value.

Simply put, they’ve even made the thought of a run with a wooden spoon as laughable as many thought at the time and that in itself is worth celebrating for a group going through change.

Is a seasonal pace of 12 wins sustainable? It’s questionable. For lack of a better term, the approach was relatively rosy. By allocating so many numbers to offensive chains, the defense is wide open and can be exploited.

Individually, the players play well in defense. It’s just that with a more open field in which the opponent can attack, the attackers get more space. There are fewer one-on-one matches and more opportunities to face open targets.

While we’re here, pre-season talks about more midfield time are on hold. Brayden Maynard is having a stellar season and has taken his defensive play to a whole new level.

Kamikaze’s attacking style can be exhausting for a playgroup and teams that can hold their own defensively against Collingwood should find it even easier to counter-attack as the season progresses.

And as the praise piles up, it would be remiss of me to ignore the youth, both positive and negative.

Jack Ginnivan has been the most impressive young player. His unforeseen turnout has resulted in 19 goals in nine games. Oliver Henry has scored 15 goals in eight games, although the fact that his position in the team is undetermined is part of the concerns about the youthful focus that have been touched upon.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Nick Daicos averaging 23.7 dives and 4.8 points per game. These numbers, along with the hype, mean he likely has secured a high spot in the Rising Star award.

It’s just a shame we haven’t seen him play substantial minutes in a full rotation in midfield yet. Right now the numbers are pretty shallow and the impact isn’t there, which is okay if he lives up to his commitments, but an anticlimax for anyone expecting more.

Patrick Lipinski and Josh Daicos were fantastic on the outside, Isaac Quaynor a bit less so on the back half. Nathan Murphy is back and a good run with his body will help him immensely while the rest of the young players on the list were on the fringe.

Josh Daicos of the Magpies collects the ball

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

That is ultimately the only constant that has remained between March and now.

Collingwood is 6-5, but the main contributors remain Jack Crisp, Taylor Adams and Scott Pendlebury. Along with Jordan de Goey and Jamie Elliott, the midfield group consisted mainly of Crisp and Adams with barely a breach in the centre-bounce group.

It’s not as much of a problem as it would have been otherwise, especially since the young medium’s attackers are on the receiving end of the fast ball movement.

But with Fin Macrae, Trent Bianco and Caleb Poulter dominant at VFL level, and Nick Daicos highly regarded against half-back and mid-season recruit Josh Carmichael, there will come a time when fans will demand these. players get substantial opportunities in good roles to test their mettle.

At this point, however, it won’t be seen as a problem and it seems that McRae is taking a conscious approach to developing his young players.

And that’s really what this season and the next is about. McRae has already earned a lot of credit for showing that we can rely on his judgment to guide the group into the future.

Regardless of how the second half of the season goes, we’re almost at the point where Collingwood’s 2022 has already been ticked for the year-round.

They won’t double their winnings, and this weekend’s showdown against the Hawks may be difficult in itself, but definite steps forward have been taken for a team that already has a defensive plan in their back pocket to suggest that everything will come together soon and rapid.

Wooden spoon? How dare it be suggested.

Collingwood has had an impressive first half of 2022 and coach Craig McRae deserves a lot of credit for improving this group.

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