It's been a horror second half of the season for the Collingwood football club. The Magpies have lost eight of their last nine games and all mathematical chances of making the top eight are gone. That means that for the second season in a row Collingwood will not play finals. That's a let down for sure but the performance last week against Richmond was the icing on a bad tasting cake. The Pies were insipid in the final quarter versus the rampaging Tigers and eventually went down by 91 points. It was an effort that brought comments born out of frustration from Scott Pendlebury. The Magpies skipper said in a post game interview; “It's my first time ever playing in a game that didn't mean anything”. While that may be a slap in the face to the die hard fans who attended or watched on TV, it wasn't far from the truth and shows where the Magpies are at after 20 games this season.
There are still two games to be played for Collingwood though to finish of the season and the first of them is on Friday night at the M.C.G against Geelong. The Cats sit in ninth spot and while they are still a chance of playing finals although it's out of their hands now. They need to beat Collingwood, hope West Coast beats Adelaide, then it would come down to the round 23 matchup between the Crows and Cats to decide the last finals position. So while the Magpies are just playing out their final few games the Cats know they have to win this game and that they should do, win.
What can you say about Collingwood's form other then it's woeful. In 9 games since the mid season bye the Pies have won one game, and that was against one of the worst sides in the AFL, Carlton. Yes they've had some close losses but the manner in which they disintegrated against Richmond last Saturday ended any form of credence that was coming from outside the club. It was one of the worst finishes to a game the club has had under Nathan Buckleys' tenure as coach and it ended any small hope the Magpies had of playing finals. Now they sit in 12th on the ladder, a position they will probably finish in which is actually one spot worse then last year. Their form is woeful, there's nothing more to say.
Geelong were going along okay before the ran into Hawthorn two weeks back. The Cats had won four games in a row and looked as if they were headed towards their 9th straight AFL finals series. The effort against the Hawks wasn't too bad, as although they lost by 36 points it could have been a lot closer if Geelong had kicked straight for goal at crucial times. Last week though is the game that may just have ended that finals streak. The Cats came up against the lowly Saints, a side that had troubled some good teams but hadn't beaten anyone of note. It was just one of those games for Geelong, they just couldn't break away from the pesky Saints and when the siren went the scores were level, a result that was as good as a loss for the Cats. It leaves them 6 premiership points behind the 8th placed Crows with 2 games left.
With their finals hopes now officially over what more is the for the Magpies to play for in these final 2 games of 2015? Of course there's pride but judging by the finish to the game last week that may have left the building already. The one thing the club can do is continue to get senior games into youngsters who they are hoping will be the building blocks to future success. Some of those young players are holding their own with Darcy Moore and Jonathan Marsh holding down key position posts last week and being amongst the Pies better players. Marsh is a remarkable story, recruited as a forward, the Western Australian didn't debut until the Carlton game but looks as though he will play out the year as a key part of the Pies defense. He kept Jack Riewoldt to one goal until late in the game last week, a fine achievement given the dominance the Tigers had over the Pies. Then there's Darcy Moore, the son of a champion who already has shown glimpses of becoming a very similar player to his father. His 5 goals versus the Bulldogs a few weeks back really got the place buzzing. There's others too, with Maynard, De Goey, Langdon, Scharenberg, Grundy, Broomhead, Ramsay and Kennedy all showing glimpses of their talents at times this year.
But the Pies have two games left to play, starting with this one versus the Cats and selection will say a lot about how disgusted Nathan Buckley and the coaching staff were with the effort last week. The VFL side had a strong win over Richmond's VFL team and out of that game came some top class performances. The likes of Seedsman, Scharenberg, Cox, Witts, Young, Kennedy, Oxley, Macaffer and White all played well and will push for selection. Of those Mason Cox is the real interesting one, with the 211cm American rookie listed player kicking 5 goals in the last 35 minutes of play. It's not out of the question that he makes a remarkable debut this week only one week after the first ever born and raised American played in the AFL. Who makes way may be an ever greater question here. Alex Fasolo was subbed out of the game at half time and looks like a certain out. The back line really struggled and with Nathan Brown available for selection after missing last week through suspension at least one defender will go out of the side. Whatever the final selection is though Collingwood fans will want to see a four quarter effort.
There was always going to come a time when the recent Geelong dynasty came to an end but while the Cats years of competing for premierships has ended they are still challenging for a finals spot. This season they've managed to introduce plenty of youngsters to the senior team and some of those seem to have the making of very good players, with 3 rising star nominations for the Cats (Gregson, Thurlow and Lang). What Geelong are trying to do is to maintain being competitive while rebuilding on the run. Whether or not they do play finals this season the Cats will see season 2015 as one that will set them up for the future.
The Geelong forward line is an area in transition as the Cats look to build a strong attack around Tom Hawkins. Having a key forward who can kick over 50 goals a year helps but having one like Hawkins who creates contests that lead to goals is even more important. The problem for the Cats is finding those who can help. Steve Johnson looks like finishing the season second on the clubs' goal kicking with Steven Motlop a few behind him. After that it drops away a bit though with Josh Walker the next best option. Of course Geelong went out and got Mitch Clark in the off season but it hasn't really worked out that well with off field issues and injury restricting the ex Demon to just 8 matches and 14 goals this season. Nathan Vardy returned last week and kicked 2 goals and if he can stay injury free he may make up for the lack of output from Clark. It's no shock then that the Cats only rank 11th for total points scored this year (even given that they've played one less game then 16 other sides).
If Geelong have an area of strength it's their back line. With names like Harry Taylor, Tom Lonergan, Corey Enright, Andrew Mackie and the very impressive young Jake Kolodjashnij it's easy to see why too. While the Cats statistically only rank as the 8th best defense they will match up against a Magpies attack that is really struggling to figure out how to put the score on the board. Lonergan is likely to take Cloke while Kolodjashnij or Mackie are likely to get the job on Jamie Elliott. If the Cats can restrict those two players from having an impact on the game it will go a long way to winning. What sides have been doing against the Pies is running it out of defense and taking it the length of the ground for scores. There's no reason why this Geelong side can't do that too.
The Geelong midfield relies far too heavily on one player, even if that one player is Joel Selwood. Josh Caddy and Cameron Guthrie give decent assistance in their also but after that the ability to win the hard ball really does drop off. Selwood of course is as good as anyone in the competition at winning clearances and contested possessions but if this Geelong team is to rise back up the ladder he will need help. There's a few grand old players who still add a little with Bartel leading the way but the likes of Bews and Horlin-Smith really need to start making an impact. The ruck isn't that strong for the Cats either as they rank 17th out of the 18 teams for average hitouts per game. If there's one area of real concern for Geelong it's the midfield with the likes of Pendlebury, Swan, Adams, Sidebottom and Greenwood all able to win their own ball for the Pies.
Of course this is an absolute must win game for the Cats but it doesn't mean there might not be a surprise inclusion or two. Daniel Menzel is a real chance to play his first game of the season after over coming a terrible run with injuries to return to the Geelong VFL side. It does seem that Josh Caddy and Mitch Duncan won't come up with both unable to train fully so far this week. No matter what their final selection is though this Geelong outfit has to get back to the form that saw them defeat sides like Sydney and the Western Bulldogs, because only that form will be good enough to defeat a Magpies side with it's back up against the wall.
This game represents different things to each side, the Cats will still believe that 2 wins will get them in the finals, while Collingwood will attempt to restore some pride after that fade out against the Tigers. The remarkable thing is that the Magpies had more inside 50's then the Tigers last week yet lost by 91 points. That shows that the Pies midfield is still performing at a decent level while that's an area Geelong can be exploited in.
A lot will come down to final selection for the Cats with Duncan and Caddy both under an injury cloud. Both clubs come into the game off 6 day breaks so that should have no influence on the result. The Magpies best would win them this match, and while last week was a performance they simply can not afford to repeat if they produce their best they can end the Cats finals hopes on Friday night.
MAGPIES BY 3 POINTS