After two seasons in the AFL wilderness, Collingwood are well-poised to come in from the cold in 2016.
Recent finishes of 11th and 12th haven’t suited the AFL heavyweights, who have rebuilt their stocks at the cost of finals football under coach Nathan Buckley.
But this year, the finals beckon for the Magpies after landing the biggest trade target of the off-season, Adam Treloar.
The elite 23-year-old joins a seemingly endless pit of quality Magpie midfielders, led by captain Scott Pendlebury and overseen by one of the best to play the game, Buckley.
To borrow two phrases from infamous Collingwood fan Paul Keating, if the past two years was the recession the Pies had to have, this must be the season that brings home the bacon.
“We’ve got high expectations,” Buckley tells AAP.
“We’ve made statements about our high expectations and we won’t step away from those.
“We’re all held to account on that and we’re bullish on what we’re capable of.”
A return to September should be the minimum requirement for Collingwood this season.
The biggest fanbase in the country demands as much.
In their corner is the club’s strength in depth.
A look at the quality that Buckley might have to leave out of his team – assuming everyone is fit – shows as much.
Is former Kangaroo Levi Greenwood in their best side? Boom recruit James Aish? Flag-winner Tyson Goldsack?
Brent Macaffer was voted into the leadership group by his teammates but isn’t assured selection.
Jesse White kicked 27 goals last season but like new boy Jeremy Howe might struggle to get a game as generation next arrives, led by Darcy Moore and Corey Gault.
At 211cm, American rookie Mason Cox is a terrifying prospect for opposition ruckmen and defenders but needs to win a spot first.
Adam Oxley played 17 matches in defence last year but could also find himself overtaken in the pecking order.
Ahead of his fifth season in charge, Buckley suggested the Pies’ improved playing stocks put the acid on everyone at the club.
“The well-trotted out line about competition for spots is evident,” Buckley says.
“But if you’ve got a lot of depth but no output it doesn’t really count for much.
“We thought that we were capable (of playing finals) even going through those growing pains of the last couple of years.
“Our best football suggests we would have been able to but you learn a bit from falling short.
“We take those lessons with us and we continue to be better placed.”
Buckley reported Treloar was “hungry to be the best he can be” and on the evidence of one NAB Challenge match, will noticeably improve their engine room.
“Our list is developing and has grown. The leadership is getting stronger. We backed up with another really strong pre-season,” Buckley said.
“When we play the way we want to play, we stack up.
“Now we’ve actually got to get it done.”
Coach: Nathan Buckley
Captain: Scott Pendlebury
Last five years: 2-4-8-11-12
Premierships: 15 (1902-03, 1910, 1917, 1919, 1927-30, 1935-36, 1953, 1958, 1990, 2010)
Key five: Scott Pendlebury, Ben Reid, Steele Sidebottom, Travis Cloke, Adam Treloar.
One to watch: Ben Reid. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The key tall remains Collingwood’s best defender when fit. It’s just he hasn’t been firing for two seasons. Plagued by soft-tissue injuries, Reid didn’t play in pre-season despite assurances from football boss Neil Balme he would. Leaves a hole.
Ins: James Aish (Brisbane), Ben Crocker (Oakleigh U18), Tim Golds (GWS Giants), Jeremy Howe (Melbourne), Tom Phillips (Oakleigh U18), Brayden Sier (Northern U18), Josh Smith (Redland), Adam Treloar (GWS Giants), Rupert Wills (Collingwood VFL), Darrean Wyatt (Sandringham College, Vic).
Outs: Brenden Abbott (delisted), Tony Armstrong (delisted), Sam Dwyer (delisted), Nathan Freeman (St Kilda), Patrick Karnezis (retired), Lachie Keeffe (suspended), Ben Kennedy (Melbourne), Michael Manteit (delisted), Paul Seedsman (Adelaide), Josh Thomas (suspended), Clinton Young (delisted).
B: Tom Langdon, Nathan Brown, Marley Williams
HB: Jack Crisp, Ben Reid, Alan Toovey
C: Taylor Adams, Scott Pendlebury, Jarryd Blair
HF: Travis Varcoe, Travis Cloke, Steele Sidebottom
F: Darcy Moore, Jamie Elliott, Alex Fasolo
R: Brodie Grundy, Dane Swan, Adam Treloar
I: Jordan De Goey, Jack Frost, Jarrod Witts, James Aish
Predicted finish: 9th
Betting (William Hill)
To win the flag: $17
To make the top eight: $1.85