July 14, 2024

Collingwood coach Craig McRae has stated that the Magpies will utilize the upcoming two weeks to assess their disappointing 2-3 start to their premiership defense and regroup during an early season break, before their match against Port Adelaide at the MCG in round six.

Following a challenging start that saw them become only the second defending champions in the AFL era to begin 0-3, a feat achieved previously by Geelong in 2023, the Magpies have managed to stabilize with two consecutive wins on the road over the past fortnight, including a narrow victory against Hawthorn in Adelaide on Sunday night.

How Collingwood fell from AFL grand finalists to cellar-dwellers in three  years - ABC News

Despite the recent improvement, Collingwood is still striving to reach the standards set in McRae’s first two seasons at the helm. However, they face an uphill battle as only a small fraction of teams, around 10 percent, have rebounded from an 0-3 start to make finals since 2000.

The last team to achieve this feat was North Melbourne, who reached a Grand Final in 1976 after starting the season 0-3, repeating a similar comeback from the previous year when they went on to win the premiership.

McRae’s typically upbeat demeanor took on a different tone during Sunday night’s post-match press conference, reflecting a sense of urgency for improvement if Collingwood aims to make a return to September this year.

Acknowledging the challenges faced in the team’s first five games against formidable opponents, McRae emphasized the need for a thorough evaluation of their performance. He expressed plans for a comprehensive review later in the week to assess both strengths and areas needing improvement.

While recognizing some positive signs in the recent win, McRae emphasized the importance of sustained improvement throughout the entirety of games in the competitive AFL environment.

Highlighting the significance of accumulating wins in the competition, McRae underscored the team’s focus on reaching the 14-game mark required for qualification, emphasizing a process-driven approach towards achieving their goals.

“We’ve managed to secure two crucial victories in the past two weeks, and we’re starting to see improvements in our performance, although we’re fully aware that there’s still a lot of room for growth.”

Regarding Collingwood’s veteran player Scott Pendlebury, who was substituted out at halftime due to a rib injury, he is anticipated to be ready for the upcoming match against Port Adelaide.

Meanwhile, Hawthorn coach Sam Mitchell expressed mixed feelings after the game. Despite being disappointed that his young team couldn’t secure the win, he was proud of their resilience and fight, particularly in their comeback from a 38-point deficit at halftime. However, he also lamented the loss of control that led to Collingwood kicking the final five goals of the game.

“It was heartbreaking to see the disappointment on the faces of the players after the game, knowing they had left everything on the field. I believe everyone at the ground would have been proud witnessing their efforts,” Mitchell expressed.

Defender Blake Hardwick emerged as the standout performer, scoring four goals in the second half after being relocated at halftime to bolster an attack weakened by injuries to Mitch Lewis, Nick Watson, and Luke Breust.

Mitchell expressed his admiration for Hardwick’s versatility, highlighting his ability to excel in both defensive and offensive roles. Despite initial apprehension about moving him out of the backline, Mitchell commended Hardwick’s outstanding performance, acknowledging his contributions to both ends of the field.

“He’s an incredibly talented player, and I’m always cautious about moving him away from the back half because of his importance to us defensively,” Mitchell remarked. “But I was proud of his performance. Even in the first half, he showed his quality in defense. His transition to the forward line almost carried us to victory.”

Hawthorn, amidst a rebuilding phase under Mitchell’s guidance over the past two seasons, has faced a challenging start to the 2024 season with four consecutive losses. They will now travel to Queensland to take on Gold Coast in their next fixture.

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