Back in the day, the surest way to grab a headline on a quiet day was to ring Collingwood.
Be it a crack at the AFL (‘Pie chief lashes out’) or selection news (‘Tarpey back’), the Magpies were never far from news.
But what has been notable about this pre-season is how quiet things have been around the Holden Centre. As clubs sell hope and anticipation builds, and as they seemingly take turns to feature in the papers (hello, Carlton), the Pies are having none of it.
Even president Eddie McGuire has the lid firmly shut, saying during the Fox Cricket Big Bash broadcast on the weekend that let’s get the cricket finished, let the AFLW settle down a bit more and only then, let’s turn our attention to Nathan Buckley and his men.
Sorry Ed, we’re not waiting that long.
Having watched the Pies last Friday in what was a spirited and high-standard intra-club hit-out, the first take-out is that they will have a fair bit of talent running around in 2019 including an insanely deep midfield.
This is the starting point for the Magpies, the team which upset Richmond in the Preliminary Final last year and was less than two minutes away from winning the Grand Final eight days later.
B: Brayden Maynard, Tom Langdon, Jack Crisp
HB: Jeremy Howe, Tyson Goldsack, Levi Greenwood
C: Chris Mayne, Scott Pendlebury, Tom Phillips
HF: Will Hoskin-Elliott, Brody Mihocek, Jordan De Goey
F: Josh Thomas, Mason Cox, Travis Varcoe
Foll: Brodie Grundy, Taylor Adams, Steele Sidebottom
Inter: Adam Treloar, James Aish, Jaidyn Stephenson, Brayden Sier
There would seem to be four great additions for the team to play Geelong in the opening round this season.
The midfield that by season’s end was arguably the best in the competition now features Dayne Beams, who didn't play last Friday because of a virus. It’s not like Collingwood even courted their 2010 premiership player. But he was looking to return to Victoria, had eyes only for the Pies and the deal was done.
Jamie Elliott seems a lock for the forward line after not playing at all last year because of chronic hamstring problems. He moved well on Friday and kicked a couple of goals. In all the excitement of last year, it was easy to forget about the dynamic small forward, but Collingwood hasn’t. He will be a huge addition.
But where the Pies shape to be considerably stiffened is their backline. Another 2018 hamstring casualty, Darcy Moore, was a standout on Friday, using his height, pace and athleticism to intercept the play and also to be the first line of attack. It was interesting that during the first quarter of the scrimmage, play would resume from the defensive goal square after every goal rather than the centre square and Moore was hard to contain, using the extended protection zone to take off and move the ball quickly towards the centre of the ground.
Can Jamie Elliott return to his best?
Also notable on Friday was Jordan Roughead, the Western Bulldogs 2016 premiership big man who moved to Collingwood in exchange for a fourth-round pick last October. It might be the steal of the trade period. He might also be a smoky for leadership group, which is yet to be finalised.
The 28-year-old adds much needed size to the Magpie back half and it was noted how Eagles pair Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling got hold of them as the Grand Final progressed last year. But with the likelihood that ‘6-6-6’ will require clubs to play two genuine ruckmen - or as close as to that as possible – having Roughead there as the second ruckman to Brodie Grundy then allows Mason Cox to play as a stay-at-home-forward.
So there’s your four. Ben Reid also moved well and will be pressing for a game early on playing out of the forward line. Draftee Isaac Quaynor impressed off half-back and certainly isn’t built like a first year player.
Now, we know that it is rare that teams have their best 22 players to pick from at any stage of the year and at Collingwood, Jack Crisp is a likely non-starter for round one because of hip and back concerns.
But have a look again at that Grand Final team and try work out who might not get a game early in the season. There will be some hard luck stories.
What has also been missing from the headlines this season is the annual commentary over Buckley keeping his job. He survived the searching review at the end of 2017 and last year’s success has ensured he remains as coach for a few more seasons yet.
And he is fresh off his post-season ‘Roman Holiday’ that has the football world intrigued. Shortly after the Grand Final, Buckley and family upped and left for an extended Italian holiday. In truth, he only missed a week of actual training in the brief period before Christmas and for key matters such as the Beams trade, he was actively involved, albeit over the phone.
But to spend a few months on a sabbatical is unheard of for an AFL coach, and it adds another twist to the forthcoming season. In AFL coaching, imitation is the greatest form of flattery and if the Pies play until deep in September once more, Tuscan rental property agents will be licking their lips with anticipation!