What I learned at the Summit

http://www.collingwoodfc.com.au/Portals/0/Collingwood_images/photo_galleries/070916_sf_wcecoll/12dale2.jpgOne of the most important things that I learned at the summit was in a conversation on the Saturday night dinner. I was in the ‘productivity’ stream but snuck off to the economics dinner where I encountered a businessman who had barracked for the West Coast Eagles. Collingwood was busily losing against the Kangaroos at the time and someone had the game narrowcast to their mobile phone by their hubby (I think it was) who was at the game. Everyone admired his calling from the stands. Sounded like a pro, as he was beamed out to a crowd of about five on his wife’s mobile phone’s speaker settings.

Anyway as I got talking to the businessman he commented that Mick Malthouse didn’t seem to know what to do with a forward line – that he didn’t at West Coast, and he didn’t at Collingwood. This is precisely what I’ve been saying to my kids as we go and watch Collingwood play each week. They work hard, have a good defence and midfield, but boy do they find it hard scoring goals. They often get more of the play, but find themselves hard pressed to win.

Yet the actual talent they have on the forward line is excellent. (Yes, folks, you’re not going to get anything better than football in this post, so you will be spared more, unless you want to click your way over the fold). Travis Cloke is already one of the best players in the league at playing in the most difficult and important position on the ground – centre half forward. Anthony Rocca (we call him ‘Homer’) manages the art of the spectacular brain fade at least once a game. He also runs underneath the flight of the ball which is strange. But he has his strong points – he’s big, strong, pretty indestructible and can take a mark, either in a pack or in an arm wrestle with his opponent. And then there are oodles of quick little guys with an amazing ability to snap goals – Dale Thomas (who we call ‘big man’ for his fantacist yearning to take big speckies when he should be down on the ground picking up the crumbs) Leon Davis, Paul Medhurst and Alan “I’m going to be the first AFL player to goal with a bicycle kick” Didak. These guys are all a bit temperamental, a bit unreliable, but classy just the same and match-winners on their day.

So Collingwood has two quite viable choices in the forward line. It could lead – like most clubs do. Trouble is, when Rocca tries to do it, he’s slow, so it’s not really his thing. So that discloses the other plan (or as the Piranha brothers would have called it, the ‘other, other operation’). Rocca could spend most of his time just being a dangerous potential mark in a pack with the little guys running past to pick up crumbs. They could also open up the forward line by leading themselves. But we don’t really seem to follow either formula. Sometimes the players lead, but to no obvious plan, and they’re often leading into the pockets, which is pretty useless and sometimes worse than useless.

Of course there are leads and there is the odd kick to the goal square, but most of the teams in the league are pretty good at converting a situation in which they get the ball with a good run down the centre, and the forwards get a chance to lead to the approaching midfielder. Not us. We seem to have to work harder than that.

So here I am rugging up to go see this arvo’s game against Hawthorn. We’ll see how things go. Collingwood played pretty well against the Dons last week (or the Dons played very badly, I’m not quite sure which), but our forward line and it’s usual strategy was disrupted by the absence of Anthony ‘Brain Fade Central’ Rocca (we have two nicknames for Rocca). And in his absence little Paul Medhurst started leading. And he starred, kicking as many goals as Rocca has kicked in a game for about a year – six. (Which leads me to a separate question, which is why do full forwards, who are usually big, lead so much? Why don’t they stay back in the goal square for a big mark, and let a smaller, faster player or two do the main leading?)

In any event, if we can keep up the style we managed to arrive at last week, we’ve got a reasonable chance against Hawthorn. If not, we’ll labour mightily, get a lot of the ball, and lose by three or four goals at least.

* Goes off to the MCG muttering to himself “how come there’s two ‘rugby’ categories on Troppo and no AFL category, leaving only ‘sport – general’.

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11 Responses to What I learned at the Summit

  1. Niall says:

    Same reason there’s no ‘Motorsport’ category. Who really pays any attention to aerial ping-pong anyway?

  2. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Don’s played badly.

  3. david tiley says:

    Dons will do better. Just wait a decade or so…

  4. Yobbo says:

    Malthouse took a side in West Coast that should have won 7 premierships and only managed to win 2.

    Don’t forget that for the first 5 years of their existence, West Coast had exclusive rights to pick and choose all the best Talent from WA. There was no draft then.

  5. Sinclair Davidson says:

    In the Port – Bombers game, Port has 21 players on the field. Rather than have the coaches front up for a press conference after the game, the umpires should front up to a press conference. Questions to ask could include: “Do you know what holding the ball means?”, “Can you estimate the distance 15m?”, “Does your drivers licence have an eyesight restriction?”.

  6. gringo says:

    Well … at least you got to see a well drilled, highly talented and extremely effective forward structure on Saturday.

  7. Yes, we were all proud of the boys. Follower, rookie Cameron Wood’s 8 possessions was a highlight. Who would have thought?

  8. STT says:


    There’s one flaw in your reasoning that explains a lot of Collingwood’s problems: the midfield is not good. In fact it’s one of the worst in the league. Guys like O’Bree, Lockyer and Burns are good, blue collar grunts, but the Pies lack genuine class in the guts. Dane Swan racks up touches, but isn’t a penetrating kick, nor is he particularly quick across the ground. Pendlebury will be (in fact already is) a classy midfielder, but he is probably your only genuine midfielder with serious ‘hurt’ factor. Didak should be an elite midfielder (see his last quarter against the Eagles in the semi-final last year), but he doesn’t have the tank to run in the forward line. Dale Thomas is in the same boat – he’s just not ready to step up yet, but could be a James Hird type. Two of your more creative runners – Heath Shaw and Marty Clarke – play off the half back line.

    Look at the top teams (Geelong, Hawthron, Dogs, Adelaide), they have deep midfield rotations littered with strong bodies and class. At Geelong, Ablett, Bartel, Corey and Ling are all better than any Collingwood mid. James Kelly, Paul Chapman, and Joel Selwood would be about the equal of most of the Collingwood engine room. At Hawthorn they have Hodge, Mitchell and Sewell who are better than an Collingwood player. The Doggies have Cross, West and Cooney (and a bunch of fleet-footed flankers). Adelaide have Goowdin, Edwards, McLeod and Porplyzia plus more.

    Basically, the way footy is played at the moment, you need to have at least 9 players who can rotate through the midfield. The top teams have several strong midfield rotations. Collingwood don’t have that depth, so they rely on hard work. The lack of class means that the ball is going into the forward line more slowly and around the flanks.

    As for the forward line, Cloke is a great player, but tends to take his marks 70 meters from goal. And when he is within range, he has problems with his set shot kicking. Rocca is a liability because he doesn’t place any pressure on the defence. Collingwood’s real strength is inthe small and mid-sized forwards: Medhurst, Rusling (unfortunately injured), Didak, Thomas and Leon Davis. That should be enough to build a winning combination around, but it relies on pinpoint delivery to leading players. But because the Maggies midfield is made up of plodders, they seldom get the ball in enough space to use the leading small forwards. And when they do get space, the disposal is not great (Ben Johnson?)

    Anyway, that’s my take on it.

  9. Thanks for that STT. At last some good analysis.

    I guess you’re right – and reflect my own disappointment at people like Didak and Big Man Thomas. Your view of Homer – Rocca – is mine too, but as I suggested in the post, I think he perhaps could be better if he did less leading – he’s pretty bad at that, and mainly threw his weight around the goal square. He’d take a few and the littlies could then run past crumbing.

    The only thing that’s hard to understand given your comments is how Collingwood has done so well – that is get into 2 Grand Finals with a similar team a few years ago – at least the midfielders were no better with the exception of Buckley – and to be the second best team in the finals last year taking the Cats to a one kick victory in the Preliminary Final.

    How did we do that?

  10. STT says:


    How did Collingwood almost make the Grand Final last year? They are (were?) a very well drilled team. They were playing tough, contested footy, and were probably a year ahead of a lot of teams in their use of rotations. That meant that even though the midfield was not top-notch, they were good at getting fresh legs in there very regularly, and they didn’t let many teams play on the terms that they wnated to. Certainly as a Geelong supporter I twice saw the Pies really make Geelong work for it last year.

    One thing that has changed in the game this year is that teams are looking to play on, run and carry the ball more. Geelong started the trend last year with their tendency to play on at every opportunity and use chains of handballs to get players free. They would aim to go through the corridor as much as possible. Collingwood don’t do this as much as other teams, partially due to a lack of classy players and partially because Malthouse hasn’t been able to figure out a way to deal with that style of play. The Pies game plan revolves more around kicking and marking, and they tend to go around the wings a bit more. It slows you down, and means that the ball doesn’t come into the dangerous parts of the forward line.

    Another factor that I neglected in my earlier post was the influence of the kids at Collingwood. Last year the Pies had a number of kids playing really good senior football – Tyson Goldsack, Harry O’Brien, Scott Pendlebury, Marty Clarke. My perception (and I haven’t seen all of Collingwood’s games this year) is that those boys have dropped off a little. Not to say they aren’t still contributing, but I think last year they were a long way above what you would expect from young players. This year they have maybe fallen back a little to be about where you would expect them to be.

    As for long bombs to Rocca, that would deliver some highlights, and the fans would be wondering ‘Why don’t they just do that every week’. But it can only ever be the last resort (if they can’t hit a leading target), and I suspect that in this day and age it would lead to a lot of turnovers, quick rebounds and goals on the overlap. Personally I think Rocca should be encouraged to come up the ground a little, throw his weight around and get into the contest – it can be pretty lonely sitting in the goal square all day woth only Joffa to keep you company. I would even encourage Rocca to have the occasional 5 minute burst in the ruck. Forward lines today need to be fluid and put a lot of pressure on. Rocca can still contribute, but he needs to work a lot harder.

  11. Thanks for this STT, All excellent comments:

    Yes, the kids aren’t getting better, they’re a bit down as you say. Odd, but the truth of it so far. Then again Collingwood tends to do better in the second half, so that may happen this year.

    I don’t suggest long bombs all the time. Rather when they get a clearance one of two of the littlies should lead. The man with the ball should have a look, and if the lead looks good, go with it, but if not just kick it the goalsquare. I think that would work well. And just to mix it up, Rocca should of course, lead every now and again so the opposition are kept guessing. 5 minute bursts in the ruck are OK – or perhaps at centre half forward. But he’s just not very mobile, so I wouldn’t put too much store by it.

    I think I’m right in saying that Collingwood gets way fewer handballs than the best teams. So definitely to be looked at, but I can’t see it being the thing that’s doing the harm. They seem OK at handballing when the occasion demands it. And they’re pretty OK at playing on.

    Going round the wing is silly and should only be one of their strategies. From what I have seen of Geelong they seem to have taken the game to a new level with what I call ‘long-short’ passing, by which I mean they play a game of leading the play and of passing, it’s just that the passes are 70 metres and pretty direct. I guess other teams haven’t imitated that as much as one would think because behind the strategy one needs to develop a higher level skill set and only Geelong have mastered it. Would you agree with my summary of Geelong’s distinctive edge?

    In any event, that’s the direction I’d be taking a team in if I were coaching it – I think the handball is a bit of a red herring, though you might come back and say that the short handball has kind of replaced short passing to some extent with Geelong so we have handball for short range work and the long pass for the kicking. In any event, I think Collingwood need a route to goal other than round the wing. And when you find yourself marking, going back and then short passing against opposition that are closing in on you – so you’re gaining 30 metres at a time around the wing, each time risking loss of possession, you know you need a new game plan. That happens to Collingwood whenever a side put them under pressure – as Hawthorn did on the weekend.

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