Going into the last home and away round of the AFL season, most clubs who are in the fortunate position of preparing for a serious assault on the finals are nearing full strength. Clubs aim to peak at this time of year, given our sport’s grueling month-long finals system. You need your best players available and up and firing, and prepared for the type of matches where the intensity seems to increase exponentially compared to the regular season.
So for ninth-placed Collingwood, their current injury list of 21 players is nothing short of a disaster, and will prevent them from playing finals football. Considering the Pies were entrenched in the eight for consecutive weeks from Round 6 to Round 17, the way they’ve finished off is disappointing to the say the least.
Although no coach will ever use injuries as an excuse, Pies coach Nathan Buckley has every reason to blame their fadeout on a lack of personnel. They’ve been cruelled, and very few clubs could navigate their way through what has not just been some rough injury waters, but an absolute maelstrom.
Collingwood’s current injury list includes a heap of players who would either be considered best 22, or have played a significant number of games for the club over the past couple of years: Elliott, Lumumba, Toovey, Swan, Cloke, Young, Beams, Brown, Macaffer, Reid, Maxwell. Of the 21 currently injured, 11 are gone for the season.
The Pies have lost close to 500 games to injuries over the past two years, and have launched an internal review into their injury crisis.
And a review is what’s needed, because something aint right. Having injuries throughout a season is as sure a thing as a football is oval, but something’s gone awry at Collingwood this season.
Football director Rodney Eade said “there doesn’t seem to be a common thread” with any of the injuries. I’d be waiting for the results of the review before saying that, ‘Rocket’, because it certainly looks like someone’s got something seriously wrong down there. Whether the players got excessively flogged in the pre-season, or they changed up their fitness programs or the way they do their recoveries, they need to get to the bottom of it.
What the injuries dark cloud could do though is provide some silver lining to veteran midfielder Luke Ball, who is 30 years of age and completing the last year of his current contract. Ball himself has struggled to stay on the park in 2014, but his career could be prolonged by a serious knee injury to fellow tough midfielder Brett Macaffer.
Collingwood’s slide has left the door open for four other teams to snaffle the final spot in the eight: Adelaide, West Coast, Richmond and Gold Coast. In the scheme of things it’s really irrelevant who makes it, given the low likelihood of progress to the next stage for the team that does; but it does provide invaluable finals football experience.
Interestingly, the Magpies haven’t missed out on the finals since 2005, when they finished second last, so they’ve enjoyed a pretty good run. If they can get to the bottom of their current injury concerns, given a strong, young list, it won’t be too long till the black and white army is once again watching their team in September.
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