Collingwood were billed as a powerhouse in the lead up to the inaugural AFLW competition, however, they finished in fifth.
The improvement came in spades in the second half of the season, however, as a shift in game plan - from a possession-heavy defensive mindset to an attacking, run-and-carry approach, helped the team reclaim its lost pride. Collingwood was a quintessential middle of the pack team in 2017, beating every team that finished below them.
During the player signing and trade period, Collingwood appeared to be on the verge of mediocrity once again, losing best and fairest winner, Nicola Stevens – their first pick in the 2016 draft – and runner-up best and fairest winner, Alicia Eva. The pair were two of only three Magpies, along with stalwart defender Meg Hutchins, to average over 10 disposals.
Showing no signs of naivety, Collingwood forced the Western Bulldogs to trade inside midfielder Jaimee Lambert for the draft’s first overall pick and gained another first round pick; ultimately used on AFLW U18 All-Australian captain, Darcy Guttridge.
The offseason departures of Stevens and Eva cast significant shadows over Collingwood’s prospect of climbing up the ladder in 2018. The Magpies boast perhaps the most offensively-minded roster in the league, however, the team has shown a near absolute disregard for improving the defensive facet of the game; a point only exacerbated by the loss of Guttridge for most of the season with a broken collar bone.
It appears that Collingwood are building largely for the long-term suggesting any premiership challenge is a mere pipe dream in 2018. With the expansion of the AFL Women’s competition looming just a few years away, Collingwood have pulled the trigger early with their player movement; using the draft to acquire some of the best U18 talent available at the expense of more experienced players.
Potency inside 50 will be the flavour of the month for Collingwood, who will unveil perhaps the most potent forward setup AFL Women’s has ever seen. The Magpies were one of three teams to average below the league standard, 230.37, for points scored in 2017 due to the struggles of marquee forward Mo Hope endured because of form and injury concerns. Noticing the room for improvement, Collingwood drafted VFLW leading goalkicker Chloe Molloy with their first pick, to line up alongside Jasmine Garner, who booted five goals in the All-Star game, and Hope. Between them, the trio kicked 84 goals in the 2017 VFLW season, with all three averaging over two goals per game – something also achieved by only Katie Brennan and Darcy Vescio.
The Brisbane Lions showed a robust defence is more important to on-field success than a lethal attack. In many ways, Collingwood are the opposite, as things appear a little bleaker when they don’t have the ball. The perennial dominance of Emma King in the ruck should have offered the Magpies ample opportunity at first possession in the midfield, yet the team ranked sixth for clearances and seventh for total disposals. And now, without the prospect of Nicola Stevens to steady the ship, the midfield clearly won’t match up against the competition’s best despite the efforts of Lambert and Amelia Barden.
Key player: Emma King
Emma King earned All-Australian honours as arguably the competition’s most dominant and versatile ruckman. At 186cm, there aren’t many across the league that challenged the West Australian, and her ability to influence the contest around the game is as big an assist as any in a league where game plans often shy away from kick-mark possession football. Collingwood’s midfield looms as a lynchpin either for success or failure and much of that falls on the aptitude of King to assert herself in games.
One to watch: Emma Grant
The loss of Nicola Stevens to rivals Carlton and long-term injury to Guttridge leaves a sizeable hole across half-back. While this may hinder the side’s ability to manufacture attacking possessions from the defensive half, the Magpies will be eager for a trusted kicker, such as Emma Grant, to assume the role. After playing all seven games for Collingwood in 2017, it’s highly probable that Grant, who was elevated as the team’s co-vice captain, will be employed in that role. Collingwood ranked seventh for rebound 50s a year ago and any improvement in that area may largely be in part by Grant.