Target: Limiting Harry O?Brien is in the game plan of any Collingwood opposition. Photo: Pat ScalaCollingwood will not win this year’s premiership. Simply, they just don’t look to be good enough and have too many quality players who have missed large chunks of football to be any chance in 2013.

Coach Nathan Buckley would be the first to admit that he’s been frustrated by the inconsistencies of his team, having been comprehensively beaten by top-four sides, Hawthorn, Essendon, Fremantle and the Sydney Swans in the first 11 rounds of this season.

Still, Collingwood also put in one of the better team performances of the year, beating Geelong by six points with their relentless pressure from the opening bounce. That style of play stifled the Cats’ handball-happy game through the middle of the ground. Unfortunately for Buckley, that performance was a one-off compared with the other six victories that could only be described as scrappy wins.

There would be coaches all around the country who would queue to have Buckley’s job, with the benefits of 78,000 members and state-of-the-art facilities. But that also brings greater scrutiny and an expectation of success when expectations aren’t being met.

Taking over from Mick Malthouse surely also brings its own pressures – although you wouldn’t know it with Buckley. The former champion always handles himself with class, a skill that ensures he can continue to challenge his senior players to conform to his requirements.

I think the Magpies’ seven wins and four losses flatters them given their performances so far this season. It’s conceivable the Pies will be something like 13 wins and four losses at the conclusion of round 18 having played the Western Bulldogs, Port Adelaide, Carlton, Adelaide at home, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney over the next six weeks. Playing the lesser teams can mask many weaknesses, which has been the case over the past fortnight against Brisbane and Melbourne.

Collingwood looks slow through the midfield with only Dane Swan capable of breaking the lines to get flow into the Pies game. Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom are class acts who continue to perform, yet don’t offer leg speed. Dayne Beams, Clinton Young and an in-form Dale Thomas have been sorely missed and it’s hard to see those three being a factor this year having missed three months of match fitness.

Having been in that situation myself, you find yourself playing catch-up and I’d be surprised if any of them find consistent form in the second half of the year.

The back line is also reliant on the run of Heath Shaw and Harry O’Brien. Ben Reid, Nathan Brown and Nick Maxwell have been giving everything they have but not a lot of rebound so the opposition know that if they can limit the effect of Shaw and O’Brien, they are a big chance of winning the game. Jordan Russell and Marty Clarke have struggled in that role and have been dropped back to the VFL in the past month. Paul Seedsman and Marley Williams look like quality players who will be given every opportunity to nail down key roles in the second half of the season.

Magpies recruiting guru Derek Hine would have a hit list of ruckmen that he would want to get his hands on for next season. Darren Jolly has been a warrior for Collingwood and along with Travis Cloke is still the Pies’ most important player, but there would be doubts on whether Jolly will play next year. Ben Hudson was only recruited as insurance for Jolly this season so that would leave Buckley with just Jarrod Witts and first-year ruckman Brodie Grundy to hold down the all-important ruck position in 2014. Matthew Leuenberger looks set to sign with the Lions, which leaves the uncontracted Bomber Tom Bellchambers and the out-of-favour Blue, Robert Warnock, as trade targets for Collingwood in the off-season. The Suns’ Daniel Gorringe would also be a handy pick up but also lacks the experience Collingwood require.

Forward Quinten Lynch is in a form slump, kicking just five goals from 11 games this season. The Magpies have become really predictable going forward with Cloke the constant target. Jamie Elliott, Sam Dwyer, Kyle Martin and Ben Kennedy have been sensational for first- and second-year players and have consistently hit the scoreboard, but I believe that Swan needs to be isolated deep at times in a game to give the opposition something to think about.

Cloke always provides a contest and brings the ball to ground but the Pies’ midfield need to reward the other leads being provided by their younger teammates. Swan wants to be in the midfield permanently but he is also capable of kicking a bag of goals if given the space.

Collingwood is evolving before our eyes and Buckley has played more debutants than any other team in the competition this year. Seven players have worn the black and white for the first time and that is on top of the seven who debuted last year.

The club has a lot to be excited about, but this season the situation is best summed up by the Pies ranking only ninth for points scored and 10th for points conceded. Those rankings are also a result of Collingwood’s mindset as Buckley could never be sure what Magpies team is going to turn up.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.