Some of Collingwood’s tactical decisions don’t seem entirely logical: Questions for the Pies Moving Forward


Collingwood’s done an admirable job of remaining competitive despite their wretched run with injuries.

But while they’ve been forced to think laterally, some of the decisions don’t seem entirely logical. Here are five points that have sprung to mind over the last fortnight.

Billy Frampton

It was a strange decision to start the season with Charlie Dean in defence. While the club rates him, Dean hadn’t played any sort of football (including VFL) for two years due to injuries.

It would’ve seemed more logical to allow Dean to build a body of work in the VFL, rather than select him against last year’s finalists in Greater Western Sydney and the Sydney Swans.

Injecting Billy Frampton into defence has been the one positional win Collingwood’s found this season. Although Frampton’s 27, he’d only played 40-odd games (and some of those as a utility) when he was chosen for Collingwood’s round 3 clash against St Kilda.

Since then, he’s made an impact, and begun to develop the sort of partnership Darcy Moore previously enjoyed with Nathan Murphy, and stabilised an area (the defensive 50) that had become problematic. So why throw him forward?

Frampton’s not going to transform into Buddy Franklin. At best, he’s going to be a body.

If that’s all Collingwood needs, then Dean would seem a better choice because it wouldn’t result in disrupting Collingwood’s newfound defensive stability. Taking Frampton out of defence, and reverting to Dean, has turned a strength back into a weakness.

This isn’t a knock on Dean. But he’s still extremely inexperienced, missed all of 2022 – 23, and is still acclimating to the pace and demands of professional football, let alone AFL.

Alternatively, Darcy Moore or Jeremy Howe, now that he’s back, could be thrown forward – two guys with genuine X-factor and forward credentials. While such shifts would also destabilise defence, at least it would significantly improve the forward six. Yet they keep going to Frampton.

The counter might be that it’d be too hard for Frampton to play defence and also be the relief ruck given the absence of Mason Cox.

That’s a possibility but, again, Frampton isn’t a ruck. He’s just a body filling that spot – a role that could be handed to anybody.

Ash Johnson

Johnson burst onto the scene with such promise in 2022 – a high-flying forward with neat skills and a laconic nature. Too laconic, some might say.

This season he’s struggled – he barely touched the ball in the opening two games, and then morons horrendously mocked him on his social media accounts, which wouldn’t have helped. Consequently, he struggled in the VFL, looking broken and bereft of confidence.

Great forward pressure by Harvey Harrison leads to Ash Johnson’s first goal of the day ????

— Collingwood FC VFL (@CollingwoodVFL) March 22, 2024

The brains trust played him sporadically in defence – something I’ve been arguing that they trial since last year.

Johnson seems to lack the intensity to be a forward. You’ll see a couple of efforts from him, but he’s yet to display the intensity and industriousness that great forwards need, for example, attacking every contest with gusto, and making lead after lead after lead.

But, as a defender, Johnson would have to follow an opponent, which you’d hope would keep his head in the game. He’s got a good mark, can spoil, and has nice skills.

I’m usually loathe to see forwards thrown into defence until they’ve exhausted all possibility of realising their potential as forwards. I think Johnson’s at about that stage.

As far as Friday night against the Dogs went, the only time Johnson looked likely was when he led up to the wing.
It would seem keeping Frampton in defence, and playing Johnson as a key forward/relief ruck, would not only be much more logical, but also productive.

Giving Johnson the license to roam the ground (as the relief ruck) would also help him rediscover touch and build his confidence.

He’s significantly shorter than Frampton (by 8 centimetres), but he would be able to compensate in the ruck with his leap – at least enough to fill the role as well as Frampton.

Steele Sidebottom

Sidebottom started the season okay, struggled, and then has looked all out of sorts – well until they threw him in defence against West Coast.

Sidebottom appeared rejuvenated, accumulating 17 kicks, four handballs, six marks, and four tackles. Everybody celebrated the Collingwood genius of giving this wily veteran a new lease on life. But this was against West Coast at Marvel.

Although West Coast has been much more competitive this year, the opposition has still gotten a hold of them at times – as Collingwood did in this game. The result is a false economy as far as Sidebottom’s transformation into a rebounding defender goes.

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

He’s a smart footballer, dual-sided, and as a winger, he’s always been capable of dropping back and taking a useful mark or providing a chop-out. But as an actual starting defender playing one-on-one against an opponent? That’s not in his skillset.

On Friday, we saw Oleg Markov playing up forward. While I applaud McRae for trying something different, logically Markov would be the better choice as a defender and Sidebottom, who’s always shown nous around goals, would be the better forward.

It’s playing two guys out of position and hoping for positive returns, whereas playing them where they’ve shown form is likelier to offer more.

As an aside, I’m sure somebody will cite that Sidebottom’s not a forward either. But he did start there for Collingwood.

In his second season in 2010 (his first full season as an AFL footballer), he kicked 24.13, and followed that with 25.13 – thirty goals tend to be the mark for a small forward of this ilk, so they weren’t bad returns for a kid.

Later, he was used more as a midfielder who would drift forward, but even then he’s shown he knows how to kick a goal.

Will Parker

The substitute can be used one of two ways: tactically, bringing somebody on to have an impact; or as a utility, bringing somebody on to cover for an injury. I’m unsure which role Parker fills.

He’s in his second game and is still learning his craft. He’s unlikely to come on and produce an immediate impact – he’s certainly not going to do it nestled in defence.

The only argument to be made here is that on Friday night John Noble had a game he’d prefer to forget, and he was subbed out to mitigate the damage.

But Parker’s not going to provide the searing counters that Noble attempts, so how was Parker going to produce an immediate impact?

“Welcome to the family, mate.”

Former Magpie Nathan Brown gifts debutant Wil Parker his debut guernsey ????️

— Collingwood FC (@CollingwoodFC) May 23, 2024

If there was an injury, Parker doesn’t offer a lot of scope as a utility. At best, he’d be thrown into a role and positions would be reshuffled around him.

Now some of this is a necessity – Collingwood doesn’t have a lot of options to play that role as sub. Parker gets the nod simply because he’s able-bodied.

Banking on the possibility that the sub would be used tactically, even somebody like underdone forward Nathan Kreuger would be a better choice – throw him forward later in the game when the pace has gone of it and it’s opened up. Or even Ash Johnson.

Just to qualify this, none of this is a criticism of Parker. It’s just at this stage of his career with his inexperience, he seems a limited option as sub.

The Midfield Mix

One criticism of the midfield, especially given the absence of Scott Pendlebury, Jordy de Goey, and Tom Mitchell, is a lack of size. Jack Crisp is a big-bodied player, and that’s about it.

Collingwood fields a smaller, lighter midfield. Somebody like Nick Daicos can compensate with his elite skill and his reading of the play, but lacking that, the other midfielders get bustled out of the contest.

I just wonder if it would be worth throwing somebody like Isaac Quaynor in there. Quaynor has struggled this year for whatever reasons, and with John Noble and Oleg Markov available, Collingwood can cover him in defence.

Quaynor’s a big body and, at his best, provides dash. Also, Collingwood does need to think about what their future midfield will look like given the age profile of their stalwarts.

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Obviously, the brains trust has much better credentials than me, as well as data and insight that we punters aren’t privy to.

But I’ve always struggled to understand positional moves that don’t offer much more than a player filling a position.

Somebody will no doubt comment that I shouldn’t complain – McRae played Frampton at full-forward in the 2023 grand final, and the Pies won – great.

But Frampton was played as a defensive forward whose priority was to curb Harris Andrews’ influence. This year, Frampton’s being selected as a key target. It’s a different role.

As an aside, had the Lions won the 2023 flag, it’d be interesting to consider how the context around Frampton would’ve radically polarized.

I appreciate Collingwood’s injuries mean they have to find ways to stop the haemorrhaging, but I just wish some of these positional selections weren’t just stopgap – and weren’t just cases of a body occupying a space, but actual experimentation about what the future could look like.

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