Port Adelaide, Collingwood have more in common than prison-bar guernseys
Collingwood and Port Adelaide might be poles apart on matters of identity, but on the field they have more in common than either would care to admit. Granted, the view from the penthouse far outstrips that of the outhouse. But the reality is if you are sitting uncomfortably, as both the Power and the Magpies are, then you are sitting uncomfortably.
In the week that the now-annual bickering over their shared “prison bar” guernseys recommenced, the groups of men representing each club turned in performances that suggest effort should be placed into not what jumpers the players are wearing but what they are doing once in them.
For Collingwood, who were outpointed by Gold Coast in one of the most humdrum encounters to grace the MCG in years, it was a weekend of confirmation – confirmation of a club in free fall. Now 1-6 and off to their worst start to a season since 2005, the Pies surrendered meekly in front of 24,397 spectators – the second-lowest number to witness a Collingwood game at the venue since 1988. Clubs can weather many a storm – scandal, underachievement, disappointment – but apathy is something different altogether.
That is now something confronting Collingwood as they try to pick up the pieces of a 2020 season that rocked the club to its core. The loss of key players, a salary cap crisis, the fallout from the “Do Better” report into racism at the club, a new president are all things that can and should require time, but on present evidence Collingwood might have even further to go on their downward spiral.
Many will point to the poor pull of Gold Coast as reason for Saturday’s paltry crowd figure, but in truth it is symptomatic of resignation within the supporter group. They are now resigned to the fact their team is shot. Of even greater poignance is a seemingly similar level of acceptance among the players. If the fans are looking disinterested, so are the ones meant to be giving them hope.
Before the match against the Suns, Nathan Buckley challenged his charges to raise their intensity and bring “consistent heat on the opposition”. What he got was lukewarm at best. With the match there to be won, with pride at stake, the Magpies allowed the Suns to do as they pleased. As an indicator of effort – or lack thereof – Collingwood were obliterated in uncontested possessions (267-229) and marks (146-98).
If the Magpies coach appeared concerned beforehand, he looked shattered afterwards. “We’ve lost our DNA of defending the ground,” Buckley said. “They worked a lot harder to get numbers back behind us and we didn’t work as hard as we needed to. We let them go forward too often and too easily.”
With change the only constant at Collingwood these days, Buckley’s future will be a source of discussion so long as performances remain wretched. While insisting “it’s the coach’s role to prepare the team to be connected and play efficient team football”, Buckley is also adamant he wants to remain in the job past this season when his contract expires. Results, however, have a habit of speaking for themselves.
While Port Adelaide will look at Collingwood’s travails and count their lucky stars, there will likely be just as much introspection at Alberton this week. And it is not as if there isn’t enough on their plate. The AFL’s refusal to allow them to wear their traditional SANFL jumper in Saturday’s Showdown against the Crows has led to possible legal action and a war of words between Power chairman David Koch and Eddie McGuire. “Legally it’s all done, morally we’ve always said yes on occasions and all Kochie is trying to do now is be a smart-arse. He’s trying to look more like Collingwood, and I would too except we’re already there,” said McGuire, reminding those who had forgotten that he just cannot help himself.
Not that Port’s players or their football department will lose much sleep. They will be too busy addressing a defeat that in isolation is just that – a defeat – but on closer inspection is cause for concern. The Power travelled to Brisbane with a healthy 5-1 record but also needing to claim a scalp – among their quintet of triumphs only the two-point win over Richmond in Adelaide can be viewed as significant.
Now, however, the Power are somewhat back among the pack with road defeats to the Lions and West Coast to mull over. Against Brisbane, Port were beaten up in the contest, suggesting a skerrick of their own DNA has been lost or, at best, misplaced. When asked if Port had issues away from home, Hinkley bristled as he pounded the desk with his fist. “We’re an outstanding travelling team,” he insisted. “Both times we’ve lost this year the opposition played the game that they wanted to play really dominantly, and we weren’t able to break through any of that.”
If that isn’t something to get very, very worried about, then Hinkley’s confidence in his men knows no bounds. Port Adelaide might not be in Collingwood’s world of pain, but they are hurting all the same. There are questions that need answering if Port are to lay claim to this year’s premiership.