IT'S a fickle business, football. At the end of round three this year, Carlton and its coach, Brett Ratten, were flying. Three wins on the trot, including a 10-goal demolition job on Collingwood, had Blues' fans licking their lips. The Pies, on the other hand, had lost two of their first three and new coach Nathan Buckley was having questions asked of him.
It was at that time that Magpie president Eddie McGuire had a crack at Mick Malthouse, suggesting the Collingwood premiership coach of 2010 was not supporting his former apprentice.
"Mick won't have a friend at Collingwood today," McGuire roared.
Power Hawks: Jarryd Roughead and Lance Franklin celebrate a goal. Photo: Pat Scala
A few days later, McGuire offered the peace pipe to Malthouse, as he always does. Then a few weeks later, as the Carlton wheels started to wobble, McGuire suggested that his mate Malthouse would be a good fit for the Carlton coaching job. Ah yes! Side by side, they stick together?
Since the round-three loss, the Pies have not lost a game. You have to admire the resilience and determination of the new Collingwood coach. He has lost quality players to long-term injuries, but has been able to replace them and keep the team winning.
The Pies aren't winning by the margins of last year, but that's to be expected with the loss of key personnel. So far this year the Pies have used 36 players. Other than the two expansion teams, that is more than any other club. They have also introduced seven debutants - only Geelong has more (eight).
Big figures... power forwards have accounted for a lion's share of the goals this season.
It speaks volumes for the Collingwood coaching staff that they are able to develop young players so quickly and so thoroughly. The recruiters, too, have to be commended.
The common thread with all the Collingwood newcomers is that they are taught that performing the ''pressure acts'' is an absolute must. Last weekend, Jamie Elliott put on 15 tackles against Fremantle. It was an extraordinary work-rate, and one that warmed the heart of his coach.
While Buckley will be pleased with the 10-game winning streak, he knows there has to be improvement if a premiership is to be won. One of the coach's real concerns would be the output of his two power forwards, Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes.
Recent history tells us that in-form, big forwards are a key to winning flags. Tom Hawkins led the way last year on grand final day. When Collingwood won in 2010, Cloke and Dawes stood up.
In 2008, it was Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead's big bodies that set the Hawks up. When the Brisbane Lions did the ''three-peat'' a decade ago, it played through the might of Alastair Lynch and Jonathan Brown.
This year, the Pies are down on scoring output. Last year, their average score was 112 points a game. This year it's 100. There are seven teams, led by Hawthorn and West Coast, that are averaging higher scores than Collingwood. Some teams, such as Gold Coast, the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, now that Mitch Clark is injured, don't have anyone of substance to play through up forward. And so they struggle. West Coast has an abundance of bigs (Jack Darling, Quinten Lynch, Josh Kennedy, Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui) and thrives on their talents.
Over the past two grand finals, Collingwood played three big blokes up forward - Cloke, Dawes and Leigh Brown. Brown's role was to give Darren Jolly some ruck support, but he predominantly played forward and netted 21 goals in 2010 and 23 in 2011. They were valuable contributions. Now the Pies have two key forwards - Cloke and Dawes - and Dawes has been asked to make a contribution in the ruck.
By his own admission, Dawes is down on form. When he played in the premiership in 2010 it was just his 30th game. He played 20 games that season and averaged 1.5 goals a game. This year, he has kicked just seven goals from his 12 games. Over the past three seasons, Dawes' disposal numbers have stayed the same. With Brown retiring, he needed to step up. So far, he hasn't.
Cloke's numbers are just down on last year. Experience is enabling him to pick up some ''cheapies'', but the bold presence of the past is yet to be seen on a consistent basis. Time for Cloke to concentrate on his football, forget about TV appearances and either sign a new contract at Collingwood or shut up until the season is over.
A look at the ''pairs'' of power forwards shows that Hawthorn leads the way with 70 goals. Taylor Walker and Kurt Tippett, of the Crows, have 66, the Geelong pair of James Podsiadly and Hawkins have netted 53, as have Nick Riewoldt and Justin Koschitzke at St Kilda. Coming in at 12th place, with 38 goals, is the Collingwood pair of Cloke and Dawes. It's a position they will be keen to improve on.
Last year, Carlton averaged 103 points a game to be the fourth highest-scoring team. The Blues did it with the medium-sized Andrew Walker and two smalls, Eddie Betts and Jeff Garlett. But you can't sustain that. A quality big target (two preferably) is required, and the Blues just don't have that. They have had to compromise, with ruckmen Shaun Hampson and Matthew Kreuzer going forward, as Jarrad Waite just doesn't play enough. This year they are ranked 11th for scoring. It's not hard to guess what sort of players will be No. 1 on the recruiting list for 2013.