Sunday's clash with Port Adelaide may well be Collingwood's make-or-break game for 2014, but in terms of its prospects beyond this year, it won't be the disaster some people are suggesting if they don't come away with a victory.
Sure, making the finals is a far more preferable alternative, and the legions of Magpie supporters will feel deflated if they are denied the opportunity to descend on a September fixture. And Nathan Buckley and his coaching staff would dearly love to have the chance to assess his playing group in the heat that finals football brings, but a detached view would suggest that the Pies are far from destined for a period of obscurity in the coming years.
What excites me most about Collingwood's list is a combination of what we have all been exposed to in recent years, combined with some elite junior talent that is yet to be unveiled.
Having immersed myself in the under-age championships in recent years, the player who excited me most out of last year's under-18 carnival was Matthew Scharenberg from South Australia. He had a presence and a poise about him that clearly defined him as an outstanding AFL prospect. He controlled games across half-back, delivered the ball beautifully and invariably made the correct decision with the football in his hands.
He is listed as 191 centimetres and 87 kilograms and has spent the vast majority of his initial AFL season recovering from injuries to his feet. He made his long-awaited debut in the VFL last weekend and got through a half of football. It is a lot to suggest the future of Collingwood looks bright on the back of one young man, but the very best judges of under-age footballers will tell you that this is a very special talent we are dealing with, and the prospect of having him complete a full pre-season, injury-free, improves Collingwood's stocks immediately.
Add the name of Nathan Freeman to that list. He was taken by the Pies with pick 10 in last year's draft, yet he has been unsighted all season due to hamstring issues. For those who have enjoyed Lewis Taylor's debut season for the Brisbane Lions, Freeman is every bit as equipped to have a similar impact when he gets his body right. He has genuine, line-breaking speed, loves to run with the ball and take the game on and he has the infectious, cheeky and cocky personality that will endear him to Collingwood supporters immediately.
Tim Broomhead gave us a glimpse of the talent that has the Pies genuinely excited on Sunday against Adelaide. Another first-round draft pick, from 2012, he has had to overcome glandular fever as he waited for his chance at senior level. He has some genuine X-factor about him and, again, with an uninterrupted pre-season, looks extremely capable of slotting into the midfield and making a difference.
In Scharenberg, Freeman and Broomhead, Collingwood has three genuine A-grade prospects at its disposal. And unlike at Melbourne, St Kilda or GWS, where they would be slightly exposed because of the lack of quality, senior footballers around them, they will be offered plenty of support from some of the elite playing talent in the competition.
Scott Pendlebury, Dayne Beams and Steele Sidebottom sit in the very highest category of midfielders in this competition. Dane Swan has owned and dominated the same area of the ground for many years, and we all are waiting with baited breath to see whether he can overcome his injuries and return to those same lofty heights.
That is a magnificent base on which to build a premiership midfield. Freeman and Broomhead will be pushing to join them, Taylor Adams will be better for this year, Ben Kennedy has ambitions to be a part of it and Jamie Elliott has all of the tools to be an on-ball jet.
The average age of those five players is 20. It is a tantalising and exciting prospect for Buckley to look forward to.
Tom Langdon has exceeded all expectations in his debut year. He, too, is just 20 years old and looks capable of filling the sizeable hole left by the retiring Nick Maxwell. Jack Frost is 22 and has played only 19 games of football. He is raw and a powerful athlete, and reminds me of a young Mal Michael, who arrived on the AFL scene very quietly, but retired with three premierships to his name as one of the better full backs of his era.
Lachie Keeffe is also an interesting prospect who has shown that he has the physical attributes to compete as a key back. If he can continue to improve and develop as a footballer, then it helps address one of the Pies' glaring deficiencies.
And in Brodie Grundy they have a 20-year-old ruckman who is as well-placed as any emerging young ruckman in the competition to put his stamp on the game. Don’t be at all alarmed by the fact that Grundy hasn't established himself as the clear No.1 ruckman in this team, after an extremely promising start last year. History is our best teacher, and history tells us that it takes a number of years for these big men to grow into their body, while at the same time they are coming to grips with the nuances of ruck work.
With Grundy, Scharenberg, Freeman, Broomhead, Langdon, Kennedy, Frost, Keeffe and Adams all first and second-year players, and Elliott in his third, the future looks full of promise for the Pies.
They will be supported by Pendlebury, Beams, Travis Cloke, Sidebottom, Swan, Reid, Brent Macaffer, Heritier Lumumba and Alan Toovey and the coaching staff will be hoping that Paul Seedsman, Alex Fasolo, Marley Williams and Tyson Goldsack respond to the challenge of these emerging youngsters and lift their output in the process.
If this group of players is able to prepare for 2015 on the back of a finals crusade this year, then that would obviously be advantageous. And once they're there, who knows how far they could proceed.
But if they drop this game against Port Adelaide and eventually miss out on a September appearance, then Buckley has the perfect ammunition to throw at them when they come together for their pre-season campaign.
The list management team will be, right now, desperately looking for the best way to provide Cloke with support, but they can also be well pleased that they have given their senior coach plenty to work with in the next 24 months.
This time next year, they will be contending again. How strongly may depend on how quickly their untapped youngsters emerge from the pack.