A PHLEGMATIC Collingwood is dealing with its worst injury blight in years as another two star players went down yesterday.
The casualty list reached the proportions of a MASH unit when All-Australian Dale Thomas and Heath Shaw reported hamstring strains that will keep them from playing this weekend against Port Adelaide and against Essendon on Anzac Day. The Magpies will go into this weekend's game against Port Adelaide with only 13 of their grand final 22 from just six months ago; seven of those missing are injured, plus the retirements of Leon Davis and Leigh Brown.
Nathan Buckley waited all that time for a head coaching job and has walked into a maelstrom. But he resisted the temptation to rush either Alan Didak or Nathan Brown back into the senior team despite their resumption from injuries in the VFL last weekend.
Brown, who is coming off a knee reconstruction, is an emergency and may be in line for selection on Anzac Day if he gets some game time in the reserves this weekend. Director of football Geoff Walsh said both Brown and Didak would play in the VFL, but that the club wanted to see them play more football before elevation.
''As impressive as his [Brown's] two games have been, you've got to give the boy a chance of returning to senior footy as comfortably as possible. We're in a position where we can't let the circumstances interrupt the plan. If we let the circumstances dictate what we do, we can end up with egg on our face,'' he said.
At 1-2 and 13th on the ladder, with two games to confront in five days, Collingwood is at its most vulnerable. Walsh described the injuries to Shaw and Thomas as ''relatively minor'', the former breaking down at training on Wednesday, and the latter reporting soreness after last weekend's game.
AFL Round 4 teams
AFL Round 4 team selections.
But with Luke Ball (knee) and Ben Reid (quadriceps) going down in the loss to Carlton last weekend, the timing could not have been worse.
''How do we deal with it? Internally we look at it as being unfortunate, but there's no point us sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves,'' said Walsh. ''AFL footy is a roller coaster and one week it might be Collingwood, then it might be Fremantle or it might be St Kilda. It's just part and parcel of the game. It happens. We don't like it happening, but we just have to deal with it.
''It's a cliche but it's true that players who might be 26th or 27th-ranked might come up to 16th and 17th. They're going to get opportunities.''
The Magpies last night dropped ruckman Cameron Wood in addition to the four compulsory replacements in the wake of the 10-goal loss to Carlton. Veteran Ben Johnson is back for his first game of the season, Simon Buckley gets another chance, while young players Paul Seedsman, Jackson Paine and Tom Young are in.
Paine, 18, and 191 centimetres, has played two of the Pies' three games before being dropped last weekend. He will be required to fill the gap created by the absence of Reid and Chris Tarrant (calf), while Wood's dumping means Chris Dawes will be the back-up ruckman.
Johnson, 31, has had three runs in the VFL after recovering from a pre-season hamstring injury. Buckley managed 13 senior games last year. Midfielder Young played two senior games last year and was impressive in the pre-season but he has not played senior football this year.