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Nick Maxwell has been the spiritual leader of the inexperienced Collingwood defence.

He can be made to look slow. He doesn’t necessarily beat his direct opponent, if he has one. He can be too short for a good tall, and too cumbersome for a slick small.

Maxwell’s renaissance has been remarkable, and unexpected 

At the start of this season, many doubted he would remain in his side’s best 22. After the first game, those doubts seemed justified, when the Dockers made him look like a 1974 Ford Falcon on a field of Ferraris.

Collingwood's Nick Maxwell is playing some of the best football of his career, in possibly his final season.

Collingwood's Nick Maxwell is playing some of the best football of his career, in possibly his final season. Photo: Pat Scala

He has never been short of sceptics and critics and even he acknowledges his limitations. At the end of 2013, he contemplated retiring. He treated every contract as if it  was his last. ‘‘I’ve had no choice because I’m not good enough,’’ he told Fairfax Media on the eve of his 200th game.

But in the past four matches, Nick Maxwell has yet again proved all of us – and perhaps even himself – wrong. 

Maxwell handballed the captaincy to Scott Pendlebury, partly in recognition that his career was winding down; he was past his prime, Pendlebury was at his zenith. One wondered if Maxwell would be guaranteed a game.

Yet Maxwell’s renaissance has been remarkable, and unexpected. 

We marvel at Nick Riewoldt’s abilities as a 30-year old, but Riewoldt is a champion. He’s always been exceptional. It’s not that surprising that he’d maintain the rage and enthusiasm.

Maxwell’s performances, though, are genuinely startling, and a tribute to the resilience of a footballer who was overlooked in multiple drafts, widely considered a hack and yet managed to play 200 games and captain a Collingwood premiership team. The second feat has been managed by only four people since World War II.

There has been far too much focus, particularly from Maxwell’s internet detractors, on what he can’t do, compared with most captains, who typically, are elite players.

What he can do ought to be given more weighting, particularly in light of what Maxwell has produced in 2014, when his team had a decimated defence.

The opprobrium Maxwell receives is unsurprising, given his limitations and former position as Collingwood skipper, but the derision lacks perspective. This is a fellow who has extracted more than seemed possible from modest physical gifts, who overcame numerous obstacles, and became one of the competition’s best leaders. Matthew Scarlett was off the mark – Maxwell is  comparable to Tom Harley, if less conventionally talented, in terms of value to his team over the journey.

Richmond, for instance, would improve considerably with a player of Maxwell’s ilk in its back line. He has many of the traits the Tigers lack: composure in defence, leadership,  a strong physical presence and the ability to coach younger players on the field. Carlton, too, would gain significantly.

Consider the no-name Collingwood backline, which has conceded an average of 71 points against – among the competition’s least – since round one despite an ostensibly tough fixture. Geelong was restricted to 87 points, North to 58.

Jack Frost has played seven AFL games, Tom Langdon, a first-year player, just five, Lachlan Keeffe has notched 25, and while Alex Fasolo has played 43 and is a top-end talent, he has been a backman for precisely three weeks.

Nathan Brown and Ben Reid have been missing from the key defensive posts, Marley Williams, obviously, has been unavailable, as has Paul Seedsman and Ben Sinclair. Heath Shaw’s trading  deprived the Pies of their best creative running defender. 

Maxwell aside, only Alan Toovey, resuming after a knee reconstruction 12 months ago, remains from the backline of 2013.

Maxwell has been the spiritual leader of this inexperienced defence. He did not give up his leadership and directing abilities from behind the ball when Pendlebury assumed the captaincy.

It’s true that Maxwell’s resurgence has been heavily assisted by the role  Buckley has assigned him, often deployed as the spare man behind the ball –  for when the wheels fall off. If he isn’t flash one-on-one, he’s one of the best in the game as the extra man, where his smarts, courage and play-reading abilities are given full expression.

He’s great at laying off his man, if he has one, and helping out teammates. His numerous critics, too, should lay off him.