License article

No backing down for Magpies


LAST year as it tried to squeeze too many players into too few positions in its back line, Collingwood shuffled Heath Shaw on to a wing.

On Saturday night, faced with a similar dilemma, Nathan Buckley started Shaw forward. One thing should be clear by now: Shaw is an exceptionally creative and damaging half-back flanker. He is neither a winger nor is he a forward.

In this game that resembled in style and ladder position a final, or at least a preview of one, the use of Shaw was one of the more intriguing questions.

Collingwood is confronting a poser: how do you fit eight defenders into six spots?

To date injuries have largely made the selection decisions for Collingwood - Chris Tarrant's late withdrawal on Saturday meant it is yet to play Tarrant, Nathan Brown and Ben Reid in the one back line - but it is fast approaching that point. It can safely be assumed that if he was fit and available and the Magpies were to play the Eagles again later in the year, Buckley would want Tarrant in, particularly if Josh Kennedy was back in the Eagles team.


On Saturday Nick Maxwell and Harry O'Brien played their best games of the year. Maxwell looked back to his best pre-injuries form and O'Brien rediscovered how to play one-on-one and still be creative.

So with Reid and Brown, Maxwell, O'Brien and Tarrant the Magpies have five of the six defenders. Then there is Shaw, Alan Toovey and Marty Clarke. Clarke has often played behind the ball but occasionally on a wing as he did - poorly - on Saturday in a stopping role. Toovey is the quickest and most athletic true stopper. So who gets squeezed?

Positions and roles in an era of rotations can be a moving feast but it is clear now that rather than viewing Shaw's talent as the thing that makes him adaptable it must instead be seen as the foundation upon and around which other things are built. If you have an exceptional half-back flanker, don't presume to make him into something else and just accept that is his best role and don't mess with it. Shaw must play back.

Simon Buckley has also played defensive roles but while he has physical attributes that make him versatile, his game is limited. His position must be in question, for the best that can be said of his kicking is that it is long. He was poor Saturday night and is one of the weak links that is exposed.

Jamie Elliott, on the other hand, revealed himself as a player of serious potential. Size alone creates a comparison with Jarryd Blair but there is something of ''Blair 2010'' about the hard nugget coming into the team mid-season, holding his spot and making a difference. With Ben Sinclair out, he ensured the Magpies didn't drop their forward pressure and intensity with his tackling and bodywork. For a little fella he took several crucial marks in the last term, several genuine, strong overhead marks belying his size.

The Eagles will not be troubled by their loss or the mounting defeats at the MCG. They will walk from the game content that the ins they are likely to get this year - Kennedy, Andrew Embley and potentially Mark Nicoski - are just as significant as Collingwood's - Scott Pendlebury, Sinclair and Tarrant.

Worsfold knows his game will stand up, the pressure the Eagles apply will hold up and they have among the most balanced back six in the competition. Beau Waters is the best player in the AFL at dropping in the hole in defence and marking opposition kicks as opposed to the other plus-one role of peeling off to help teammates and spoil contests.

It was an error in hindsight to leave Eric Mackenzie on Travis Cloke the entire night. Darren Glass might have struggled with Cloke's running but he had to be tried or at least rotated because Cloke's five goals proved the difference in the game.

Collingwood chose not to tag Daniel Kerr, which will be an issue to reflect on before the next meeting. More sides are assigning their tagger to the players who ''spread'' from packs rather than those inside them but Kerr does both.

Worsfold will likewise wonder about how tight to play on Dane Swan. It was another game of a coach balancing Swan's possession and the damage he does. Swan provides a death by a thousand cuts, with each touch not being a fatal cut but when he keeps accumulating you are left with an open wound.

A lot has already been said of the Dayne Beams' emergence this year. Saturday was his most complete performance yet and the one that suggests that he might be more than a player who rises to a challenge and might actually be even better than we thought. He might become elite - the tattoos and first name might not be the only things he has in common with fellow midfielder, Swan.

Oddly, this year he is more dangerous - more accurate - in front of goal the further away he is playing from the sticks. Last year he was a half-forward and part-time midfielder and he had the yips. This year he is a permanent midfielder and he cannot miss the goals.

One of Collingwood's bigger concerns is not one for this year, it is for next and beyond. Cloke, Beams and Reid are all still out of contract.

You can be defeated and you can lose. West Coast lost on Saturday night but it was not a defeat.


Comment are now closed