Nathan Buckley is unfazed by wildly differing views on how Collingwood will fare in 2014.
The third-year coach understands the growing debate surrounding the Magpies.
It goes without saying that the departure of premiership heroes Dale Thomas to Carlton and Heath Shaw to Greater Western Sydney will hurt in the short term – and perhaps the medium term as well.
But the club still possess three of the competition’s most influential players in newly-appointed captain Scott Pendlebury, Brownlow medallist Dane Swan and power forward Travis Cloke.
While experience worked its way out of Collingwood in 2013, new talent emerged.
Brodie Grundy’s remarkable debut season in the ruck made Darren Jolly surplus to requirements.
Young midfielders Sam Dwyer and Josh Thomas, small forward Jamie Elliott and defender Marley Williams made strong claims for permanent spots in the senior side, although Williams faces a delayed start to the season due to a grievous bodily harm conviction.
The midfield has also been bolstered by the recruitment of Taylor Adams from the Giants, while ex-Swan Jesse White will add to an impressive crop of tall forwards also including Cloke, Quinten Lynch and swingman Ben Reid.
The coach is embracing what he calls his team’s “regeneration”.
“I would suggest that looking at us externally and the quality of the competition that we are about to go into, it would be really hard to slot us in,” said Buckley.
“There would be scribes and external opinion that would have us at a really high range or lower down the ladder.
“What they are is guesses.
“What is tangible for us is the work that we have done, what is tangible of us is the direction that we are travelling and the fact that we have something to prove.”
Buckley insists that last year’s surprise elimination final loss to Port Adelaide provides no added motivation for the coming season – but finishing eighth in 2013 clearly rankled the third-year coach.
Injuries challenged the Magpies last year.
Dayne Beams (quad), Alex Fasolo (foot), Tyson Goldsack (hip), Lachie Keeffe (knee), Alan Toovey (knee) and Clinton Young (hamstring) were all out for substantial parts of the season.
The positive for Collingwood was their ability to blood youngsters.
Forty players had a taste of senior football in 2013 – with depth now one of Collingwood’s major strengths.
Buckley is a firm believer that a team must be better than the sum of its parts.
“Our belief and our communication at the end of last year was that we have enough talent,” said Buckley.
“The talent isn’t the issue – it’s how we gel together.
“That is not saying we have the best talent in the comp because you would have four or five, or even six sides who would argue vehemently with you on that.
“But if you are actually playing well together as a team, if you are united in the way you are playing and the way you want to go about it, that there is buy-in from players, there is clear communication from coaches to players and vice versa, then you play some good team football, then you maximise your talent.
“If we do that then we will be hard to beat. If we are hard to beat then we will win a lot of games. If we win a lot of games then we are where we want to be.”
Coach: Nathan Buckley
Captain: Scott Pendlebury
Last five years: 4-1-2-4-8
Premierships: 15 (1902-03, 1910, 1917, 1919, 1927-30, 1935-36, 1953, 1958, 1990, 2010)
Key five: Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan, Travis Cloke, Ben Reid, Dayne Beams
One to watch: Ben Reid. How Nathan Buckley would love to have two Ben Reids, allowing him to play at centre half-forward and centre half-back. If the Magpies can keep him forward, their marking power in attack will trouble the best defensive units.
Ins: Taylor Adams (Greater Western Sydney), Tony Armstrong (Sydney), Nathan Freeman (Sandringham U18), Patrick Karnezis (Brisbane Lions), Tom Langdon (Sandringham U18), Jonathon Marsh (East Fremantle WAFL), Matt Scharenberg (Glenelg SANFL), Jesse White (Sydney).
Outs: Alan Didak (delisted), Ben Johnson (retired), Darren Jolly (delisted), Andrew Krakouer (delisted), Jackson Paine (Brisbane Lions), Jordan Russell (delisted), Heath Shaw (Greater Western Sydney), Dale Thomas (Carlton).
Best 22: B: Nick Maxwell, Nathan Brown, Alan Toovey
HB: Marley Williams, Lachie Keeffe, Paul Seedsman
C: Dayne Beams, Scott Pendlebury, Heritier Lumumba
HF: Jarryd Blair, Ben Reid, Steele Sidebottom
F: Jesse White, Travis Cloke, Jamie Elliott
R: Brodie Grundy, Dane Swan, Luke Ball
I: Taylor Adams, Alex Fasolo, Josh Thomas, Ben Kennedy
Predicted finish: 5th
To win the flag: $15
To make the top eight: $1.60