Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley was fighting for his job last year and now he stands just one game away from an AFL grand final.
In his quieter moments this week, he will reflect on how far his team has come and how far he has come as a coach.
Buckley’s biggest test of 2018 is staring him in the face as he aims to inspire his side to an upset win over Richmond at the MCG on Friday evening.
The Tigers have not lost at the famous venue since June last year, a run of 22 victories that has included successes against the Pies in Round 6 and Round 19.
On both occasions, Collingwood tested Richmond but faded in the final quarter, losing by 43 and 28 points respectively.
Buckley has seen enough in his side to be a true believer, but he also knows how much they need things to go right.
Like Richmond, Collingwood has a threatening forward line with a variety of options that are difficult to match up against.
You can even argue that Jordan De Goey has a Dustin Martin-like presence and impact in the forward 50.
Buckley will know Richmond averages 102 points per game at the MCG this season. But he will be heartened to look at the past four of those matches and how close Geelong, Essendon and the Western Bulldogs came to winning.
He will also have taken notice of a slight chink in Richmond’s armour, being the reduction in scoring power.
All coaches take notice of performances their opponents were vulnerable in or were beaten.
Among the things Buckley and his coaching staff will have analysed is the success Geelong had going through the corridor against the Tigers in Round 20.
Geelong played high-risk football and often got in and behind the last line, a difficult thing to achieve against an Alex Rance-led defence with any consistency.
The Bulldogs also had some joy in Round 23 with a patient style of play.
They controlled possession and tempo and, as a result, Richmond was not allowed to play with the speed, precision and run it likes to employ.
The Tigers won that game by just three points – the same margin they beat Geelong by in Round 20. And Essendon got within eight points of Damien Hardwick’s side in Round 22.
Richmond is beatable. But to do that, Collingwood needs to get plenty out of its stars and hope a few of the club’s more under-rated players thrive on the big stage.
Brody Mihocek, in his first season of AFL football, could go to Rance and make him far more accountable than he usually is. The beauty of Mihocek is he can not only play a defensive role, but can also present as a legitimate option.
It is always hard to get an opponent to a defender because the latter can dictate who they want to play on. But Mihocek has enjoyed an excellent season and could compete well against Rance.
Richmond star Dustin Martin may spend more time forward as he battles a thigh problem and that could see Tom Langdon go to the Brownlow Medallist.
Langdon will need help from the third man in because Martin is so good one on one, but he is a better defensive option than Levi Greenwood, who will get Martin when he ventures into the midfield.
The other key for Collingwood is to contain Jack Riewoldt. He is Richmond’s one and only legitimate key forward.
I think Tyson Goldsack will get the task. This will be a crucial battle as I think Riewoldt could be the star of this game.
It will worry Buckley that his team has faded on both occasions against Richmond and I think he may opt to switch between up-tempo play and taking the speed out of the game when the occasion requires.
This can help the Magpies finish full of running.
Ultimately, Richmond’s players are confident and crucially, appear unaffected by the pressure and challenge ahead of them.
In a tough contest, I think the Tigers should prevail by three goals but this is not an impossible task for the Magpies.
They just need a lot to go right.