Collingwood will head into Friday night’s AFL qualifying final against Geelong with question marks around player fitness, synergy and scoring power.
But coach Nathan Buckley says there are no excuses for last year’s vanquished grand-finalists as they prepare to unleash a star-studded line-up at the MCG.
Buckley is giving little away about the Magpies’ selections but Jordan De Goey (hamstring), Steele Sidebottom (testicle) and Jaidyn Stephenson (suspension) are all poised to play, along with perpetual injury concern Darcy Moore.
It’s an undeniable risk but Buckley is confident in how the Pies are placed after finishing the home-and-away season with four straight wins.
“The sides that have successful Septembers and get to the pointy end will be sides that rise and find another level in their own capacity,” Buckley told reporters on Wednesday.
“We believe that we’re in good shape. Our preparation’s been pretty good, our availability is as good as it’s been all year.
“There’s really no reason for us not to shine.”
Sidebottom has overcome rupturing his testicle but Stephenson’s ban for betting on Collingwood games means he hasn’t played at AFL level in three months, while De Goey – who has been cautiously managed – has missed the past six weeks.
Moore looms as the biggest risk given his injury history and the fact he suffered further hamstring “awareness” during the round-23 win over Hawthorn.
Buckley said the concerns had been overblown, describing Moore as “cherry-ripe” and mentally ready.
“The long lay off question, if you really wanted to dig deep, doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
“Steele’s missed one (game), Jaidyn’s now had a (VFL) hitout coming back, Jordy plays really well off a break and Darcy’s had a hitout and is ready to go.”
Buckley noted there would be some unlucky players to miss out, with Travis Varcoe, Jack Madgen, John Noble and Matt Scharenberg potential casualties.
The return of De Goey and Stephenson is likely to free up Jordan Roughead for a key defensive role on Cats spearhead Tom Hawkins.
Collingwood and Geelong have never met in a final and last faced off in round one when the Cats snatched a seven-point victory.
The Cats have suffocated the Pies to an average of 56 points in their last three meetings, all Geelong wins.
“They’ve struggled to score against us as well,” Buckley said.
“They’ve been quite defensive, dour battles. I suspect given the forecast (rainy) conditions that we might see something similar.
“We believe that we can score effectively and well when we execute but we do understand that we’re coming up against a pretty good defensive side.”