What on earth is going on at Collingwood? In property terms, the Magpies were the motivated sellers of the AFL’s trade period. They wanted deals done and they wanted them done fast. They got their wish, but like most motivated sellers Collingwood were rear ended in the transactional process. They gave away a lot but received very little in return.
Clubs enter trade period hoping to stock up on talent or to stock up on draft picks. Some hope to do both. Collingwood appear to have done neither. They have shown the door to four players: an A-grade midfielder in Adam Treloar, a recent Rising Star winner in Jaidyn Stephenson, an 89-game defender entering his prime in Tom Phillips, and Atu Bosenavulagi. No player has been added. The departure of this level of talent should by rights position Collingwood strongly at the national draft, but they will be idle until deep into the first round at pick No 14.
Collingwood are painting this as a grand plan to return the club to premiership contention. It looks nothing of the sort. In moving on Treloar and Stephenson, the Pies are satisfied they head into next month’s draft with a hand capable of snaring quality players like, well, Treloar and Stephenson. “It’s part of a plan that we all put together and one that we executed. We want to add some talent and we’re going to do that in the draft,” Ned Guy, Collingwood’s list manager, told Fox Footy.
After pick No 14 Collingwood will go again with the 16th selection, but that will just about end their meaningful involvement. To get No 14 for Treloar the Pies had to give Western Bulldogs picks 26, 33 and 42 in addition to one of their best ball winners, making pick No 65 their next draft appearance. Selections 70, 75 and 92 will follow, all of which hardly profiles Collingwood as key draft players. By pick no 14 the gems will be gone with only diamonds in the rough remaining.
Either the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing or incompetency is rife. Either way, Collingwood have got themselves into a mess seldom seen. The elephant in the room is the salary cap tangle in which the club has reportedly found itself. What the Pies have achieved in moving on Treloar, Stephenson and Phillips is free up upwards of $2m. Just don’t expect the club to admit to any challenges with its salary cap.
“I think it’s a bit of a beat-up, the salary cap issues,” Guy said. “It’s topical and people like to talk about it. We didn’t do much media this trade period [and] due to that the speculation just kept rising. We don’t think it’s as bad as people have put out there.” It surely is. How else can essentially giving away one of your best players be explained?
Worst of all, the Pies are now chasing their tail to try to make it all make sense. Collingwood thought enough of Treloar, the competition’s leading possession getter just two seasons ago, to recently extend his contract until 2025. He won’t even be playing for them in 2021. Collingwood fans deserve answers, but getting a straight one out of the club is proving difficult.
“We had some conversations with Adam around whether his family was going to move to Queensland and whether he wanted to do that,” Guy said in reference to Treloar’s wife, Kim Ravaillion, electing to continue her Super Netball career in Queensland. “It probably just evolved from having that conversation to he thought he’d look at another opportunity.” Treloar’s side of the story is somewhat different.
The midfielder says he was told by coach Nathan Buckley “there’s some players who don’t want you there” and that he should seek pastures new. “They were adamant on moving me on so no matter how they were going to go about it, it was going to happen,” Treloar said. “I guess anything was going to be said to move me on.”
By next season Treloar will be 28 and approaching veteran status. But the same cannot be said for Stephenson or Phillips. Fundamentally, what Collingwood have done with these two is develop them only to hand them over to another club. And Stephenson’s exit was as ugly, and botched, as Treloar’s.
“[We had] continual conversations beyond the exit interview process with Jaidyn and it just got to the point where he was keen to play for North Melbourne,” Guy said. Not so according to Stephenson, who was compelled to call Buckley to discuss rumours of him being traded after nobody from the football department had spoken with him. “He said look for a trade as aggressively as you want and we’ll try to facilitate it,” said Stephenson, who still had three years of his contract to run. “There wasn’t a very clear reasoning, but I think it’s all worked out for the best.”
Stephenson has had his issues since his breakout season in 2018, but his talent is undeniable. A high draft pick now close to full maturity at almost 22 years of age, Stephenson is just the type of player Collingwood should be looking for, not eschewing, to enable their climb up the ladder. To get Stephenson and Bosenavulagi, the Kangaroos handed over two second-round picks and a future fourth-round selection, while also receiving pick No 39 in return. There is one winner in this deal, and it is not Collingwood.
The Pies insist they have not held a fire sale, but the smoke swirling overhead suggests otherwise. They are just not being honest about it. “We wanted to replenish the list and to be able to get into the first round you’ve got to give something up,” Guy added. Sadly for Collingwood, they have given up more than just a few players in this regrettable episode.