Collingwood football manager Geoff Walsh says three senior players who have missed much of the season will be “serious considerations” for this week's vital game against West Coast in Perth.
Forward Andrew Krakouer and utility Brent Macaffer, who both suffered major knee injuries in the pre-season, have now played three VFL games, and Ben Johnson, who damaged his shoulder in round six, has played twice.
But if any of them are to play a role in the finals, Walsh told SEN radio this morning, they need to get time in the seniors. Now.
“'Pleasingly, not only have they all got through, but particularly Ben and Andrew found a fair bit of the ball, so they're working into some form reasonably quickly. So that augurs well for a potential return.
"We've obviously only got two games left at AFL level so if those boys are going to play any sort of role come finals time we'll obviously need to get them some AFL match conditioning sooner rather than later.
“You'd certainly want to be going into a finals series with at least one, maybe even two AFL level games under your belt. It would be a very big ask particularly for those boys who have missed virtually the whole season, to step into a finals series where we know the pressure and the tempo … goes up a fair bit from a home and away game.”
Walsh is “pretty confident” that Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell, subbed out of Saturday's loss to North Melbourne, will play against the Eagles. Sidelined defensive forward Tyson Goldack (ankle) may also press for a return after missing two games.
Midfield superstar Dane Swan returns from a two-week club-imposed suspension this week. In his absence, the patchy Magpies had a stirring win over top side Sydney, then were outplayed by a vibrant North Melbourne. Walsh said the club did not regret its hard-line stance.
“I don't think there's any question internally that if we had our time over again with any player … The decision fundamentally was made around a set of principles that we operate to and we'd make the same decision.”
Utility Martin Clarke, small forwards Jamie Elliott and Ben Sinclair, and pacy Irish newcomer Caolan Mooney are among the players who may face the axe after ineffectual efforts against the Kangaroos.
However, the two most out of form Magpies – key forwards Chris Dawes and Travis Cloke – are unlikely to be demoted, given their structural importance to the Magpies.
Walsh feels “it's hard to say” whether interminable contract negotiations have affected Cloke's output.
“Certainly the proof is in the pudding that he hasn't performed to the level that we know he can. Putting it off till the end of the year at the time was thought to be a good thing for Travis perhaps relieve the pressure, because ... there was daily commentary on it. I don't think he needs that and we didn't as a footy club.
“We're confident that Trav will stay and wants to play with Collingwood going into the future and let's just hope his next good game is just around the corner.”
Walsh denied that he had been having a dig at Cloke with comments at the weekend about players staying with the club.
“I think it was more statement that we're aware of what the market forces are providing in the competition. But if you decide you want to stay at Collingwood because you want to be a Collingwood player well then ultimately we feel you'll be looked after in the long run.”
He described this week's match, pitting the fourth-placed Magpies against their main challenger for a double chance, fifth placed West Coast as a “cut-throat final”.
Conceding that many of the most in-form teams in the competition were in the bottom half of the eight, Walsh said it was “quite possible” that a team from outside the top four could win this year's flag if they “got on a roll”.