Many of football’s experts tipped Collingwood to win the premiership this year but, despite a strong list, many of their performances this year have left a lot to be desired. A lack of consistency and fade-outs at times have left fans frustrated and have made them wonder where it went wrong.
Suddenly, Collingwood win two games on the trot against highly rated sides, Essendon and the Sydney Swans, and the Magpies are now genuine Premiership contenders.
This has left many fans of the club scratching their heads as to why performances like in those two weeks have been so uncommon this season.
Many off-field troubles have been raised as justification, but the main excuse being conveyed is that injuries have upset the structure of the team and therefore no rhythm has been found by the side yet, of course up until two weeks ago.
This point could not be truer. Since Collingwood started their Premiership defence in 2011, their injury list has been never-ending. Key players missing weeks due to small, niggling injuries have taken its toll. Combine this with a near-record four ruptured ACL injuries in 2012 and you can see why it has been so hard for Collingwood.
A member of that ‘exclusive’ ACL club last year was Lachlan Keeffe.
Keeffe is certainly not your prototype footballer. Standing at 204cm and weighing in at 100kg, the 23-year old looks like he belongs on a high-jump mat rather than matching up against some of the game’s best forwards.
Keeffe’s versatility however has been invaluable to Collingwood. His inclusion into the line-up has allowed Nathan Buckley to move 2011 All Australian centre half-back Ben Reid to the position in which he was originally drafted; a forward.
Collingwood this season have been criticized for only having one marking target. Reid provides another option for the Magpies’ midfielders while at the same time easing the pressure on Travis Cloke from his opponents.
Keeffe’s story is an interesting one. An extremely talented athlete who had excelled in soccer was spotted by Magpies national recruiting manager Derek Hine at an AFL Queensland rookie search. At the time, the 17-year old had never played a game of football in his life. Two weeks later, he was unofficially a Collingwood listed player.
He spent 2008 playing for Old Trinity in the VAFA developing his skills. He also representing the U18 Queensland side before finally making his VFL debut late in the season. The Magpies then committed to developing Keeffe by selecting him as Pick 69 in the rookie draft.
In his first full season at the club, Keeffe was tried as a ruckman in the reserves but showed little aptitude and then-coach Tarkyn Lockyer decided to switch him down back.
Keeffe finally made his AFL debut in Round 16 2011 playing out of position as a forward in place of the injured Chris Dawes. He managed to string together five games before a plethora of senior players made their way back into the team.
2012 started optimistically. Collingwood’s backline was massacred by injury and Keeffe found himself playing at times as the teams only key position defender. After a shaky start in which some Collingwood supporters used him as a scapegoat, the 22-year old found form and was praised by many of those same supporters.
Unfortunately, the Magpies’ injury curse struck again and Keeffe of course suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Adelaide in round nine.
It is a long rehabilitation process back from a ruptured ACL, but since his return to the AFL in Round 17, he has looked stronger and better prepared to play on the big forwards of the competition, as he did on Swans big man Kurt Tippett last Saturday.
The trend of playing tall players who would usually qualify as ruckmen in the backline has reaped rewards for teams so far this season. Jake Carlisle (199cm) at Essendon has been in All Australian form at times, while Rory Thompson (200cm) looks like a really exciting prospect for the Gold Coast Suns.
Collingwood will be hoping that Keeffe can keep the trend going as they continue their fight to claim a top four spot in the remaining rounds of the season, and then who knows? If the Magpies can give solid performances like this more frequently, they could go very deep into September.