Can Collingwood win the flag?
12 Short months ago, Nathan Buckley's tenure as Collingwood coach was looking very shaky. He was staring down the barrell of a 4th consecutive season without finals - something that happened since the late 1990s.
I personally never wanted him to go - I can safely say that - though there were moments when I started to question - the lowlight probably being the loss to Carlton.
Fast forward to today - and things are obviously looking a lot better. The club has just had a big win to confirm their place in the finals, and give themselves a chance for the top 4 - and maybe even top 2.
So what has changed?
On the surface it is very hard to pinpoint exactly could have changed in the past 12 months. Injuries are just as bad, if not worse - You could mount an argument that players are all 1 year older, with an additional year experience playing together, which is often understated. Personnel wise, not much has changed. Jaidyn Stephenson no doubt has been a brilliant acquisition - but can you really put this resurgent down to an 18 year old draftee?
There are obviously a number of players that have exceed previous outputs. Jordan De Goey, Mason Cox, Brodie Grundy, Brayden Maynard, Josh Thomas, Tom Langdon, Tom Phillips.
Brodie Mihocek has been a revelation coming in as a mature age recruit - and Chris Mayne - after coming across in controversial circumstances, has almost felt like a new aquisition.
So onto the main point of this article - Can they win the flag?
There's an obvious standout right now - Richmond - They've been the team to beat all year, and the obvious prediction would be that they would go all the way.
But recent history suggests that this is not likely - as hard as it is to envision right now - September is a different game.
Only twice in the past 10 years has the minor premier gone on to win the premiership. TWICE.
In most of these years, you can almost bet that the minor premier would have been the favorite.
Collingwood's first opponent in September is likely to be West Coast - and they're severely undermanned without 2 of their best players - Gaff & Naitanui. Darling & Kennedy have also been struggling with injuries of late, and if one or both play, you can bet they won't be anywhere near their best.
West Coast just lost to Melbourne at home yesterday, so they are far from unbeatable at home.
The likelihood is that this game will be played at Optus Stadium, but West Coast still have to get over the Brisbane Lions at the GABBA to guarantee this - Brisbane are a lot better their ladder position suggests - and I'm sure they'll be keen to end the season on a high note
Even so - a trip to Perth in the first week isn't a bad outcome - given that there'll be a double chance in case we don't win.
Win this and it's straight to the Prelim Final - most likely to face Sydney, Melbourne, or Port Adelaide. All of these games would be in Melbourne, and very winnable.
Lose and our semi final opponent would likely be Hawthorn or Geelong -Two teams that Collingwood have struggled with of late, but again, Collingwood would fancy themselves to reverse this trend. A win here would have us most likely facing Richmond to get into the Grand Final. If this eventuated, this would probably be the game of the finals.
Collingwood has lost to Richmond twice this season - and it's likely that a premiership won't be possible without beating them. Both times, Collingwood suffered injuries early in the game - both games were close up until Richmond were able to run away due to collingwoods injury depleted run late in the game. If they can keep all their players on the park for the entire game, who knows.
Collingwood is also expecting the return of a few key players by then - Jeremy Howe, Darcy Moore, Adam Treloar and possibly even Tyson Goldsack.
It probably isn't likely, but I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet, and I don't think Collingwood would be either.