“It’s never too early and it’s never too late.
With those words, spoken at Collingwood’s season launch, president Eddie McGuire put a premiership on the agenda for his club in 2015.
Even the most ardent supporter probably found that lofty goal a touch optimistic, while the majority of neutral observers labelled it downright fanciful.
Coach Nathan Buckley, however, has no problem having the bar set high for his team.
“Without that ‘aim high’ mentality, without the courage to say that you’re capable of something that other people don’t think you’re capable of, you’re never going to find your best,” Buckley told AAP.
“We certainly won’t be aiming low.
“In 22 games this year we expect to improve and we can improve drastically, so (as a player) if the president tells you that he’s happy to aim high, the coach says there’s no limits and we’re not going to put a cap on what we’re capable of, then I reckon that mentality is really important.”
After waving goodbye to a host of household names in the past three years, the Pies are widely thought to have a playing list in transition – one more likely to finish outside the eight than to play finals this year, let alone win the flag.
Buckley concedes Collingwood have “lost thousands of games of experience” over the past three years, but he doesn’t buy into the philosophy that the cyclical nature of the competition makes it necessary for clubs and their fans to be content with seasons spent consolidating their playing stocks rather than contesting finals.
“Everyone wants to put a label on playing lists in some shape or form, whether it be contending, rebuilding or whatever,” he said.
“But I think the cycles in the game now turn quicker than they ever have.
“We’ve got blokes between 10 and 35 games and that can be a millstone, but it can also be an opportunity if enough of those blokes stand up.”
The Pies have slipped from fourth to eighth to 11th in Buckley’s three seasons in charge.
There will inevitably be a price to pay when any club attempts to re-position for another period of success as Buckley has done after recognising that the 2010 premiership group didn’t have another flag in it.
Buckley’s task hasn’t been made any easier by a wretched run of injuries over the past two seasons that rarely allowed him to field his best 22.
Ben Reid, Brent Macaffer, Nathan Brown, Dayne Beams, Lachie Keeffe, Dale Thomas and Clinton Young headlined the list of long-term casualties as the Pies slipped down the ladder.
Of course, Thomas and Beams are no longer part of the mix, but Buckley has been buoyed by the number of players he’s had at his disposal during a positive pre-season, which he believes will translate well into the home-and-away campaign.
Reid, in particular, will be a welcome addition in the back half after a season ruined by soft-tissue injuries.
Despite the remodelling of the past three years Buckley still has 10 members of the 2010 outfit at his disposal.
But it’s the gap between those players and the unproven part of Collingwood’s list that is the concern outside the club.
“I know there’s not a lot of expectation externally,” Buckley said.
“We haven’t set ourselves a certain number of wins – what we’ve set ourselves to do is to play our best footy as often as we possibly can and to improve as the season progresses.
“We think we’ll be better in ’16 than we were in ’15 and better in ’17 than we were in ’16 – there’s a lot of natural growth and evolution that we’re capable of taking.
“Potential is a dangerous word, but we’re no different from any other club in that we’re trying to maximise that potential as early as we possibly can, so our expectations are high.”
Coach: Nathan Buckley
Captain: Scott Pendlebury
Last five years: 1-2-4-8-11
Premierships: 15 (1902-03, 1910, 1917, 1919, 1927-30, 1935-36, 1953, 1958, 1990, 2010)
Key five: Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan, Travis Cloke, Ben Reid, Steele Sidebottom.
One to watch: Ben Reid: The talented tall was restricted to just four games last year by calf, quadriceps and hamstring injuries. The Pies sent Reid to Germany to consult with a world-renowned soft-tissue expert and are confident they’re on top his issues. A fit and firing Reid will make a huge difference this season.
Ins: Jack Crisp (Brisbane Lions), Jordan De Goey (Oakleigh U18), Matthew Goodyear (Calder U18), Levi Greenwood (North Melbourne), Brayden Maynard (Sandringham U18), Darcy Moore (Oakleigh U18), Travis Varcoe (Geelong).
Outs: Luke Ball (retired), Dayne Beams (Brisbane Lions), Martin Clarke (retired), Ben Hudson (retired), Heritier Lumumba (Melbourne), Quinten Lynch (retired), Nick Maxwell (retired).
B: Tom Langdon, Nathan Brown, Alan Toovey
HB: Marley Williams, Ben Reid, Lachie Keeffe
C: Brent Macaffer, Scott Pendlebury, Travis Varcoe
HF: Jarryd Blair, Jesse White, Steele Sidebottom
F: Tyson Goldsack, Travis Cloke, Jamie Elliott
R: Jarrod Witts, Dane Swan, Levi Greenwood
I: Taylor Adams, Jack Frost, Paul Seedsman, Clinton Young
Predicted finish: 12th
Betting (William Hill)
To win the flag: $31
To make the top eight: $3