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When Collingwood made a play in the off-season to bring ball-winner Tom Mitchell into the club, the comparisons with Luke Ball’s arrival ahead of their 2010 premiership season were clear.
Now six weeks into the season, the Magpies’ trajectory in 2023 remains on par with their 2010 season, with the eerie similarities becoming more obvious by the week, from the win-loss records in the season prior, to the players the Pies have brought in and those players’ roles.
Leigh Brown (far right) celebrating the 2010 premiership with teammates.Credit: Paul Rovere
Leigh Brown was Collingwood’s Mr Fix It in 2010, playing a crucial role as a genuine utility. He was 27 when the Magpies drafted him, following his delisting from North Melbourne. He had played 181 games at the Roos and Dockers prior. He mixed ruck duties with key position posts, and was integral to the side’s success.
Billy Frampton is currently filling a similar role for the Pies, and Brown takes no offence to the comparison. Frampton also had stints at two clubs before finding his way to the Pies, aged 26, though he has a lot less senior AFL experience under his belt. But Frampton is relishing the opportunity to play wherever McRae needs him.
“I think that’s what good teams do, they can adapt and grow and change,” Brown says.
“The term has been thrown around in the last few years is ‘be fluid’, and Billy obviously allows them to do that.
“I think ideally they’d like to settle him down back, but injuries have forced that change, and you need players to step up and play different roles at different times. He’s certainly doing that and doing a very good job.”
Heading into the 2010 season, the Magpies were coming off a preliminary final loss to Geelong, who ultimately won the premiership a week later. The Pies had started 2009 with a 3-3 record, mixing their form until round nine, before winning 12 of their last 14 games to claim a top-four berth.
In the 2009 finals series, they lost a qualifying final to St Kilda, won a semi-final against Adelaide, and then fell short to Geelong in the preliminary final.
Compare that with 2022.
Bobby Hill (left) hugs Pies teammate Billy Frampton during the Anzac Day clash.Credit: AFL Photos
In their first six games under Craig McRae, the Pies started 3-3, mixing their form until round nine, before winning 12 of their last 13 games to grab a double chance.
They then lost a qualifying final to Geelong, won a semi-final against Fremantle, and then fell short to Sydney in the preliminary final.
“Premierships don’t happen overnight, so you’re continually building,” Brown says.
“From afar, you can see the camaraderie and the willingness to play for one another and play their role, and that was something that was really strong through 2009 to 2011.
“There are similarities there. You need a bit of luck, and they’ve got a few injuries, but guys keep stepping up and playing their roles this year, and hopefully, when they get a few talls back they’re a bit stronger again.”
Mitchell’s inclusion is undeniably similar to Ball’s, given their experience, class and credentials.
Ball’s contested ball-winning ability allowed Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas to flourish in 2010, and this year, Mitchell’s clearance work is doing similar for Jordan De Goey and the Daicos brothers.
“‘Bally’ brought some real leadership as well, obviously being a high draft pick, a very good player at St Kilda, a captain, all those sorts of things,” Brown says.
Luke Ball’s arrival at Collingwood in 2010 was pivotal to their success.Credit: Sebastian Costanzo
“It wasn’t only what Luke brought on the field, but it’s what he brought off the field as well, and that complemented our other leaders and gave us a bit more balance in that area too, I guess.
“Tom Mitchell’s been around a fair while too, and his ability I assume to come in and do something similar is probably a pretty good comparison.”
Dan McStay’s arrival is less comparable to Darren Jolly’s in 2010, but Brodie Grundy’s exit from the Pies this off-season warrants some likeness to Josh Fraser’s falling out with selectors and his eventual move to Gold Coast in 2011.
Coincidentally too, St Kilda occupied top spot on the ladder for three of the first six weeks of the 2010 season under Ross Lyon. The Magpies then took over in round seven, gave the spot up to Geelong in round nine, and regained top spot from round 16.
Brown says his Pies rode a wave of momentum from 2009 into 2010, and McRae’s side has developed a similar energy.
“You sit back and think they’re always in the game, and they’ve built that over the last 12 or 18 months with their performances on the field,” he says.
“They’re exciting to watch, there’s never a dull moment, and it’s great to see some young guys step up and grab their moment when their moment is there to grab. Ash Johnson did that on the weekend, and there are plenty of other young guys doing some fantastic things. It’s going to be an exciting ride to see where it ends up.”
And Brown says having his premiership teammates in Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom playing in the same form they did more than a decade ago was invaluable, although Pendlebury will miss Sunday’s match with a scratched eye.
“It’s always great to watch those two, and makes us all feel a little bit older,” he quips.
“To think those two guys are still running around, when I first got to the club it was 2009, that’s 14 years ago, so these guys are not only still running around but playing pivotal roles and certainly helping the young guys doing their thing.
“Their roles have probably changed a little bit, they probably don’t need to be the match-winners, they just go out and do their thing, and they’re still special players, aren’t they?”
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