The date is November 12, 2020, and Collingwood are in a mess.
They’ve just been forced to offload superstar midfielder Adam Treloar, prolific accumulator Tom Phillips, recent Rising Star winner Jaidyn Stephenson, and promising young talent, Atu Bosenavulagi, because of a salary cap bursting at the seams.
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In exchange for Stephenson and Bosenavulagi, the Pies got pick 26 and moved up from 39 to 33, both of which they on-traded to the Western Bulldogs, along with Treloar and 42, for 14 and a future second rounder.
They also gave up Tom Phillips – who had averaged a tick under 23 disposals over his previous three seasons – for pick 65 in a deal that was dubbed “laughable” at the time.
Then-list manager Ned Guy was scolded by Pies fans for effectively bringing in pick 14 and a future second round pick in exchange for Treloar, Stephenson, Phillips, Bosenavulagi, and picks 39 and 42.
The maths just didn’t add up – a disaster by anyone’s measure.
And all because a mismanagement of their salary cap had forced them into a corner with their hands tied.
They simply needed to clear their books to stay within the cap and had to rip the Band-Aid off to do it.
It was labelled a “lamentable” trade period from which the 2018 grand finalists would struggle to recover.
Two-time North Melbourne premiership player and expert footy analyst David King was bemused by it.
“I can’t believe what’s happened at Collingwood, to be honest,” he said at the time.
“I can’t understand where they’re at right now. They’ve only had three top 30 picks in the last few years.
“They traded heavily to get (Dayne) Beams into the club, and it’s thrown their list build into chaos”.
They were being battered from pillar to post from every different direction. It was suffocating. Bleak. Grim.
“Collingwood are painting this as a grand plan to return the club to premiership contention. It looks nothing of the sort,” The Guardian’s Scott Heinrich wrote in 2020.
“Either the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing or incompetency is rife. Either way, Collingwood have got themselves into a mess seldom seen”.
In the aftermath of the trade period, Guy defended the moves at the time as being “part of a plan”.
“It’s part of a plan that we all put together and one that we executed,” the list manager said at the time.
“We want to add some talent and we’re going to do that in the draft”.
Fast forward just 22 short months, and the Pies are playing off in a semi-final and are still genuine premiership contenders.
Sorry… what? How did that happen?
Guy’s navigation through the tumultuous trade period seemed catastrophic – and it cost him his job.
The former player manager’s tenure at Collingwood ended abruptly just months later when he ‘resigned’ from his position. But it’s hard to imagine the ghosts of the 2020 trade period didn’t play a role. He had been there less than four years.
In hindsight, maybe his much-maligned moves weren’t so bad.
The evidence would suggest quite the opposite.
Phillips played four games in 2021 and has been delisted.
Stephenson – who signed a lucrative five-year deal at the Roos – has been dropped a number of times by his new club and continues to struggle to find the scintillating form in which he began his career.
Bosenavulagi has played 17 games in two years, averaging 8.9 disposals per game.
Treloar is a bona fide star and was never going to disappoint at the Bulldogs.
But consider this.
If you had have said at the start of the 2020 trade period that off-loading Treloar and three players who, for the most part, wouldn’t be at AFL level in the following two years, for a first round pick which became Ollie Henry, and a second round pick which helped to secure Nick Daicos, while also solving serious salary cap issues which threatened to derail the club – would you do it?
Henry has played 25 senior games and looked comfortable at the level.
Daicos might win the club’s best and fairest in his first year.
The Pies are flying.
If Craig McRae isn’t the coach of the year, he’s in the quinella.
A spot in the preliminary final beckons if they can get over the Dockers on Saturday night.
Their age profile is as healthy as it’s been since 2010.
Their salary cap is under control and may be eased further if Brodie Grundy finds his way to Melbourne.
Beau McCreery, Pat Lipinski, Ash Johnson, Nathan Murphy, Jack Ginnivan and Josh Daicos have all become key cogs in the Collingwood machine. None of them are debilitating strains on the salary cap, but all of them have played crucial roles in the Pies’ ascent to the pointy end of the ladder.
Could anyone have foreseen the Pies’ rise to contention in 2022?
Ned Guy, maybe?