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Why Magpies will win the flag
Why Magpies will win the flag

Looking at the AFL competition from the outer for the first time in four decades, Collingwood should feel reasonably confident about winning the premiership in 2012. I think they should too.

But don't expect me to be leading the cheer squad, I'm happy to leave that to Eddie and Joffa. My time at the club ended last year and if I look around the competition this season 12 clubs have people who have been part of my team in some capacity over the last 10 to 15 years.

I look at how Guy McKenna is going at Gold Coast, follow Brad Scott's fortunes with North Melbourne, and also keep an eye on Daniel Wells (the Kangaroos) and Garrick Ibbotson (Fremantle) who I coached in the international rules series against the Irish.

People talk about the six degrees of separation. In this competition, I think mine is a little bit closer than that.

I can't say my allegiance remains with Collingwood, because of the above reasons. But I don't have to stick my neck out too far to say that they have been a fantastic side over the last two or three seasons and that the sting of last year will be a great catalyst.

We've seen that with Geelong in the past five seasons.

It is a very similar situation to that of West Coast when we won in 1992, suffered great disappointment the following year and then bounced back to win the premiership again in 1994.

The 1993 season didn't come as a shock to me because I'd played in a Richmond premiership in 1980 and I knew how hard it was to back up.

That Tigers side failed in 1981, finishing seventh, but came back to play in the 1982 grand final. I've been through it and I understand the animal we're talking about.

Last year, for the first time in 75 years, Collingwood made a grand final the season after winning a premiership. The trouble was, they didn't win the grand final and it leaves you with a bitter taste.

It's left a bitter taste with me and I'm no longer at the club, so I can guarantee that the strong leadership group the Magpies have got will be fired up to atone in 2012.

At the start of last year, I sat down with our director of sports science David Buttifant and director of football Geoff Walsh to set a plan that would probably overwork the players in the short term to get them out of their malaise of winning a premiership, before backing off to focus on what was at hand.

The boys were terrific. But they got hit with injury and suspension at the wrong end of the year and taking nothing away from Geelong, I still think Collingwood were as good as any side in the competition.

I'm not their coach any more, but I wouldn't have thought they would change too much. It will be interesting to see how much Nathan Buckley modifies the coaching/game style.

If I had to pick a recruit right now who could have an impact this season it would be Jarrod Witts. The 208cm ruckman from NSW will add to the arsenal that Collingwood have got and I think this will help them win the flag.

If they do, I won't be ruing the fact that I'm no longer there. That's life. You move on very quickly in this game.

What I'm trying to do in my new role in the media, if I'm going to do this job properly, is to try to be as unbiased and neutral as I can, with no holds barred.

I've watched, with interest, the English Premier League soccer and American gridiron's NFL, and I've listened to the experts who are so deliberate that you would not know their club allegiances.

I'm loath to criticise because I know coaches have a better understanding of their players and game structures than anyone else.

My suggestions on what I'm seeing and how I would change are how I see it through my eyes. I think I'm entitled to do that after coaching for a fair period of my life.

One would suspect that Geelong and Hawthorn would be Collingwood's biggest threats.

The Hawks are the interesting one.

Their game plan is very much built on a contrast of other clubs and they use their foot-passing at a level that is as high as anyone I've seen in history. Almost every player can find targets with the short kick up to 25m. They can also extend that to 35m or 45m and still hit the longer target that is necessary to break the lines. But what they did was allow that shorter kick to take place all over the ground.

I still remember Chris Tarrant telling me Lance Franklin had the better of him on a number of occasions, but his teammates were reluctant to release the ball long to him. Instead they kicked 30m for safety and retention.

Geelong, in contrast, launch the ball from just over the centre circle and that ball lobs within 15 or 20m of goal. It's their modus operandi.

I'm not telling Hawthorn how to coach, but if there's a slight tweak to their game plan it would be releasing the ball a lot earlier into their recognised forward line, as opposed to trying to be absolutely that precise.

With Geelong, if you win a premiership there's not that much tinkering you need. But Cameron Ling's job on Dane Swan in the grand final was extraordinary.

Perhaps the Brownlow got hold of Swannie, maybe he lost a bit of concentration and wasn't quite attuned. Ling was outstanding, but he's not there any more.

Losing Cameron Mooney and Darren Milburn is not of great consequence because neither were prominent last year and both may have gone on a year too long. Brad Ottens is gone too.

I know Geelong pumped him up, but they had - and still have - other ruckmen of note. It's Ling they will miss.

It was an extraordinary effort by West Coast to get to a preliminary final last year, but they will miss Mark LeCras. The Eagles haven't astounded me because they're highly disciplined and their whole club is built on sound practices.

Their younger players coming into their second or third years have to be alert to the demands of senior football. Second-year blues are an excuse from the past. I've never believed in it and just think it's poor management by the clubs more than anything with the players.

They allow the player to manipulate the circumstances rather than keeping the foot on the throat with reminders of the role they have to play.

They are actually a year older, a year stronger and have to be a year smarter themselves.

I know John Worsfold won't allow his players to get away with thinking they can get away with the old second-year blues. It is the biggest cop-out in football.

Providing West Coast can keep their top tier of players in good health, they should be thereabouts again.

Most people realise I love history. I don't know it all, but I believe greatly in it. History shows that no top eight will stay the same as the year before.

History also tells us that Greater Western Sydney won't play finals and will face a tough debut season.

The 2012 season will produce plenty of excitement, and I think a lot of it will be because there are so many new coaches who will bring with them new tactics.

But stand by for plenty of disappointments as well.

Those first-year coaches have to get to know their players very quickly to make a game plan that suits their style.

In saying that, I still think the bolter of the season will be Fremantle under Ross Lyon. He'll make a difference to their playing style and they'll improve defensively, which is essential in today's football.

He understands the requirements and the players will need shock treatment because he'll be at them all the time to play the role he wants them to play.