Pies or Blues: who’s closer to a flag?
IF YOU had to bet your life on who will win a premiership sooner, Carlton or Collingwood, who would you choose?
The result at the MCG on Friday night will place significant stress on the coach of the losing team, ensuring that 2018 isn't their season, but it won't provide the answer to our question.
Let's assume that neither Nathan Buckley nor Brendan Bolton is planning a radical tactical/structural departure in the future, something akin to Alastair Clarkson's cluster or Ross Lyon's press.
That allows us to park coaching as a point of difference in this discussion.
In the Herald Sun AFL 2018 magazine I wrote a piece named "Four and Fill", with the notion that four genuine star-factor players are required for any premiership opportunity.
The "fill" is the role-playing talent combined with tactical influence from the coach's box, with the primary focus of maximising the stars and ensuring offensive and defensive plans that enable the lesser talent to still play significant roles.
Do Collingwood or Carlton have those four genuine game-influencing stars right now?
The answer is no.
Collingwood has three. Only Scott Pendlebury, Brodie Grundy and Steele Sidebottom are in that bracket, with Adam Treloar and Jeremy Howe on the next rung.
Carlton has Charlie Curnow, Patrick Cripps and next year the returning Sam Docherty, but craves another to complete the foursome.
The national draft is like an arms race with club-altering talent available largely only inside the first round.
The recent drafting comparisons of those selections for Collingwood and Carlton are fascinating and highlight the critical nature of nailing elite picks.
Whose recent five years would you choose?
Over the past three drafts, Collingwood has had only one pick inside the top 30.
Carlton has had eight.
Eight to one - that's an enormous differential.
The cost of Adam Treloar, effectively pick seven in 2015 and 2016, weighs upon Collingwood's lack of volume of top-end picks.
Treloar now has to keep his side of the bargain. He must become pointy-end elite, not just offer bursts of brilliance combined with dashes of turnover football.
Collingwood needs success in the short term as its drafting is inferior over the past four to five years to that not only of Carlton, but other re-emerging teams such as Brisbane.
Compounding that is the fact that in three years, seven players will be north of 32 years of age, including Scott Pendlebury and Daniel Wells.
The Pies' recruiting department must get creative or land a big fish. That player may be Tom Lynch, who at age 26 potentially fast-tracks premiership opportunity.
What is obvious is the importance of Jordan De Goey, Darcy Moore and Jaidyn Stephenson becoming absolute top liners. If not, expect years in limbo.
Carlton has the elite stocks coming through and game-changers in the form of Charlie Curnow and Patrick Cripps, who'll both be at the Blues for another decade.
Zac Fisher and Sam Petrevski-Seton are showing signs of influencing games and although question marks are starting to surface about Jacob Weitering, he has time on his side.
The Blues are playing the long game, which will see their opportunity come in the wake of the departure of Kade Simpson and Marc Murphy.
Carlton has 25 players under 23 compared to Collingwood's 18, which in isolation doesn't guarantee future success but allows for a greater spread of opportunity to unearth flag talent.
The consensus is that Carlton and Collingwood are likely to improve on 2017's offerings, but what year are they likely to challenge?
"Knowing where you're at" is the big question for all AFL clubs.
All decisions turn on this crutial notion.
Every time a club assesses its team incorrectly and recruits along the wrong path it costs another three to four years in the wilderness, as the Blues know only too well.
The greatest responsibility that Brendan Bolton and Nathan Buckley have is to ensure their clubs' visions are on track to deliver a sustained period of premiership opportunity.
Carlton is closer, but don't put the champagne on ice just yet.