Collingwood's premiership defence took a significant hit in the opening week of the club's pre-season, with spearhead Dan McStay's entire 2024 campaign in doubt following an ACL injury at training.
An uninterrupted rehabilitation for McStay, coupled with another deep finals run for the Magpies, could see the ex-Lion feature at the back end of next season, however Collingwood's flag push will hinge on building foundations through a strong home and away run, at the very least.
The timing of McStay's setback comes with the club already trialling a number of train-on prospects for the currently open Supplemental Selection Period while their own reinforcements will be afforded the chance to prove their value as McStay's leading replacement.
Whether it be through their depth ranks, potential list additions or even reshuffling their key position stocks, Collingwood aren't short on options to fill the void of their key forward.
Forward Ash Johnson is the standout answer to the McStay question, having shown more than enough guile at AFL level over his two-and-a-half seasons in the black and white.
2023 saw the mature-aged recruit feature in a career-high 15 games, kicking at least one goal in 13 of those appearances for a return of 21 total majors.
While not an identical fix to replace McStay, Johnson can fill a similar role in being a key link-up player in Collingwood's front half with his strong aerial ability and clean kicking, still allowing Brody Mihocek and Jamie Elliott to be the key cogs for Craig McRae attacking system.
With the opportunity there for the taking for Johsnon, the upside-high athletic forward could be the breakout player for the Magpies in 2024.
Similar can be said of Reef McInnes. After playing the 11 games over the past two years, McInnes has only shown glimpses of his best football at the top level.
McRae was particularly excited by the Next Generation Academy graduate's potential ahead of the 2023 campaign, however, the form of an eventual premiership-winning forward line left the 20-year-old to feature in just five matches.
Four of those came either as the sub or with McInnes subbed out of the game, playing an average of 40.2 per cent time on ground. His season-opening performance against Geelong amassed just four disposals, but came with two goals and with McInnes initially ahead of Johnson in the selection pecking order.
Goalless in his last three matches, McInnes was forced to predominantly ply his trade in the VFL - where he'd have no issue in impacting the score to boot 32 goals from 15 games.
Fellow fringe forward Nathan Kreuger is the third horse in this race, with injury an often cause for why his time in McRae's plans have been limited.
Shoulder issues kept Kreuger to just five games in his first season with the Magpies last year, with his 2023 campaign concluding with a pair of appearances as the sub in two finals matches.
A pre-season setback would see the former Geelong tall play close to half a game over his two appearances in the opening half of the season, while his VFL form rivalled McInnes' with 24 goals from 14 matches.
Kreuger may have an advantage over Johnson and McInnes given his ability to pinch-hit in the ruck or even drift behind the ball as a defensive stopper for McRae.
The Magpies have until February 19 to add to their list via the SSP, and with three currently open list spots the reigning premiers can have up to six players taking part in their pre-season program.
McStay's injury can also allow the club to open a fourth list vacancy by moving the 28-year-old to the inactive list.
Teakle looms as a likely addition for the Magpies given his versatility and upside, having joined the Power as the eighth overall pick in last year's Mid-Season Draft. Teakle made the move to Alberton from East Fremantle as one of the leading forward-ruck hybrids out of the WAFL, while Port Adelaide trialled the 203cm talent as a defender at the state league level this year.
The towering Teakle is likely to be ahead of Eyre if viewed as McStay's replacement, with Eyre more recently used as a backman for Collingwood's VFL side this year.
The 21-year-old made the transition to the backline after splitting his time at either end of the field for the Bombers' reserves side across his two seasons at Tullamarine.
Collingwood's recruitment scope could extend to other ex-AFL players who are looking for a new home, with several delisted names potentially suitable for a train-on spot with the Magpies.
Stewart is still on the hunt for a new club after he was paid out by Essendon for the final year of his contract, while Greene was the only other tall forward who featured at AFL level this year - playing 11 games for Hawthorn, booting 15 goals.
McLaughlin took out the Frosty Miller Medal this year as the VFL's leading goalkicker, while Bradtke booted 24 goals for Richmond at the same level before leaving Punt Road after one year with the Tigers.
Edwards didn't amass a debut over two-and-a-half years with North Melbourne, while Voss' services could be swept up before Collingwood have a chance given he is currently training with Fremantle in pursuit of a career lifeline.
Should the 2023 Essendon VFL best and fairest winner fail to earn a contract with the Dockers, the Magpies could come calling for the 20-year-old following his 30-goal season in the state league.
Collingwood signed premiership defender Oleg Markov via the SSP following his training stint with Carlton earlier this year, while the Blues added ruckman Hudson O'Keeffe in the same window following the youngster's trial with Essendon. West Coast swooped on former Tiger Patrick Naish last year after his trial block with St Kilda prior to the 2022 season.
Other stop-gap state league forwards the Magpies could consider include Werribee's Hudson Garoni, former Port Adelaide and Geelong-listed tall Wylie Buzza, Glenelg pair Lachie Hosie and Liam McBean, and West Perth's Tyler Keitel.
Richmond have added East Perth youngster Mitch Schofield to their own SSP training list, with the 22-year-old another name the Magpies could consider if a list spot doesn't arise for the train-on prospect.
Craig McRae could be prepared to move some magnets in his bid to find McStay's replacement, with the Collingwood coach not short on flexible fixes.
Premiership defender Billy Frampton has played the majority of his career as a tall forward and was required as an attacking target on a number of occasions this year when McRae was forced to shuffle his stocks.
The potential acquisition of the aforementioned Teakle could see a similar move made and help spread Collingwood's ruck-forward balance across three players instead of two.
The Magpies will also have emerging talls Aiden Begg and Oscar Steene champing at the bit to get some AFL experience under their belt, however further time developing their craft is likely required before a call-up for either comes to fruition.
Veteran Jeremy Howe proved to be a viable forward threat in spurts this year, booting seven goals across three games where he was utilised in the front third.
194cm wingman Ed Allan proved to be an astute medium-sized forward in his draft run and could be another outside chance for the Magies to consider pushing forward.