After such a strong 2023 campaign, the Magpies seemed destined to be bigger and better in season 2024. The Pies looked very strong throughout last season, culminating in a premiership win, their first in 13 years.

In the off-season, the Pies added Lachie Schultz to their list whilst losing premiership player Jack Ginnivan and midfield bull Taylor Adams. Other than Ginnivan, the grand final squad was unchanged heading into 2024.

The 2023 Magpies played with flair, took the game on and never stopped running. In 2024, it seems that all those traits have disappeared. In each of the Pies' three losses, poor fundamentals have let them down repeatedly. Veterans missing handballs from five metres away, shocking inside 50 entries and general loss in the clearance, the players simply don't look up to it.

Collingwood's mantra in 2023 was to 'take the steps', as Craig McRae put it. Get through each game and give it everything no matter what.

In the 'Take the Steps' documentary, we got to see a glimpse of the club behind closed doors and see what went into the Pies' season. The players all seemed like one connected unit, a family under McRae. The Pies coach calling the team his "44 sons" only exemplified this view.

So without being too harsh, here are some of the possible reasons as to why the Pies are underperforming.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Darcy Moore of the Magpies and Craig McRae, Senior Coach of the Magpies celebrate with the premiership cup during the 2023 AFL Grand Final match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Brisbane Lions at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on September 30, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

To put it simply, the effort simply isn't there. At times, the entire team looks lackadaisical and slow, a far cry from the force they were in 2023. After a turnover, there's no run or desire to win the ball back, rather a look of complacency whilst play continues. Some of the second efforts have been appalling from players all over the field. There's no hunt, no desire and no attack on the footy.

There's been glimpses of the teams' ferocity at times. In the Round 2 loss to the Saints, Schultz smothered the footy on the wing, setting up a Bobby Hill goal on the counterattack. This was the highlight play of the night for the Magpies in a poor performance overall.

The once-connected squad looks anything but in 2024. Moving the ball in transition was one of the team's major strengths, now it's one of their biggest flaws. How a squad can seemingly regress overnight must have a valid explanation. Of course, there's no way to know what is going on inside the club, and judgment can only come from what's been seen on-field in the first three games.

Although only two players are missing from their best side, they seem more important than ever at the moment. Defender Nathan Murphy is still battling concussion issues whilst forward Dan McStay remains sidelined while recovering from an ACL injury. Murphy was an integral part of the Magpies' back six and his absence is visible. Darcy Moore and Jeremy Howe have it all to do defensively and are making uncharacteristically poor mistakes. Charlie Dean had an okay spell in the seniors for the first two games before being dropped in favour of premiership player Billy Frampton.

Bringing in Frampton seemed to help somewhat, the former Crow played his best game for the club against the Saints. He rotated on Max King and Tim Membrey for most of the night, racking up six marks and 15 disposals in the process.

McStay is a huge out structurally for the side. His importance was exemplified in the club's preliminary final win over the Giants last season. Without a tall target, the undersized Magpies' forward line can't get a hold of the game. Mason Cox and Darcy Cameron are swung forward at times throughout each game on a rotating basis, but even the small forwards can't aid as the ball rarely comes to the ground.

In 2023, the undersized forward line wasn't much of an issue. The pressure of the midfield and small forwards was enough to lock the ball in their forward 50. Pressure and run allowed them to score at will last year rather than the need for a tall target. Without that pressure, the forward line is almost non-existent.

Some of the veterans in the squad do look a step slow. This can be explained quite easily - father time is not kind. The reality is that champions age. Scott Pendlebury is now 36, Steele Sidebottom and Mason Cox are 33, Jeremy Howe will be 33, and Jamie Elliott will be 32. There's no question that these players have done wonders for the club in the past few years, but age is visibly catching up to them.

That's not to say that they can't still provide something for the club at the pointy end of their careers, however, it wouldn't be the end of the world if some youth was injected into the side. Players like Finlay Macrae, Ed Allan, Jakob Ryan and Reef McInnes have all shown talent at the VFL level, the latter in McInnes having played on numerous occasions in the senior side.

The next generation of players should be getting some game time now. By easing them in, it'll make the transition much smoother when the time comes for the veterans to hang up their boots.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 15: Lachie Schultz of the Magpies kicks a goal during the round one AFL match between Collingwood Magpies and Sydney Swans at Melbourne Cricket Ground, on March 15, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

As for what the Magpies can do now to turn things around? There's no definitive answer. If they can find that drive and hunger that made them so great last season, they can start putting some wins on the board.

Get back to basics and work on fundamentals. Speed up the game a little and move the ball through the corridor, not the kick and mark slow build-up on the wing that doesn't work. Of course, adding Murphy and hopefully McStay will help, but it starts with the team they have right now.

If McRae's men get that trademark flair going again, the Magpies will be back.