STEVE Symonds has a finals habit he doesn't plan to kick any time soon.
Collingwood's new AFLW coach has finished in the top three in each of his three seasons in charge of women's teams.
Symonds led Norwood to the first SANFLW premiership in 2017, before the Redlegs finished runners-up in 2018 after losing the Grand Final by only five points, and this year they were minor premiers before going down in the preliminary final by just two points.
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The 48-year-old arrived at Collingwood at a critical juncture in the Magpies' embryonic AFLW history because, while he has never missed the finals as a women's coach, the Pies have never made them in three attempts. And last year they were wooden spooners.
Success has already followed Symonds to the Holden Centre. After relocating to Melbourne in July he joined the club's VFLW campaign and helped steer it to the premiership.
A lot of water needs to flow under the Swan Street bridge before the Magpies' AFLW team enters premiership contention, but with the new Symonds-led regime orchestrating a significant staff makeover and devising a new program, and the playing list being strengthened by the recruitment of former Carlton captain Bri Davey and the return of young gun Chloe Molloy, the club's first finals series appears a distinct possibility.
Impressed by what he has observed in his first pre-season at the club, Symonds can envision his team making a sudden leap into the top bracket.
"The club has made a decision to bring in change so we certainly don't want to be sitting down the bottom of the ladder like last year. We think we can take steps forward in everything we do," Symonds told womens.afl during his first pre-season at Collingwood.
"The conference we're in is pretty open, so it gives us a look. If we're good enough we'll get there, and if not we've got a bit of work to do.
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"We're pretty optimistic with the group we've got that we can take some strides very, very quickly. Everyone wants to play finals and not playing finals is something I'm not used to, so it will certainly be a goal of ours to get there."
Symonds will first need to rectify the Pies' notoriously slow starts. In their three seasons they have slumped to at least 0-3 each time. Last year they were 0-6 before finally scraping home for a win in the final round.
As disappointing as that was, three of those losses were by single-figure margins, two of them to eventual finalists in runner-up Carlton and Fremantle.
Once again, the coach is determined to transfer his early-season fortunes from Norwood to Collingwood.
"From my previous experiences, in the three years I was at Norwood we really set ourselves for the start of the season and always won in round one, and it immediately put our season on a positive footing each time. Hopefully we can replicate that at Collingwood," he said.
"Our whole mindset is to be really bold and that flows right through the way we play, the way we train, and the decisions we make within our club such as going up to the NT and recruiting a Machaelia Roberts, so we'll go into round one with that bold mindset and we'll continue with that, win, lose or draw."
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The Pies will probably never get a better chance to break their round one hoodoo given they will host new team West Coast at their spiritual home Victoria Park on the afternoon of Sunday, February 9.
"Hopefully there are a few things in our favour – we've got a home game, we're playing a new team that probably haven't played much together, and they'll also be travelling," he said.
"We want to be on the front foot rather than be reactive. We're just focusing on ourselves and not really taking much notice of what other teams are doing."
Symonds, who also has several SANFL assistant coaching stints under his belt, said that whenever there is change there is some initial "uneasiness", but enthused that his players had embraced his methods and game style changes.
Most notably, he wants his team to become aggressive both with and without the ball: a physical, high-pressure unit that plays free-flowing, up-tempo football.
"We started to see elements of both of those things in the VFL and we're building on that now and it's really exciting," he said.
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It's a style that requires greater running power and, to that end, Symonds was pleased that, in comparison to previous years, his players returned to training "in really good shape ahead of time".
The Pies also plan to unleash their huge additions, Davey and Molloy, in the midfield to address their contested ball issues. Molloy, who starred in 2017 at half-back, will also spend time in attack.
"We want to be as flexible as we can but we envision Chloe playing midfield/forward, and it gives us great flexibility with (reigning club champion) Jaimee Lambert able to do the same thing," Symonds said.