As the 2024 season approaches, there are many things for Collingwood fans to be excited about.
Scott Pendlebury being on the precipice of 400 AFL games is one thing, having numerous marquee games including being part of the inaugural Opening Round is another, while there are countless other moments to come in what is a much-anticipated season.
But around the top of that list is also the emergence of a pair of 21-year-olds – one a forward, one a midfielder, and together a best mate pairing - in Finlay Macrae and Reef McInnes.
While they were drafted together in 2020 with picks 19 and 23 respectively, the duo’s history dates further back having grown up playing sport both with and against each other, with their careers also correlating regularly.
“I’ve known Fin all of my life, I’ve always played against him and as we got older, we started playing alongside each other at Oakleigh and Vic Metro,” McInnes said.
“A lot of the days we drive in together so everything he knows, I know, and vice versa. Whatever gets said we usually go off each other’s opinions which makes the whole process easier.”
“I’ve known Reef for a long time and played either with him or against him in footy and cricket,” Macrae said.
“We drive in and home together most days and it’s good to talk to someone in a similar position to you. It certainly helps when you have that sort of connection with someone.”
The close relationship between the two is what’s making the journey into their fourth season on the list all the more special.
Having caught the eye of many this pre-season – McInnes most pertinently in a Scott Pendlebury-led appraisal during match simulation – the pair are ready and waiting for opportunities.
It’s not like they haven’t played at AFL level before - Macrae has 12 career games and McInnes 11 that have included glimpses of their talent - but none of those games have come with both in the side.
“Obviously, you want to play at the highest level and that’s my main goal this year,” McInnes said.
“I don’t think we’ve played an AFL game together so hopefully that happens one day, that can be a little goal for me and him.
“Just in general, it’s nice going through the same pathway as one of your best mates. Externals can say what they want good or bad, but in the end within the Club is where you want to be praised. Hopefully, me and Finn can train well and hopefully play and few games together this year.”
Macrae especially has been knocking down the door for some time, having won the Club’s VFL Best and Fairest in 2022, while he averaged over 26 touches to be part of the VFL Team of the Year squad last season.
But despite this, Macrae has never wanted to be anything he’s not.
Focussing on consistency and output, the midfielder knows he’s ready for when further chances arise.
“It’s all about just being consistent. The last couple of years you’re just trying to play your best and not try do anything too special and hopefully the results take care of themselves,” he said.
“We ‘ve got a great VFL program, Josh Fraser does a great job in terms of keeping the relationships very strong because it is hard sometimes, you have 20 boys playing VFL who want to play AFL.
“It’s about trying to do your best and not do anything out of the ordinary, just giving yourself the best chance to play AFL.
“It felt like there were a lot of boys in similar positions last year and it’s a strong unit which means a healthy footy club when you’re like that so just keep trying and see what happens from there.”
McInnes is one of those similar players, having kicked 32 goals in the VFL last season to top the team’s count, while featuring at AFL level five times.
But he knows that doesn’t mean things will transfer automatically should he establish his place in the AFL side, prepared to continued riding the wave and improving each week.
“I just control what I can control. I’m really enjoying footy right now and I’m just happy to be injury free and be happy in a space where people value you,” he said.
“But it’s only training, you’ve got to perform on game day.
“Playing above the standard is the main goal for most of the boys on an AFL list in the VFL. I enjoy it and I’m playing with some of my best mates and most of the games are pretty fun.
“It’s awesome to finally get into match simulation, every pre-season is hard no matter what club you’re at, but we’ve really come back fit and strong and I’m looking forward to the season ahead.”