Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley says his side's AFL preliminary final loss reflects their season - full of character but never reaching the heights they wanted.
The Magpies were never seriously in the hunt in Friday night's 13.18 (96) to 10.10 (70) loss to Sydney at ANZ Stadium, after the Swans dominated most of the first three quarters.
Collingwood rallied either side of the last change to cut the margin from 42 points to 20 and briefly pose a threat, but the Swans steadied and won comfortably.
The Magpies' season followed a similar pattern, recovering from a heap of early-season long-term injuries and some worrying defeats to manufacture a run of 10 straight wins, only to lose momentum late.
"We were just behind the eight ball from the beginning, we were pushing the proverbial up hill and we just weren't able to get there," Buckley said, initially talking about Friday night's loss.
"But we just didn't give up. We had blokes that still believed that there was a chance.
"For the most part, that's what our season was like.
"We had a patch of wins through the middle there where we were beating sides but we still weren't playing at our best.
"We came into the finals losing two of our last three games to top-eight sides ... if we'd have gone any further we would have been flicking a (form) switch and personally I don't really believe in that.
"We need to be better and find momentum earlier in the home and away to be able to give ourselves the best chance coming into September."
The Magpies' preliminary final exit meant they missed the grand final for the first time in three years.
Despite the large number of long-term injuries they copped, Buckley said the club had to improve and work out why their depth, player development and tactical planning was not good enough to cope slightly better.
But he said their character was not in question, particularly during the finals, when they were also rocked by the death of former teammate John McCarthy.
"I've got great pride in the playing group and the leaders within it," Buckley said.
"All of our players have got great character, great competitiveness and I've got no doubt that we can achieve great things in the future because of that, because that is the basis for anything that we'll do in the future."