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Pride played a big part in Pies’ Buckley reappointment

All smiles. Nathan Buckley and Collingwood president Eddie McGuire at Monday’s announcement of Buckley’s reappointment. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Pride played a big part in Pies’ Buckley reappointment

Rohan Connolly    

It’s a week more than a year now since Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley, asked on 1116 SEN whether he’d still be in the job if the Magpies didn’t make the finals this year, had a categorical answer.

“There’s no way,” he said emphatically. “Is that saying something that someone else doesn’t think?” Well, no, not really.

If you’d suggested then that Collingwood would subsequently miss finals for a fourth year in a row, record its lowest finish of 13th for more than a decade, yet Buckley would be reappointed on a two-year deal, you’d have been little short of certified.

Yet here we are, Buckley now officially reappointed for his seventh and eighth years in the job, the Magpies having gone from a flag and second under Mick Malthouse to, under Buckley, fourth, eighth, 11th, 12th, 12th and 13th.

What’s changed? Judging from the news conference announcing the re-signing on Monday, an entire club has had a pretty rude wake-up call. But there were interesting differences in how that was conceded.

Typically honest, Buckley admitted his own words had essentially hoisted him by his own petard, that a club review that looked beyond just the coaching position and unearthed a range of problems had pretty much saved his bacon, and that the perennially lofty goals Collingwood set were an in issue in itself, “a hurdle you trip over” as he put it. “I think in many ways we got our expectations wrong,” Buckley said.

President Eddie McGuire, sitting next to Buckley, wasn’t nearly so blunt, having earlier in the announcement adapted Donald Trump’s slogan to “make Collingwood great again”.

Is Buckley fortunate to have kept his job? Of course. Has the pride of a club and its president played a major part? You’d be stretching credibility to suggest otherwise.

The much-vaunted handover of the coaching position from Malthouse to Buckley eight years ago created a potential millstone for both the club and its chairman which has weighed heavier with each passing year.

Were Buckley removed from his post, the admission of defeat would have tainted perceptions of Collingwood for some time, but McGuire’s public legacy for far longer, perhaps permanently.

That’s a sobering possibility to deal with when you’re doing the hiring and firing. McGuire has said repeatedly that if he was convinced dispensing with Buckley would improve Collingwood he’d do it in a heartbeat.

But at a sub-conscious level, how could the personal consequences of such a decision not compromise and serve to rationalise any decision to sack or not to sack? Particularly for someone whose hits and misses have been for so long played out in the public arena like McGuire’s have?

Not that the other associated complications surrounding Buckley haven’t been real. Like the revolving door of football managers over the past few years. An assistant coaching crew which has tended to involve mates and “good blokes” as much as the best available talent.

Buckley said on Monday he’d enjoyed this year of coaching more than any other. But that has to be more about personal growth than growth in the position. Because anyway you dice it, Collingwood has had fewer excuses this season than any other under his reign.

There were still injuries, but not as many as in previous seasons. There were recruiting and list decisions which reflected an inner belief that the Magpies were close to success, in the shape of another swag of trade-ins, two of which, in Chris Mayne and Daniel Wells, have been costly and spectacular disasters.

The failure to provide young key forward Darcy Moore with enough tall support other than Jesse White and an American-born ruckman still learning the game in Mason Cox was another.

And there’s been performances which, while consistently competitive, have far too often failed to get the points.

Buckley as good as conceded that the Pies’ improved showing over the last seven games of the season, in which they won four games, drew another and were close enough in two defeats, had saved him.

But after 15 games, Collingwood was 5-10, having just lost four in a row. Only the last of those 10 losses was by any more than 31 points.

The naysayers would argue, with some justification, that a team good enough to stay competitive but not win would appear to have more of a coaching problem than one getting routinely thrashed, the insufficient talent on the books a more obvious explanation.

The Magpies have always looked capable when taking risks, moving the ball quickly and attacking. But in so many games this year that seemed to play second fiddle to retaining possession, inching their way forward and compromising their scoring chances when the ball finally got inside 50. That has to be a coaching issue.

You always had the feeling while the speculation about Buckley’s future mounted that if Collingwood could land yet another “big fish” like an Alastair Clarkson or Paul Roos, it would jump at the chance.

And you still feel like Collingwood thinks it cannot put its “hugeness” on hold, bite the bullet and appoint someone of a lower profile with an extensive and successful coaching background at a lower level, as Carlton was eventually forced to do in appointing Brendon Bolton.

The much-discussed internal review has involved a degree of pride swallowing, an admission that there has been much lacking in Collingwood’s football structure. But not nearly so much as would have been gulped in Buckley’s sacking. And however the next two seasons pan out, it seems clear that pride, both personal and that of an entire club, has played a huge part in his reappointment.

  1. Great analysis Rohan, love reading your work

    As a lifelong Collingwood fan I was a huge fan of Bucks as a player and I would love to see him win a premierships as our coach because I think he deserved a win for his efforts in ’02. Sadly, his coaching to date has not been a great success

    One theory I’ve heard is that he is natural driven to succeed but this means he doesn’t understand players who don’t have his level of internal motivation and he doesn’t know how to motivate them.

    What do you think?

  2. Rohan Connolly

    I think that was certainly the case early on in his days as on-field captain, you’d think that learning would help as a coach. Perhaps the “people management” side of things is an issue, great football minds (which he has) don’t automatically translate into a capacity to read different personality types and elicit the best from them.

  3. Someone should ask Eddie if he thinks Buckley would have been a better coach if he had coached his own team before taking this role years ago. If the answer is yes then why didn’t it happen? If the answer is no then both should go.

  4. Firstly, thank you yet again for an honest and heartfelt and clever piece. I wish many more years of great writing!

    Buckley’s reappointment is an absolutely insane decision. I am a lifelong Collingwood fan, I’m not a hater, but if you can’t raise your hand saying “yeah, we stick together but gee it would help if the pack leader had less of a bloody ego”. Why does “stick together” mean do it my way or you’re a traitor? Bucks was an amazing player, is a legend and has a lot to contribute but 5 years sad, sad years of lost opportunities, wasted playing talent, and for what?

    Essendon hits rock bottom and is now in the 8. Hawthorn rebuilt in ONE season!! Swans lost 6 and are amongst the favourites. This is not Richmond, we cannot use them as an example because there were clearly internal tensions on so many levels.

    Narcissism is consistent worldwide – look at Trump – and narcissists never learn and never admit their mistakes. The first call years ago that put Bucks in charge was a shocker but after 5 years of consistent misery, we are told “stick together but do it my way”. Yeah, I’ll be back next season as always but what a seriously stupid mistake.

    You ask: “Is Buckley fortunate to have kept his job? Of course.” That is the understatement of the year and rivals Trump’s claims to having record crowds at his inauguration. Who, besides him, would believe that? To claim as Eddie has that booting out Malthouse – having made two grand finals in a row! – was absolutely correct, 100% is similarly delusional and Bucks is more than fortunate to be still there.

  5. He may have a great football mind, but so far he has been found out tactically, he seems to be slow to react, set in his ways and hence not very dynamic in this thinking. Often it seems like he can at times have a fairly good A plan, but when it doesn’t work… where is the B plan? Take some risks, experiment with the list, tweak it. There are many many other things we could talk about but we’re trying to keep an open mind and move forward for a bad situation. The supporters will clearly remain divided unless there is a serious change in ‘constancy and vision’ so until then, he’s just warming the seat and the mob will continue to fester.

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