List management the coach-killer at Collingwood

Cameron Rose Columnist

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    Nathan Buckley’s position as coach of the Collingwood Football Club has been one of the biggest stories in football since before he even had the job.

    After a stellar playing career, Buckley was Collingwood’s (and Eddie McGuire’s) favourite son and widely accepted as having one of the finest football minds in the game.

    He was to be a sought after senior coach thanks to his outstanding pedigree, high character, and impressive public communications.

    In essence, McGuire was terrified that Buckley would be lost to the Magpies. He thus manufactured an agreement that would see Buckley take over as senior coach from Mick Malthouse at the end of the 2011 season, after a couple of years as an assistant.

    The fall from grace since has been slow, but remarkably steady. From taking over a grand final side that was the 11th oldest list in the competition in 2011 and full of potential, Buckley has led Collingwood to a series of seasons where each year’s win tally has been lower than the last – 17, 14, 11, 10, 9.

    They have won five games in 2017, and are long odds to go higher than 2016’s figure. It has been an inexorable decline.

    Here’s the thing about the Magpies in Buckley’s time in charge – they’ve drafted too many average players, and more than that, they’ve actively sought average players from other clubs. Hence, they are mired in mediocrity.

    Let’s look back in a year-by-year breakdown of who has walked in the door.

    Year 1 – 2012
    Collingwood gave up their first pick to GWS to get access to Jamie Elliott and welcome Marty Clarke back to the club after a return to his native Ireland. They also brought in Jackson Paine, Corey Gault, Jarrod Witts and Peter Yagmoor.

    Clarke, Gault and Yagmoor were complete busts.

    Witts is showing the type of honest ruckman that he is up at the Gold Coast, but he could never establish himself at the Pies with Brodie Grundy a young star. Witts’ exit gave Collingwood the draft picks they needed to secure father-sons Callum Brown and Josh Daicos, so that looks like a win-win.

    Paine was no good, and couldn’t even provide any value when traded out for Patrick Karnezis, who was a dud as well.

    Elliott is a dead-set gun, and is one of Collingwood’s most important few players. Still, he is only one lonely tick from the first draft class of Buckley’s reign. It was the only year the Pies didn’t bring in players from other clubs.

    Brodie Grundy of the Magpies (left) and Matthew Boyd of the Bulldogs contest

    Year 2 – 2013
    Collingwood were loaded going into the 2012 draft. Three top 20 selections after a top-four finish meant both the present and the future looked incredibly bright.

    Brodie Grundy, Ben Kennedy and Tim Broomhead were taken with the Pies’ trio of picks at 18, 19 and 20. Grundy is a clear win, having become one of the best ruckmen in the competition.

    Kennedy has gone from fringe player at the Pies to a non-event at Melbourne, but his departure at the end of 2015 saw Jeremy Howe acquired, so that draft pick was an ultimate success. Broomhead is yet to establish himself after five years on the list.

    Jackson Ramsey was drafted at pick 38, and has played in Round 1 three times for Collingwood, and is thus clearly rated internally. But he has only played 17 games in five years and has already been dropped four times this season, so his career looks at the crossroads.

    Marley Williams has been and gone, with nothing in return. Quinten Lynch, Clinton Young and Jordan Russell were brought in from other clubs. None served with any distinction, and all are now gone. What was the point?

    Year 3 – 2014
    Collingwood were sliding down the ladder, but the premium picks kept on coming, with two top 10 selections in the 2013 draft.

    Matthew Scharenberg was taken at pick six and has played eight games in his four seasons, having been cursed by injuries. He still looks likely to make the grade if his body can hold up. Nathan Freeman was taken at pick 10, and has since gone to St Kilda, but is yet to play a senior game.

    To get eight games out of a possible 162 from two top ten draft picks is a huge blow.

    There was a huge influx of players outside of these high draft picks. Tom Langdon and Jonathon Marsh were taken late. Langdon reads the play well, and has also been injured after a bright start to his career, but has question marks over his decision-making and skill with ball in hand. Marsh is no longer at the club.

    Four recycled players came to the Pies – Taylor Adams, Jesse White, Patrick Karnezis and Tony Armstrong. It’s not an illustrious list.

    Adams is a bit of a symbol for Collingwood’s time under Buckley – an absolute work horse who gives his all, but whose kicking continues to let him and his side down.

    White has long been a whipping boy, and it seems his cards have been marked. Karnezis and Armstrong are gone.

    Dayne Beams with possession for Brisbane Lions

    Year 4 – 2015
    Another year. Another draft of multiple first round picks. Another two selections in the top ten.

    Admittedly, one of them was compensation for losing Dayne Beams, one of the elite players in the competition, and just as importantly a highly skilled user of the ball, which the football world were beginning to realise the Pies had in short supply. Unfortunately, the Collingwood football department did not.

    Jordan De Goey was taken at pick five, and Darcy Moore was a father-son selection at pick nine. Both look like they’ll spend a decade or more at the Pies, and can be considered wins.

    Brayden Maynard was taken at pick 30 in the 2014 draft, and at the time of writing has played 33 consecutive games at senior level. He produces more heart attacks in Collingwood supporters than they would like thanks to his glaring clangers, but experience should reduce those, and he’s on track.

    Matthew Goodyear was taken at pick 48 and played two games before being jettisoned.

    More recycling was taking place, and the Pies brought in Jack Crisp as part of the Beams deal with Brisbane, Levi Greenwood from North, and Travis Varcoe from Geelong as part of letting Heritier Lumumba go to Melbourne.

    Crisp and Greenwood were basically the same player, even down to their preferred kicking foot – pressuring, run-with type midfielders with below average skills. This was a killer in list management strategy, given that a lack of class was already a glaring hole in the squad.

    Crisp at least had youth on his side, and was entitled to develop. Greenwood was coming off a career peak that was likely to be an outlier and has turned out that way, and the Pies were buying at the highest possible point.

    Varcoe addressed the lack of rebounding skill the Pies had, but he, like Greenwood, had a troubled injury history, and both have brought those problems with them. Varcoe was never a high possession winner or huge influencer, and so it has proven at Collingwood despite playing some nice footy early, averaging less than 16 touches a game.

    Year 5 – 2016
    Adam Treloar was the story for Collingwood heading into 2016, the biggest name recruit in Buckley’s time at the helm, and a player who was supposed to propel the Pies back up the ladder. It hasn’t happened.

    Treloar can be one of the most explosive players in the AFL, and every year we see him burst out of stoppages, run and bounce before ramming home goals from outside fifty. But he can be both panicked and lazy by foot, which his side simply can’t afford given how often he gets the ball.

    Brayden Sier was taken at pick 32 in the 2015 draft, but is yet to be seen. Tom Phillips was pick 58 and looks a win at this stage given he has established himself already as a hard runner with good skills. Rupert Wills and Ben Crocker were other late picks that have had some exposure at senior level. Wills won’t make it. Crocker might.

    Jeremy Howe came to the club along with Treloar, and has been a clear winner in his half-back position as one of Collingwood’s most consistent players since his arrival.

    James Aish also came in, from Brisbane, amid much publicity. His hasn’t justified his original selection as a top 10 pick at the Lions, and is a soft outside player who doesn’t get much of the ball. The Pies gave up two mid-second round picks for him, and have lost out on the deal.

    Adam Treloar Collingwood Magpies AFL 2016

    2017 – Year 6
    It’s obviously too early to assess the draftees in their first year on the list, but the story of the most recent off-season was Collingwood once again going down the track of recruiting tried players from other clubs.

    Chris Mayne was signed on a big four-year deal, and in my Collingwood season preview I wrote that he “will go down as one of the worst four-year signings in the history of football, if not the history of sport”. I stand by every word.

    Daniel Wells played about 40 per cent of matches in his last three years at North, yet was signed to a three-year deal despite being 32 at the start of this season. He’s played, yep, 40 per cent of the games so far in 2017, and that percentage isn’t going to be any higher by Round 23.

    Lynden Dunn came across from Melbourne, with an abject sense of timing as far as his career is concerned. He’s a jobber, as far as key position defenders go. Will Hoskin-Elliott has been the success story, playing career-best football. At the least, the Pies were due to get an injury-riddled crock on the park consistently. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

    Recycling rejects has been a trademark of Buckley’s time as senior coach of Collingwood, and frankly the list management has been abhorrent.

    Across 2013-14, seven players were brought in from other clubs, for six clear failures. That sort of strike rate kills coaches, given it means they are actively bringing in list cloggers.

    In terms of the draft in those years, we’re looking at one rock solid win in that period, from five top 20 picks and ten selections used overall. There should be a host of players entering the prime of their careers and shaping games in their fourth and fifth seasons, but instead there is only Brodie Grundy.

    They are the two years that have crippled Nathan Buckley.

    The decision-making to bring in injury-riddled players from other clubs has been another coach-killer. Buckley must wear the blame for those decisions.

    When you draft kids that end up having injury problems, that can be lived with. You hope the rewards come as their bodies mature. When you actively bring in players that have a long history of missing games, while you have some injury-prone kids on your list, then you’re just asking for trouble. You don’t get to cry poor when the inevitable happens.

    In terms of gameday coaching, Buckley’s teams have possessed the ball more the further down the ladder they have fallen. Given how unreliable by foot so many of their players are, this is a recipe for disaster. They are simply providing more chances to turn the ball over without gaining any ground in the meantime.

    Taylor Adams, despite his dodgy disposal, has been asked to play a more outside game in recent weeks, all of them losses. He’s a clearance and contested ball winner by trade. That’s bad coaching.

    Indirect ball movement and over-possession can be linked to having barely one AFL-standard key forward to call on. Even then, Darcy Moore is being asked to shoulder too much too soon in his career, and anyway, he is more Jack Watts than Jesse Hogan.

    Again, list management.

    The fall of Collingwood, when it seemed on the verge of a dynasty, is almost complete. It has been orchestrated from within, and looking back, has been so calculated that it’s as if a double agent from Carlton, Richmond or Essendon has been pulling the strings.

    Hawthorn won three premierships in a row thanks to a gameplan geared toward pristine kicking skills. At the same time, Collingwood were bringing in both draftees and recruits whom Alastair Clarkson wouldn’t let in the door.

    Collingwood’s list failure has been systemic, and Nathan Buckley will pay the price.

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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