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The real problem with Nathan Buckley’s coaching

Collingwood's Nathan Buckley is under contrasting pressure to Carlton's Brendon Bolton. (AAP Image/David Crosling)
Roar Pro
20th April, 2016
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2911 Reads

Nathan Buckley’s coaching career has come under more fire this week after his side produced another mediocre performance against an improving Melbourne Demons outfit.

From the midway point of last season, the Magpies have won only three of their last 15 games. Buckley has inherited a squad from Mick Malthouse that was brimming with top four potential, coming off the back of a 2010 premiership and a minor premiership in 2011.

He may as well start booking his 2016 September holiday now.

It’s easy to point out the lack of results and lead the ‘sack Buckley’ war cry, but where is it actually going wrong for him?

If you look at the statistical breakdown of the 2010 side under Mick Malthouse, compared to today’s team under Buckley, there’s a significant worrying trend. Collingwood don’t run with the ball anymore.

In 2010, Collingwood’s regular half back flankers were Heath Shaw and Heritier Lumumba, who have both moved on to other clubs in the Buckley reign.

In 2010 they averaged 3.7 and 2.9 bounces per game. In 2009, Shaw recorded an incredible 167 bounces in a season at average of eight a game.

After four rounds in the 2016 season, Adam Treloar leads this stat category for the Magpies with a measly three bounces at 0.8 per game.

So why is this even relevant?

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The current offensive trend in the AFL is to generate a significant portion of your attacking drive from the half back line. This was made particularly popular in 2014 from Port Adelaide’s strong running game under Ken Hinkley.

Other sides have also adapted to this trend very well.

A feature of the GWS Giants’ demolition of the Power on Sunday was the strong ball carry from midfielders such as Dylan Shiel and Stephen Coniglio, and the movement from the backline from Nathan Wilson and Heath Shaw.

The Power looked their best in the game when Jasper Pittard ran with the ball from defence.

A strong running game involves risk, but it’s one of the best ways to take the game on in modern football. It puts the opposition on the back foot through the centre of the ground and possibly explains why midfielders tend to kick more goals in the modern game.

Arguably the most exciting aspect of Collingwood’s play in the Malthouse era was when players like Shaw and Lumumba would run the ball hard through the middle of the ground, then link up well with good ball users such as Dane Swan, Dale Thomas, Scott Pendlebury, Ben Johnson or Alan Didak.

What we see now is a Collingwood side that is void of that creativity.

Buckley’s go to strategy on the weekend when his men were rebounding out of defensive 50 seemed to be to simply bomb it long down the line. Melbourne were then far better when the ball hit the ground, then a number of quick handballs allowed them to move the ball quickly through the centre to produce quality entries inside their forward 50.

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A default strategy to kick long down the line will probably cut it in local football, but your coaching panel needs to have more imagination at the top level.

Collingwood have flirted with the idea of placing Pendlebury at half back this season, but then confusingly had Jesse White start the game on the half back flank in the clash against the Demons.

Collingwood needs to ask themselves, do we have a legitimate offensive strategy from half back? Who are our running defenders? Who are we moulding into this role?

Shaw and Lumumba have left large holes in this area.

Until we start seeing a Collingwood outfit that’s prepared to play a creative and hard running brand of football that takes the game the game on, we can expect to see many more lacklustre performances from the Magpies this season.