Collingwood to play finals? They’ve got Buckley’s chance

Josh Elliott Editor

By Josh Elliott, Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor

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    2017 is shaping as a make-or-break year for Nathan Buckley and the Collingwood Magpies, after a controversial five-year tenure so far for the club’s favourite son.

    Much has been said about Collingwood’s position in the competition, the list decisions they’ve made since Buckley took over, and whether or not they should continue down their current path.

    However, the bigger question to ask is what path that really is.

    Not too long ago, the Pies were investing in youth – now they’re investing in Chris Mayne, Daniel Wells and Lynden Dunn.

    Everyone loves seeing their club bring in a few off-season recruits, because it gives hope for the year ahead – but it also builds expectation.

    Collingwood have been active in recent trade periods, making plenty of noise, and they are a club that makes more noise than most when they move, a result of their size and stridency.

    They have 12 players from other clubs on their list, the equal-third most, behind Carlton (16) and St Kilda (13).

    Under Buckley, these are the players Collingwood have recruited through trade or free agency: Quinten Lynch, Clinton Young, Jordan Russell, Jesse White, Taylor Adams, Patrick Karnezis, Travis Varcoe, Levi Greenwood, Jeremy Howe, Adam Treloar, James Aish, Daniel Wells, Chris Mayne, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Lynden Dunn.

    Who on that list could, beyond doubt, be called a hit? Adams and Treloar certainly, but that’s all. Varcoe, Howe and Aish have all shown enough to still potentially be good decisions – and the last four are unknowns.

    When you make that much of a splash at the trade table, but have such limited success in actually fitting those players into the team in a valuable way, it is only natural that public expectations will balloon way out beyond what is reasonable.

    That is what has happened at Collingwood – last year and this year again they have pressure from pundits to play finals, when really there is no good reason to expect that.

    In words that will be repeated ad nauseam throughout the season, Buckley himself has said that he doesn’t expect to keep his job if he misses finals again in 2017. He is out of contract.

    That really doesn’t seem like a logical expectation for Collingwood. They are still only the 11th oldest team in the league.

    They have a forward line where no one has ever kicked 40 goals or more in a season, being built around a 21-year-old.

    In the backline, they are reliant on the elite but not-at-all-durable Ben Reid and the rebounding ability of Jeremy Howe. It could be worse, but it could be much, much better.

    The top argument most cite when tipping Collingwood for a finals berth is their star-studded midfield – the No.1 midfield in the comp, many say, including Champion Data.

    However, is that midfield really all it’s cracked up to be? You can rattle off a list of players whose names make the papers a lot, but that doesn’t make it elite.

    Scott Pendlebury is a top ten player in the competition, no doubt, and Adam Treloar is either an A-grader or very much on the cusp of being one.

    At the centre of it is Brodie Grundy in the ruck. He had an excellent finish to the year and will only get better as he matures, Dean Cox-like.

    Brodie Grundy Collingwood Magpies AFL 2016

    But beyond that… Steele Sidebottom? A good bloke to have as your third-best midfielder, no doubt, and the AFL’s No.1 memorable name, but not a regular All-Australian candidate.

    Taylor Adams, Levi Greenwood and Jack Crisp all provide admirable grunt, but there’s a serious lack of creative ability among them.

    Daniel Wells has plenty of that, but has already been ruled out for Round 1 and possibly longer with yet another troublesome injury.

    Beyond that, we’re talking guys like Jordan De Goey, James Aish, Will Hoskin-Elliott – they’ve got the qualities Collingwood needs, but they’re still on their way to being solid AFL players.

    Pendlebury and Treloar might be the best two-man midfield combo in the comp bar ‘Dangerwood’, but when you look beyond that it seems laughable to compare this midfield to the elites like Sydney, the Bulldogs or Greater Western Sydney.

    If you’re going to make finals while having Collingwood’s forward and back situation, that’s the level at which the midfield needs to be.

    This shouldn’t be taken as a put-down for the Pies – I like the team they might be in three to five years, if they make smart decisions from here on out and develop their younger players well.

    However, the virtue of patience is in short supply in the AFL, and nowhere is this truer than at the head of big, proud club like Collingwood.

    It doesn’t help that Buckley has made such bold and controversial decisions in his tenure, reshaping a team that had won a premiership just a year before he took over and seemed primed for more success, into one stuck in the muck of mediocrity.

    Perhaps he would’ve been better off following the example of Chris Scott, who in a similar situation made only a few minor tweaks and instead focused on revitalising his existing talent.

    A regularly-changing parade of football bosses during Buckley’s tenure as senior coach has no doubt made it difficult for he and his players to build a clear and continuous picture of where they are at and what the expectations are.

    In some ways it’s unfair for Buckley to have his head on the chopping block, given where the list is at. However, expectation management is part of the job, and he has no one to blame for being unsuccessful there.

    I’m predicting Collingwood to fall short of finals again in 2017, though not unreasonably so. Nathan Buckley’s dismissal will likely follow. But should it? That, I’m still not sure.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.

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    The Crowd Says (44)

    • March 18th 2017 @ 7:48am
      Hyena said | March 18th 2017 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      Pretty sure I used your headline as a comment in another thread on Collingwobbles missing the finals.

      Personally, I don’t see them anywhere near being competitive. Sure they have some talent here and there, but their gameplan sucks and that’s all on the coach. They are very easy to coach against now that Buckley’s in charge.

      • Editor

        March 19th 2017 @ 5:51am
        Josh Elliott said | March 19th 2017 @ 5:51am | ! Report

        It was something of an obvious one, but I had to do it.

    • March 18th 2017 @ 8:32am
      Bretto said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:32am | ! Report

      Dismantling a very young premiership team to put his own stamp on it has been a complete failure. While he’s been unlucky with injuries, have a look at the talent that has left in Buckley’s tenure compared to what has been brought in. Ouch. Getting progressively worse each year is not the sign of a great coach. Hopefully Roos will be bored by the end of 2017 and ready to coach again.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 9:15am
        Philthy said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:15am | ! Report

        Take a look the article recently ( It appears that Buckley had no choice in dismantling the team because the senior players were loyal to Malthouse. In any corporate environment, when there is a change of leadership, the decks are cleared. The blunder was Eddie appointing Buckley in the first place.

        Listening to Buckley speak about football he is incredibly analytical and focused on structures and games plans first and foremost. It strikes me that he should be doing David King’s job or the lead opposition analyst at a footy club, not the head coach. Compare this to Beveridge who speaks about people first and foremost, with structure and games plans secondary.

        • March 18th 2017 @ 9:42am
          Hassa said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:42am | ! Report

          Man u nailed it philthy, take away buck’s footy commentary style and all are left with is a bottom side.

        • March 18th 2017 @ 3:33pm
          Tricky said | March 18th 2017 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

          Yep the senior players were loyal to MM, already the succession plan has failed before it begins. Maybe Eddie should’ve listened to them and given MM another 2 years.

          It’s folly to argue that a team and coach with the highest ever percentage and 20 wins should oust the coach the next season because you might lose a favourite son to another club. Would be nice if Eddie respected us members and supporters and admitted that he stuffed up.

          • March 19th 2017 @ 8:02pm
            Julian Noel said | March 19th 2017 @ 8:02pm | ! Report

            Yes. Eddy the ego will never put his hand up for this mammoth mistake. From a coach and team that had the best ever season in our history to a team that struggles to win and compete… and a bland and talentless coach. He has no understanding of culture or men.

      • Roar Pro

        March 18th 2017 @ 10:35am
        Jamie Radford said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

        How many of the players that were let go were picked up by other clubs, and of those how many were any good after they left? So far Shaw is the only one. The move revitalised his career, while Collingwood got Adams, which was a win win for both clubs and both players.

      • Editor

        March 19th 2017 @ 5:52am
        Josh Elliott said | March 19th 2017 @ 5:52am | ! Report

        I’d be pretty surprised to see another Roos situation at the Pies – if they do move on from Bucks, it’ll be interesting to see whether they good for experienced or untried.

    • March 18th 2017 @ 9:25am
      Brian said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      I think your underselling mayne and wells. Both top 10 players in 2015 preliminary finalists.

      Aish, adams, and hoskin have talent in spades and could go to treloar level. Pies look set for the 8 to me.

      • Editor

        March 19th 2017 @ 5:53am
        Josh Elliott said | March 19th 2017 @ 5:53am | ! Report

        I like Aish and WHE for potential, Adams I don’t think will be any better than he already is. Doubt any of them will be as well-rounded as Treloar. Wells only played two games in 2015.

    • March 18th 2017 @ 9:53am
      Aransan said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      Your heading reminds me of our school Physics teacher’s written comment to another student in our class:
      “You have two chances of passing this subject — 1) Buckleys, 2) Nunn.”

      I think Collingwood will do OK this year but it won’t be the beginning of a dynasty. The recruiting has a definite short term look about it.

      • Editor

        March 19th 2017 @ 5:54am
        Josh Elliott said | March 19th 2017 @ 5:54am | ! Report

        Ouch! I couldn’t pass up the chance to make a bad joke.

    • Roar Pro

      March 18th 2017 @ 10:36am
      Jamie Radford said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:36am | ! Report

      Disagree with couple of things in there, but all in all pretty accurate description of where the Pies are at. Think if things go their way they can make finals, but will probably end up just falling short – though I hope I’m wrong. Not nearly as bad as what I was expecting Josh!

      • Editor

        March 19th 2017 @ 5:55am
        Josh Elliott said | March 19th 2017 @ 5:55am | ! Report

        Don’t worry Jamie, I’m saving all my vitriol up for a pro-North rant next week.

    • March 18th 2017 @ 1:14pm
      Julian Noel said | March 18th 2017 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

      Good article. The talent that left versus the talent gained, a significant point. Buckley just hasn’t cut it as a coach. Will he improve this year? Fingers crossed. or get him put of there asap. This might go down as one of the gravest periods in Collingwood’s proud history. An era of ego and hubris. Eddy believes his own BS.

      • Editor

        March 19th 2017 @ 5:56am
        Josh Elliott said | March 19th 2017 @ 5:56am | ! Report

        Cheers Julian. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how it is viewed retrospectively in 5-10 years time.

        • March 19th 2017 @ 8:08pm
          Julian Noel said | March 19th 2017 @ 8:08pm | ! Report

          I agree… a part of me…. hidden deep within the recesses of my ever-optimistic heart hopes Bucks comes good. At the commencement of every season I had given him enough rope to hang himself… and unfortunately he has…

          I have no faith he will redeem himself…. but then again I probably wouldn’t have believed in ‘resurrection’ or ‘virgin birth’, either. So it will take something biblical to turn our fortunes around.

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