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Debunking the myths around Nathan Buckley - why the Pies are actually headed up

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley got close, but was unfortunate to never feature in a premiership winning side as a player. Can he do it as a coach? (Slattery Images)
Roar Guru
30th November, 2017
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2782 Reads

Isn’t it interesting the way media works? Supporters latch on to a catchphrase, a byline, a supposed “truth” and regurgitate it as fact.

Many were surprised when Nathan Buckley was reappointed for two years at the end of a comprehensive football department review. Those close to the club, however, were not as we hear nothing but support from Eddie McGuire, the Collingwood board and the playing group.

It was the right decision by the club. Buckley is, by all reports, coaching better than he ever has. Why send him to another club now when he is ready to blossom with the rebuilt Pies list?

The tall poppy syndrome is alive and well and Buckley and Eddie McGuire for that matter are classic tall poppy targets.

Eddie has rescued the Collingwood Football Club, rehoused it in a premier sporting facility in the middle of Melbourne’s elite sporting precinct, a well-hit torp or two from the Tan track and the ‘G. Buckley was a Brownlow medallist, six-time Copeland medallist, Norm Smith medallist, seven-time All Australian and averaged over 24 disposals a game in a 15-year playing career.

“No flag” his critics will say, and the haters wish to deny him a flag as coach. No doubt this is what he has now set his sights on with the two-year contract extension.

Buckley needs to stand on that dais and hold the cup, the need burns at him. In his mind, as such a competitive beast, he has to give the Collingwood football club its next premiership, perhaps multiple premierships.

The club that has been his home for the best part of 23 years and has given him his base for an extraordinary career must be repaid in kind. If it happens within the next two years we could be looking at the next Sheedy-length coaching tenure.

Myth No. 1 – Because they were the youngest premiership team in 38 years, they should have won more flags

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Going back 20-odd years, the average age group of premiership players is in a range of 25 – 27.5.

The end of era Bulldogs of 2016 had an average age of 24.4, the Pies of 2010 were 24 and 57 days. The stats argue the opposite to the myth above.

Having a younger, more inexperienced and lighter-bodied side makes it harder to win flags and even harder to sustain multiples. The ‘threepeat’ Brisbane and Hawthorn sides were big-bodied, experienced bullies. The Cats of 2007, 2009, 2011 much the same.

Collingwood were still in the 2011 grand final up to the third quarter, then lost an away preliminary final to a hardened Swans outfit in 2012. They were thereabouts in 2012-2013 but were predictively knocked out by older, bigger-bodied teams.

Let’s not forget the older, hardened Saints nearly won the first grand final of 2010. Being young doesn’t guarantee anything and simply having a couple of veterans in a premiership side automatically skews the average age.

Myth No. 2 – Buckley dismantled a premiership team destined for multiple flags

The exits on the 2010 premiership photo seven years later is not unusual. Compare the St Kilda grand final team of 2010. Take a look at the Hawthorn premiership photo just two years ago or the Swans of 2012.

The natural attrition of players with wearied bodies, exits for family or personal reasons is normal. To argue that any left purely because of Buckley is speculative at best, pot stirring at worst.

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Regardless, let’s take a look at the players some claim cost the club their chance of multiple flags.

Heath Shaw GWS Giants Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL 2016

It’s been hard to watch Shaw succeed at the Giants for Pies fans. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

Darren Jolly was an integral part of the 2010 flag when recruited along with Luke Ball for the start of the season. Bitter at being delisted at the end of a disappointing 2013 season, no club expressed interest in his services post-delisting.

Who is to say Heath Shaw would have had such a renewed spike at his new club without the change of scenery at GWS?

Shaw, along with Dayne Beams, is one of two players who have hurt the club in departing.

Shaw, at the time, was seen by the coaching and leadership groups as an undisciplined, destabilising influence at the club. Collingwood, in exchange, got an elite inside mid and potential future captain in Taylor Adams.

Through a combination of form and injury, Alan Didak fell away quickly post-2012, finally delisted at the end of 2013 with the club realising a mini-rebuild was needed. No club expressed interest in his services post-delisting.

Chris Dawes was at his best as a combination with then-giant of the competition Travis Cloke. Struggled from the knuckle injury in the 2012 season and requested a trade, but the premiership player never regained those 2010-2011 heights in his career at Melbourne.

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With Mick Malthouse as a father figure it was no surprise to see Dale Thomas join Mick at Carlton at the end of the 2013 season as a restricted free agent. The Magpies’ mini-rebuild prior to 2014 was now well underway.

Daisy, although a solid performer for Carlton, has never attained the heights he had as arguably one of the best players in the game from 2010-2011.

Heritier Lumumba agreed with the club it was time to part ways post-2014, a serviceable time at Melbourne followed without reaching his previous highs.

Dayne Beams, however, along with Heath Shaw, hurt. One of the game’s elite midfielders decided to go home to be with his sick father and play alongside his brother.

Despite the club offering all sorts of left field alternatives, in the end he wanted out. Conspiracy theorists will tell you it was a smokescreen to hide his poor relationship with Buckley. The facts and Beams himself state otherwise.

Sharrod Wellingham was another who, despite one good year with West Coast, failed to meet the heights of his days at Collingwood and was delisted by the Eagles this year.

Travis Cloke at his best, probably 2011-2013, was an aerobic beast and one of the best contested marks in the game. A champion player at Collingwood, before this year a late move to the Dogs proved the game had taken its toll on Travis.

More than 450 goals and averaged 6.7 marks per game over an extraordinary career.

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Travis Cloke of the Magpies kicks a goal

Travis Cloke was a monster in his prime at Collingwood. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

Nathan Brown had the huge job of stopping Nick Riewoldt in 2010. As the one-on-one contests of big hulking forwards left the game, Brown appeared one-dimensional.

The more aggressive Lynden Dunn from Melbourne – with the huge clearing kick has been a win – while Brown went on to enjoy a solid year with the Saints.

Myth No. 3 – Buckley’s coaching has made the side worse each year

When your starting point is the top, eventually you slide.

Let’s take a closer look at the Buckley tenure after it was revealed recently by Eddie McGuire that the club started a mini rebuild at the end of the 2013 finals.

2012: Buckley proved he can coach. He took the team to an away Preliminary final against the Swans in a season featuring 17 wins.

Despite an 11-game winning streak against the Swans, everything went against them. Many players attended the funeral of ex-player John McCarthy on the Thursday before the game, a six-day break, injury to key playmaker Alan Didak. Collingwood fell short.

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2013: Buckley again proved he can coach. Despite some key injuries during the year, the Magpies finished sixth and were favoured to beat the emerging Port Adelaide, but they stumbled against the super fit young team and bowed quickly out.

2014 – 2016: The rebuild begins. Out of the side by now are Didak, Jolly, Shaw, Thomas, Dawes, Wellingham, Leigh Brown and Leon Davis.

At the end of 2014 the Pies lose Luke Ball, Nick Maxwell, Lumumba and Beams.

Injuries then have an impact. In champion Data’s total games missed by the ‘best 22’ players in 2014, The Pies were hit hardest with arguably the worst result for any side in 2014 and 2015.

In 2016, it didn’t get much better. Key, long-term injuries – especially soft tissue injuries – were the curse of the now rebuilding club and despite starting mostly well, the seasons fell away.

The club was acknowledged by Eddie McGuire as having a mini-rebuild from 2014 onwards and was now both rebuilding and covering key injuries to experienced players.

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The upside? Plenty of forced games into the emerging youth. Three years was considered an acceptable rebuild period for the success demanding club. 2017 was the time to return to finals, perhaps 7-8th with one final as the goal.

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2017: The year marked by those deep inside the club as returning to the finals. Didn’t happen for a variety of reasons but this time, injury was not a valid excuse.

So, what happened? Well, with a reasonably healthy percentage of 99, the Pies were three wins off their goal. They lost winnable games by under six points to GWS and Melbourne and drew with Adelaide after being 50 points up. They also lost games they never should have against St Kilda in round 4 and Carlton in round 7.

Within the mix were solid wins over West Coast and Fremantle away, big wins over the Cats and Hawks early and close results against the Dogs and Tigers.

It was a stuttering season that never quite got going – perhaps what you might expect with a number of players still under 40-50 games.

Myth No. 4 – The draftees have all failed and it is all Buckley’s fault

Well, for a start Buckley doesn’t make all the calls, although no doubt he contributes significantly.

Without going through them all, let’s take a look at some key hits and misses.

The Pies have had double dips into the top ten three times recently. The draft that really hurt – largely due to bad luck with injuries -bwas the 2013 draft.

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2005: As comparison only, prior to Buckley’s appointment, Dale Thomas (2), Scott Pendlebury (5) – Rating 9/10

2013: Matthew Scharenberg (6), Nathan Freeman (10). Both had a terrible run with injuries, Scharenberg is just getting some consistent footy now and could still turn out a solid pick, while Freeman has spent two years at Collingwood and two years at St Kildat and is yet to debut. 4/10.

2014: Jordan de Goey (5 – from the Beams trade), Darcy Moore (9), Brayden Maynard (30). De Goey is strong, courageous, kicks goals and is ready to explode, Moore, as a big unit, is just going to get better each year.

Maynard may well become a Luke Hodge style midfielder/half-back, huge upside and a steal at pick 30. 8/10.

2015: Brayden Sier (32). Sier has struggled to get established in the VFL but injuries have played their part. Still unknown how the big bodied pick up will fare. 4.5/10.

2016: Tom Phillips (58), Rupert Wills (63), Ben Crocker (65). Phillips seems a steal at 58, best runner at the club. Wills is a tackling machine and Crocker is a good overhead mark.

Myth No. 5 – The recruits have all failed and it is all Buckley’s fault

Quentin Lynch was a back-up only free agent thrown in with the Pies obsession to replace the Leigh Brown type supporting ruck/forward role, but his body was largely gone. 3/10.

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Jesse White was worth a shot at pick 44 with the Pies still looking for the Leigh Brown replacement. 20 plus goals his first three seasons with the Pies, 75 goals in 56 games for the Pies after 73 goals in 71 games for the Swans. 6.5/10.

Jesse White Collingwood Magpies AFL 2016

Jesse White was serviceable for Collingwood. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Patrick Karnezis came at no cost, traded for Jackson Paine, never really got going. 4/10.

Clinton Young as a free agent was worth a punt, but soft tissue injuries cruelled his time at the Pies as he could have been a handy pick up with his long raking left foot. 4/10/

Travis Varcoe was essentially got for Lumumba. His first season at the Pies was one of the best in his career for disposals averaged as Varcoe got as fit as he had ever been.

Has been a class pick up for the Pies albeit with increasing injury concerns past 18 months. 7/10.

Levi Greenwood cost pick 25 and is rated highly by those close to the club. A beast the Pies needed to complement a young group, stops Joel Selwood every time.

More time forward than mid means his average disposals have gone down, but he kicks more goals now at the Pies than he did at North. 7.5/10.

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Adam Treloar came for pick seven and a future first-rounder, but Collingwood received pick 28 back.

An elite midfielder, a running and bouncing machine and at his most dangerous in the final quarter when everyone else is tiring. An exceptional talent who, if he can straighten up his kicking for goal, is only going to get better. 8.5/10.

Collingwood received former pick seven James Aish alongside picks 34 and 53, and gave up picks No. 26, 28, 47 and a 2016 second-round pick.

He is training the house down, relearning as an inside mid and a breakout year looms. Wing or even back pocket could be his spot. 6.5/10, with the potential to hit 7-8/10 in 2018.

Daniel Wells cost nothing as a free agent. The Pies expected to make a final and Wells would have been some experience and elite skills to even perhaps take them to the next step.

Had come off a 19 game season with North in 2016. When he has been on the field he has been all class, just hasn’t been out there enough as yet. May still fill the experienced role in 2018 and beyond. 5/10.

Chris Mayne also came as a free agent. Unfair commentary around one bloke who arrived committed to impact with his new club and couldn’t really break into the side in year one.

He has three years left in an extraordinary deal to prove he has plenty of footy left in him. 4.5/10.

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Will Hoskin-Elliott cost a future second-round pick. A classy player the Pies had their eye on for some time. An excellent first season for the straight-shooting and hard-working wing/forward.

18 goals and averaged 18+ disposals, 6.5 marks and three tackles per game in his best AFL season. 8.5/10.

2018 and beyond

Entering 2018, the Pies have an elite group of in Steele Sidebottom, Adams, Treloar, Scott Pendlebury, Jeremy Howe, Brodie Grundy, Ben Reid and Jamie Elliott.

The emerging 50-80 game group ready to take the next level include De Goey (age 21, games 50), Moore (age 21, games 47), Maynard (age 21, games 51), Aish (age 22, games 55), Josh Thomas (age 26, games 41), Jack Crisp (age 24, games 84) and Hoskin-Elliott (age 24, games 74).

Adam Treloar Collingwood Magpies AFL 2016

Are Collingwood ready to step back up to September? (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Still needing to establish themselves are Scharenberg, Josh Smith, Tom Phillips, Ben Crocker, Sam Mclarty, Sier, Josh Daicos, Callum Brown, Sam Murray and the new draftees and rookies.

Experienced, consistent, big bodied veterans include Reid, Tyson Goldsack and Dunn – who has been a revelation.

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X-factor players – who can either languish or become something unique – include Mason Cox and Karly Kirby.

Cox was courted by both Brisbane and Hawthorn before re-signing, can kick straight and can take a mark.

If he fails to get game time this year – contract or not – he will want out. If the tandem with Grundy works could he kick 50 plus goals as a Paul Salmon style forward?

If Kirby gets fit, he could be the X-factor player the Pies have needed for some time. Could he become a mix of Rioli and Motlop, or will the fitness grind be his nemesis?

The Pies have a dream draw, a core elite and an emerging group around the 50-game mark who appear ready for a huge next step forward.

The players are unanimously behind Buckley, have committed on-field leadership in Howe, Adams, Pendlebury and Sidebottom, one of the best young rucks in the game in Grundy and enjoy a settled, positive and supportive environment with the best facilities for young sportspeople going around.

The Pies will make the top eight next year and my prediction is to go straight to threatening top four.

The scary thing for opposition clubs is most of this group will be together for quite a few years moving forward and we could be watching the new emergence of a Hawthorn style dynasty.

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