Collingwood continues to push damage control as they strive (well, limp) to mollify angry, frustrated, disappointed, disillusioned and fed-up supporters.
But for all their good intentions, the truth only grows murkier.
Over the weekend the club sent out a beautifully phrased and diplomatic email from CEO Mark Anderson explaining their strategy and addressing criticisms and queries.
Should the members have been informed of Collingwood’s approach earlier?
I’m sure some will suggest the club doesn’t need to apprise supporters or members of how they plan to tackle the trade period – or any of their operations, really. That’s fair enough as long as the course is sound.
Others might say that releasing this intelligence prior to the trade period could’ve undermined Collingwood’s efforts.
Well, thank God the integrity of those remained intact.
As part of his explanation Anderson writes: “Salary cap pressure was certainly a key part of the decision. This is common for teams in premiership contention and even for some who are not. Financial sacrifices were made to keep the list together but this could not be the ongoing solution. With a further reduction [to] every club’s salary cap about to come due to the impacts due to COVID, this situation was going to be exacerbated.”
If this doesn’t further aggravate the supporter base, I’m unsure what will.
So both Ned Guy and Geoff Walsh assured us that the salary cap pressure was a media beat-up and wasn’t a major contributor to offloading three players. And now Mark Anderson informs us that it was “certainly a key part of the decision”.
Which is it?
Anderson goes on.
“Of course, the other method is via trading and free agency. To be blunt, we found ourselves in a bind: we were without realistic access to the free agency market with our salary cap being at its limit. We have had quality players expressing interest in coming to our club, interest we could not realistically pursue due to our cap limitations.”
Was the salary cap at its limit before or after the trade period?
Come 2021, were Collingwood going to be $2,000,000 over the salary cap? Is that why they had to cut savagely? Or if the salary cap pressure was a beat-up, does that mean Collingwood cleared $2,000,000 and thus could’ve pursued free agents? Could they have just cut one or two of the three big earners? What exactly was the situation?
We just don’t know because the message keeps shifting and different people tell us different things.
This comes just days after Walsh’s Triple M interview in which he adamantly declared that Collingwood were never interested in Tom Lynch. Eddie McGuire then corrected that Collingwood had spoken to Lynch but decided not to pursue him, although the public narrative is that Ned Guy actively sought him out.
Anderson also writes: “We are extremely excited by the prospect of bringing two first round draftees to Collingwood in 2021, something we have not done since drafting Jordan De Goey and Darcy Moore in the top ten of the 2014 draft. Because of the talent at the top end of this year’s draft, this is one our recruiting team want to be in.”
Collingwood took De Goey at No. 5 and Moore under the father-son rule at No. 9. De Goey had his breakout year in 2018. It took Moore until 2019 to have a good and consistent year.
So that was four and five years respectively for those players to mature into vital contributors. Is Collingwood positioning for a tilt in 2024? Where will Scott Pendlebury (32), Steele Sidebottom (29) and Jeremy Howe (30) among others be then?
Also, Collingwood keep pushing this narrative that they’ve come away with two first-round draft picks. They already had Pick 16. So all they got was Pick 14. They’ve come away effectively with a single additional pick for two players who collectively cost them two Pick 7s and a Pick 6.
Now Picks 14 and 16, if that’s where those picks remain, are different to Picks 5 and 9, particularly in a season where you have no exposed form to judge draftees given the lower competitions were cancelled due to COVID.
Let’s not forget they selected Jaidyn Stephenson at Pick 6 in the 2017 draft and Nathan Murphy at Pick 39. I bring up Murphy because they claim it was a toss-up between Stephenson and Murphy at Pick 6, so Collingwood rated both as top-ten talents.
Prior to these drafts Collingwood took Matthew Scharenberg at Pick 6 and Nathan Freeman at Pick 10 in the 2013 draft. Injuries derailed the careers of both. So despite all the science and logic applied, drafting remains a gamble.
Why Collingwood decided two unknown quantities taken in the teens in a draft where there’s little form guide is better than a 21-year-old Norwich Rising Star winner who had one bad season in three is anybody’s guess.
And, yes, Stephenson had one bad year – this year. But some suggest that his 2019 was equally as bad, which is a blatant mistruth.
In 2019 his averages compare favourably to his 2018 form – he averaged 7.9 to 11.3 kicks, 4.4 handballs in both seasons, 12.3 to 15.6 disposals, 3.9 to 6.6 marks, 1.5 to 1.7 goals, 2.9 to 2.1 tackles, 3.8 to 5.1 contested possessions, 8.7 to 10.4 uncontested possessions and 0.4 to 1.1 goal assists.
It’s hinted that his 2020 might’ve been wayward, but we don’t know how wayward. Any different to Dane Swan, Alan Didak or Heath Shaw in their early years at Collingwood? How did they turn out under the steady guidance of Mick Malthouse? Certainly Collingwood didn’t decide to ditch them because they suddenly found managing them too hard.
And then there’s this.
“We do not shy away from the responsibility that comes with these decisions. Ned, Geoff and other members of the recruiting and list management team made the tough calls for the right reasons and in the very best interest of our team and club. I absolutely respect their judgement and have the utmost confidence in their ability to reshape our list, open up new possibilities for growth and build off the plan that has been established.”
The angle that’s continually pushed is that tough decisions had to be made, the implication being that supporters are simply disgruntled because they can’t bear to watch beloved players traded out.
No, supporters are disgruntled because of the way the trading was handled.
As an outsider looking in, it feels as if somebody saw Kim Ravaillion signing with the Queensland Firebirds for 2021 as an opportunity to convince hubby Adam Treloar to transfer to Gold Coast to be close to her and to thus prise Pick 5 from the Suns.
And then it feels as if Collingwood continued to up the ante on this hand believing it was inevitable that Treloar would fold. Nope. Collingwood irreparably damaged their relationship with Treloar, and upon his refusal to relocate they had to improvise and trade him out.
The Western Bulldogs became the target and, in likelihood, Collingwood set their sights on Pick 8, which the Dogs hoped to get from Essendon for Josh Dunkley. That deal didn’t eventuate, so Collingwood took Pick 14 and agreed to pay $300,000 of Treloar’s salary every year for the next five years – $300,000 is as good as still having a player on the books in the salary cap.
Then there was the back and forth with journalists about who said what, Adam Treloar upon completion of the trade period insisting coach Nathan Buckley told him the playing group wanted him out and Jaidyn Stephenson saying he’d had to chase Buckley up to find out what was going on.
How many misjudgements can you count through the course of these events?
None of this is a good look. Or a good feeling.
The senior coach has been accused of lying or sacrificing the playing group’s trust.
Collingwood can talk about opening up “new possibilities for growth”, but their handling of these situations could’ve damaged the playing group’s trust in Buckley as well as their morale. Who knows if this won’t scar the group the way Adelaide’s ill-fated 2018 training camp scarred the Crows following their 2017 grand final loss.
People say trading players is a business and thus it won’t have an impact on the group. That might be the case when the trades are handled clinically, but these were messy, emotional break-ups replete with mud-slinging and queries about motivations and who said what.
In an interview with Gerard Whatley on SEN on Monday morning Buckley outright admitted the trades were a salary dump and that they didn’t get market value. He also confessed that things could’ve been handled better.
This appears to be as straight as the club has been – after Ned Guy and Geoff Walsh had sold different messages and Anderson had tried to clean them up.
And I just want to highlight that none of this is intended to criticise Collingwood CEO Mark Anderson. He’s been handed a dud hand and is doing his best to work with it.
But a dud hand remains a dud hand.
Nor is it to single out Buckley. As coach he’s not responsible for the contracts or the salary cap, and his SEN interview is the most forthright anybody from Collingwood has been.
But it does leave you wondering what’s going on at administrative levels at the club. How did the salary cap get so bloated? Why are different people selling different messages? What was the logic in selling off a 21-year-old and then claiming the intent is to bring in young talent?
That’s the greater issue here.
And it has been for a while.
I truly think the club are not aware of how their stature has systematically crumbled and how they’ve slipped in the estimation of so many of the Collingwood faithful. I’m sure they believe these are just some rocky waters and everything will be okay – that black and white love will win out, and then it’ll be business as normal.
But is that good enough when normal is so flawed and problematic?
There will always be the zealous supporters – those who follow their club regardless, even if it were to spiral into oblivion. They’ll be sitting out there right now condemning me and writing in comments that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
And there’ll always be the haters who criticise for the sake of criticism, often without justification or explanation or rationale, twisting logic into a straw man to champion their arguments to suit their agenda – or simply to troll.
But in between those two perspectives are the rest of us who praise the club when it’s deserved and feel we have a right to question them when things have gone awry.
Many of these supporters have been rattled to the extent they’ve cancelled memberships, demanded a board spill or simply grown apathetic.
As far as the latter goes, I know several supporters who love the club and will continue following it but who also concede that if their children want to follow another club, that’ll be fine.
In one case somebody told me they would actively encourage that.
What does that tell you?
It’s too easy to dismiss such supporters or marginalise them as unfaithful malcontents. They’re not. You don’t get to that state of mind because of just one thing – it’s a build-up.
The argument I keep making is that nothing in life is unconditional.
We only have so much tolerance. That’s life. We give up on possessions when they no longer serve a purpose. We leave jobs once they grow stale. We leave partners when the relationship no longer works. Why is supporting a football club expected to be different?
Everybody inevitably comes to a place where they hit a wall.
And that’s where lots of Collingwood fans are today.
Instead of disparaging them or querying the legitimacy of their support, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that their voice is valid, that their dissatisfactions have merit and that a club that prides itself on its history and working-class roots isn’t quite what it used to be – and hasn’t been for a while.
Mistakes have been made. And keep being made.
Selling this as some grand overarching strategy is like selling the Titanic as a nifty way to break some ice.
Football may be a business, but it doesn’t mean it has to be soulless.
Nor does that mean it can lack genuine identity.
Many clubs struggle to reconcile who and what they are in a competition that continues to evolve and shift the parameters. They lose touch with themselves as well as the capacity for objectivity. They may even lose some of the hunger needed to go above and beyond.
At some point a club – and particularly a club pumped so full of hyperbole and self-importance as Collingwood – needs what alcoholics call ‘a moment of clarity’.
They need to be self-aware, reflect and address if they truly are the best they can be.
Because I think if you polled supporters, many of them will say they haven’t been for a long time.
And this latest blunder is just that: the latest.