Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury’s AFL season could be over with the star veteran fearing he has broken his leg.
With the Nathan Buckley era now officially consigned to history, I have compiled a report card of the period between 2012 and 2021.
Buckley will be scored in the categories of winning and losing, media performance and branding, game plan and match awareness, recruiting and player development, and player morale and camaraderie.
For each category I have given a score out of ten.
Winning and losing: 5.5/10
The final wash-up is a win-loss ratio of 54.4 per cent, translating to a score of 5.5 out of ten when rounded out. Apart from Nathan Buckley’s last game, there were some memorable victories, none greater in my view than the 2018 preliminary final when absolutely everything clicked that night.
The 2020 elimination final against the Eagles also ranks highly, as does the come-from-behind win against the Kangaroos in 2015 and beating the apparently finals-bound Demons in the last round of 2017.
Yet there were also the hand-wringing moments of anguish, especially the 2019 preliminary final against GWS, which was a significant lost opportunity, the 2020 semi-final against Geelong and the 2013 elimination final against Port Adelaide.
Of course the barren period of 2014-17 stand out for the succession of feeble performances punctuated by an odd good victory here and there.
Media performance and branding: 9/10
Buckley’s media performances were the epitome of savviness, and his press conferences were an exercise in dignity and class. For that he receives nine out of ten.
He also was a positive force for the club’s branding, image and profile, although his absence during much of the Do Better debacle raised eyebrows.
Game plan and match day awareness: 4/10
Unfortunately I could only give a four out of ten here. The game plan, especially in recent times, has been dour, defensive and ultimately futile and unproductive. To see players paralysed by indecision and fear, flicking the ball around in aimless fashion and then ultimately bombing to a contest was hard to watch and fathom.
In earlier years, 2014-17, the zone defence approach saw time and time again opposition players stroll coast to coast for easy goals as the Magpie players were caught out of position.
Matchday awareness has also been problematic. Often moves were made either too late or not at all, reflecting a lack of dare in the coaching box. A case in point was late in the 2019 preliminary final when it was hard to understand why Brody Mihocek, who was not getting a kick up forward, was not swapped with Darcy Moore when the ball was basically in the front half for Collingwood in the final quarter.
The positioning of Chris Mayne as a distributor from the back half and Jack Magden up forward recently were difficult to comprehend.
Recruiting and player development: 4/10
While it is true that the coach is not the head recruiter or list manager, I do find it hard to believe that Buckley would not have had his input and influence in recruitment. Failure to recruit a key forward or goal sneak or players with pace and Indigenous players as well as the barren draft years of 2013-17, which I have written about previously, amount to a litany of failures.
On player development, and focusing on the more recent, there are very few players who have actually enhanced their game over time in terms of skills, capabilities and influence on games. I can only count Josh Daicos, Darcy Moore, Jeremy Howe, Taylor Adams and Brodie Grundy and possibly Isaac Quaynor, whose games have improved. Quite a few others have simply regressed.
For that reason I score Nathan Buckley a four out of ten for this section.
Player morale and camaraderie: 6.5/10
I think it is reasonable to give a 6.5 rating for this. In the early days there was the spectre of the disaffected players loyal to Mick Malthouse and various associated bushfires that Buckley had to contend with. Over time, however, as Collingwood became Buckley’s team the sense of togetherness and bonding improved markedly, including especially when travelling.
Of late, however, the solemn bonds appeared to have fragmented considerably in the wake of the trade period in 2020, especially concerning Adam Treloar’s departure. It would interesting to know what the Magpies players said when consulted about the coaching situation in recent days.
Of course there have been a number of players consistently behind the coach, namely the skipper, Taylor Adams and Brayden Maynard, to name a few. The warm embraces in the final game do not suggest a coach who totally lost his team.
Overall on my scoring Nathan Buckley gets 29/50, or 58 per cent, which puts him at a pass but not by much. This is broadly consistent with the overall winning ratio, but it has been driven in large measure by the media performance and corporate image aspects.