SO I tend to try and avoid Collingwood too much, not because of bias as I feel I am as objective a passionate barracker as there might be, but because who wants to hear Caroline Wilson talk too much about Richmond, Dermot Brereton talk too much about Cyril Rioli or AFL house talk too much about how this is definitely the last time one of their executives is deeply remorseful for ‘insert misconduct here’?
It can get boring.
But in realising that whilst it was a bloody decent weekend of footy, and I can tell you all about how Geelong are still as lucky as Mars bar at a Diabetic convention, or that unless the Giants get their best players back asap they’ll be underprepared and shaky come September, or that because of last Friday and their respective runs home (seriously check them both out) that I now have Essendon taking St Kilda’s spot in the finals, it’s time to address the elephant in the room.
What do Collingwood do with Nathan Buckley, and who is their next coach?
I’ve been asked where this piece is, so let’s do it, let’s get it out of the way so we can then move on to an exciting finish to the season… until Ed does something about this which of course we’ll address it then at the time.
Firstly should he go? Yes. Why? Because where this year has shown some of the most promising signs that Buckley can crack it with this list and maybe next year is that year the Pies finally head back up the ladder, the fact I said ‘maybe’ and ‘finally’ paints the picture.
Looking back, the form displayed in Round 3 against the Swans, Round 8 against the Giants and even Round 12 against Melbourne were all admirable. Two of those games were close losses, and sadly some of the close losses this season had they been wins might have changed the overall narrative, perhaps.
Three losses under a kick, seven losses by under 20 points, the Pies have been really competitive a lot of the time. But I’m sure the Portugese police really looked hard for Madeline McCann but she hasn’t been found and that’s all that matters to her parents.
Point being, we can point to excuses, reasons, mitigating circumstance all we like, but in the end the results of the three weeks prior to the win over the Gold Coast point to a side that needs a freshening up in order to succeed, not persistence with the current plan.
Someone said that the true definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over and to expect a different result. A very smart someone indeed.
Whilst I wouldn’t expect the same result, far from it, but this feels a bit like the 2014 Bulldogs. Shortly after the end of a disappointing season, one where they finished 14th with seven wins, after winning eight and five the previous two years, the club replaced Brendan McCartney with Luke Beveridge, traded Ryan Griffen out for Tom Boyd, and set about replotting their course.
The next year the Dogs came out and won four of their first five, won eight from nine after the bye and finished sixth with 14 wins. They won one more home and away game last year and we all know about their September.
Sure, there were some list changes, they trade out their captain for a yet-unproven no.1 draft pick who then went on to be seen as best on ground by two of the five judges in last year’s Grand Final, but largely Beveridge got 28 home and away victories in two seasons with a very similar group to the team that won 20 games from the previous three.
Some, a lot, who knows how much, but McCartney’s work has to have played a part in their success last year, it can’t all be down to the input of Beveridge once he took over the reigns. But what’s key is that there was a change of coach, a revised direction, a new look, a new voice, and that appears to be what turned a list with potential into the potent side the Dogs became, and the team that broke a 62-year drought.
This is ultimately what needs to happen at the Holden Centre. This is not like Melbourne before Paul Roos where he was frogmarched in by the AFL for a blank cheque to fix a rabble. The 2017 Collingwood list is miles better than the 2013 Melbourne list. This would not be a project; require a long term rebuild.
Coming into 2017 Collingwood had the 11th youngest list, only one spot below the reigning premier, but the sixth ranked list for average games per player, the exact same average as you guessed it, the reigning premier.
Sure, there are list deficiencies, but the Bulldogs won a premiership with two key backs, one a Geelong delistee two years prior, the other a pre-season draft pick from 2012. Zaine Cordy was a premiership centre-half forward in his 11th game.
The right coach makes a difference. The right coach gets the job done with what’s at his disposal. Take a look at Alistair Clarkson, his Hawks were completely shot two months ago and the rebuild was on. Hold the phone, after impressive wins against Sydney and Adelaide, both on the road, you can already see them rebounding back into the finals sooner rather than later.
Buckley appears to need luck to succeed. He finds genuine excuses it seems, valid reasons for failure, but Beveridge made the finals in his first year where missing them could have been justified. Clarkson defeated the Swans and Crows within a month where the jury would have understood if he had been smashed by both.
That’s why Buckley’s time is up. He will put together some very inspiring wins as coach, he will show runs of form where you go “hang on, here come the Pies”, like 2015 and 2016 where he compiled 8-3 starts both years.
But he would need too much to go his way or too much time to compile a year where it ‘all’ comes together and he makes finals. Let alone win a flag.
So, who replaces him, and how.
The latter first, that’s simple – he isn’t sacked, he will transition into a new role. Whether Buckley owns the narrative or Eddie McGuire and the club does, but there’ll be an announcement where he will be thanked for his service and an acknowledgement made that he is moving on to the next part of his professional career, a new job he has probably already half lined up be it in football or indeed back into the media – he is immensely talented and will have a bevvy of suitors.
The press will use the word sacked but the stubborn McGuire will huff and puff and hijack that as best he can.
Now, the successor.
Two schools of thought, experienced or untried, and the second option is straightforward, but I put forward the Ross Lyon precedent.
Fremantle from inception until the 2011 season were not to be taken seriously. West Coast’s far poorer neighbour, they were showing no signs of promise and going nowhere. Mark Harvey had coached the side to a nine-win season, not awful but again, the Dockers, who cares?
Then bang! Ruthless! As soon as the coach of the mighty Saints, a club who had missed the Grand Final for the first time in three years, had been eliminated in the finals by Sydney, the once-flimsy Dockers took everyone by surprise and poached Ross Lyon from nowhere, the best coach in the land at the time.
Their ascension since is well documented, making the Grand Final two years later, losing by 15 points to the juggernaut Hawthorn but had they kicked straighter who knows?
That was a move pulled by at the time a club with sixteen years existence. Carlton won the flag in their first year. Fremantle were still a relative nobody.
Collingwood boasts to be the biggest club in the land. Who says Freo pulls better punches when it comes to serious coaching appointments. Remember who coached the Pies pre-Buckley, and how they secured him from the juggernaut Eagles in the late 90s? Exactly.
So who can Ed and his merry men headhunt? Clarkson is seemingly out of the question. You don’t see Chris Scott or John Longmire done anytime soon, but hey, these are the names they’d be looking at and who’d categorically say they couldn’t pull off such a coup. Alan Richardson is interesting, former Pie, doing great things, but under contract so it could be tough going.
Paul Roos is the obvious one. Said he wouldn’t coach again, then money talked, the fire within burned too bright, he got the Dees up and going again in a fixed three year term. He seems a sucker for a challenge, especially when the dollars help too.
This year, first year out of club land, he was to take the year off, but has committed to the media on multiple platforms and done enough to suggest he is gettable, vis a vis he isn’t spending tonnes of time out of the country and unavailable basically.
If the AFL can coerce Roos into a short-term project like the Dees, with enough cash, the incentive from Ed and co. to take on a different challenge, getting the Pies contending within three or four years, something he was never going to do at Melbourne, with more cash, must be more likely than not.
Don’t bank on it, because it’s the slightly enigmatic Paul Roos and who knows what’s going on behind closed doors. But Roos’ commentary partner on Sunday radio, Wayne Carey, gets the feeling there’s smoke around the potential link between the premiership coach and the Magpies. And who is to question the greatest player many of has have witnessed?
Take the agony out of the equation, of a succession plan that hasn’t brought the club success (mind you, only four clubs have won flags since the Pies saluted in 2010, its hardly a drought), the outlook for the Pies can be easily re-configured by the promise of Paul Roos heading a list with capabilities.
Add in the Collingwood war chest that can lure a name or two to further bolster the playing list for 2018, 2019, and as far as the Pies’ Board will be concerned it will all be looking rather swell again.
The only thing that derails this would be if Buckley somehow wins five or six of their run home and Eddie can’t see the wood from trees, and we jump on the merry-go-round once more in 2018… in fact, watch that happen now, bloody hell…