Time Magazine’s famous “Person of the Year” recognises the person for good or ill, and who has had the biggest effect on the events of the past twelve months in the world. Sure, the world is important – relatively speaking – but we’re here to recognise something far more significant than the world, the footy world. As we enter the only three-week patch (between the slow and steady fixture release and the national draft) that the media landscape is not dominated by the AFL (barring another leaked video of course), let’s look back at those who had the greatest impact – for better or worse – on footy in 2018.
2018 FOOTY’S PERSON OF THE YEAR (WINNER) – NATHAN BUCKLEY
Who would have thought that the losing Grand Final coach would shape the football year more than anyone else, including the premiership coach? But such is the impact that this revamped edition of Nathan Buckley has had on the game. He still was that ruthless competitor we saw on the MCG, that inspiring leader who would lift his team on his shoulders and will them over the line. Yet he showed another side in 2018. It was a side we perhaps hadn’t seen publicly, but one that had always been there, hidden under a stoic façade. It was a side that would comfort distressed members of the cheer squad mere minutes before the biggest two hours of his professional life. It was a side where he maintained composure, empathy and awareness to comfort a runner moments after the most crushing final siren of his football life. It was the side where he dressed up as a fireman, sliding down Big Freeze 3 to pay tribute to life-long Collingwood supporter and MND sufferer Murray Swinton, who recently passed away.
Nathan Buckley was this year’s AFL Coaches Association Coach of the Year and was two minutes away from equalling the biggest one year turn around in football history. This was the first season in more than decade in which there was no coaching changes and I think Nathan Buckley can probably expect some flowers from St Kilda coach, and former Collingwood player Alan Richardson. While, Damien Hardwick taking Richmond from 13th to 1st probably contributed to Buckley himself remaining in the hot seat in 2018, Bucks consolidated that Dimma was not just a “one off”. Coaches can sometimes come good and club’s default position is to now persist rather than dismiss. There are so many parallels and similarities between the coaching transformations of Damien Hardwick and Nathan Buckley in 2017 and 2018 respectively, however, there is one overriding difference. Hardwick is a premiership coach.
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When the siren sounded at the end of the Grand Final amidst the Eagles ecstasy was a rare and almost unprecedented shot of the loser’s coaching box rather than that of the winners’. More specifically it was a close camera shot of a shattered Nathan Buckley. Coaches do not like to be front and centre grand final day but for Collingwood, Nathan Buckley was all that and more. The Collingwood Football Club is the most universally hated sporting club in the country, which the Magpies should wear as a badge of honour. Yet something strange happened Grand Final week. While, it was expected that the masses were pulling for West Coast (except Collingwood and Fremantle supporters) many found a small place in their cheers and hearts for Nathan Buckley, despite the club polo he was wearing. Footy fans thought he finally deserved to be a winner on this day.
Since being drafted a Port Adelaide SANFL premiership player and Magarey Medallist, Nathan Buckley has never tasted premiership glory. He left Brisbane (in dubious circumstances) after just one season. Brisbane then went on to win three consecutive premierships, including two against Buckley’s Magpies, where Bucks walked away with nothing but a hollow Norm Smith Medal. Port Adelaide won the flag in 2004, seven years after Buckley rejected their offer to return to the club to be a part of their inaugural AFL squad. Buckley also famously agreed to, or at least strongly considered, an offer from the Kangaroos, which as Buckley would have painstakingly been reminded of when Denis Pagan presented Adam Simpson with the Jock McHale Medal on the Grand Final dais, enjoyed a brilliant era of success that included two titles.
But you sense that this will not be how the Nathan Buckley story ends.
Dom Sheed joined Grand Final folklore nailing one of the most influential kicks in the game’s history alongside that of Barry Breen and Matthew Scarlett (if toe pokes count). We have never seen a shot after the siren to decide the fate of the season, but this is the closest thing to it.
The will he or won’t he of 2018. Despite being offered the biggest contract on record by Gold Coast ($10.5 million over 7 years if you don’t mind), Lynch left the Suns on a collision course with football oblivion for last year’s premiers. As any captain should, right?
A disgraceful act of brutality and madness on an unsuspecting teenager was one of the more disturbing, yet unbelievable things seen on a football field in modern times. The aftermath of the incident lead to a captivating 77-point Derby, calls for a send-off rule, a young Docker left with shocking injuries and an unsalvageable season, fan bases gone tribal, crazy press-conferences, lies, an eight-game suspension, and a healthy star watching his team claim the flag from the grandstand. And then, after what seemed like an eternity of speculation, he turns around and re-commits to the Eagles.
The man entrusted with handing down revolutionary rule changes took a fire escape exit labelled “sensible and conventional”, and may have cost him the title of footy’s person of the year, but for reasons I think he will happily avoid.
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