It was all there for Collingwood. They had won a premiership in unbelievable circumstances and were on their way to winning consecutive flags for the first time in the best part of eighty years.
However, they could not jump over the final blue and white hurdle, going undefeated all year except for their three losses to Geelong, the last of which was in the 2011 Grand Final. And just like that it was over. The side that Collingwood champion Peter Daicos once dubbed the best in Collingwood’s rich history – including a team that won four successive flags between 1927 and 1930 – haven’t returned to football’s grandest day since.
The man who guided them there, legendary triple premiership coach Michael Malthouse was effectively sacked as senior coach in one of football’s more mystifying stories, twelve months after winning the bloody thing and averaging a Grand Final every four months in that time (You remember there was a draw involved, right?).
For those who do not remember the whole ordeal, or to the Magpie fans who have duly blocked it out, the Collingwood head honchos led by Eddie McGuire (as all things at Collingwood are) put a use by date on Malthouse’s head midway through 2009. The infamous coaching transition plan was designed to follow that of Sydney’s ilk where Swans premiership coach Paul Roos successfully handed over the reins to future Swans premiership coach John Longmire. However, something went horribly wrong.
Collingwood starting winning.
It really started hitting the fan for the Pies in power when they claimed the 2010 flag after two cracks at it. What a bloody inconvenience that was. Suddenly, the fault in McGuire’s masterplan was exposed for all to see. Not everyone was on board. When Paul Roos first retired from coaching in 2009 it was his decision. The club, as well as his successor, were all in agreement. In the years leading up to handover, Roos acted as a mentor type figure for Longmire, ensuring he was prepared as can possibly be for the role. The same thing happened when Roos came out of coaching hibernation in 2014 to coach the hapless Demons. Roos and the football club both understood that he did not want to be a long-term coach of Melbourne but wanted to help a culture that was decimated by years of failure. Roos knew he would not be around to bear the fruits of his success, he guided assistant coach Simon Goodwin towards the light of finals glory he is currently experiencing.
This situation completely opposed what happened at the Holden Centre. While, Eddie and the Collingwood hierarchy were on board for a Buckley coaching rein, fueled by their fears a rival club would poach their favourite son and reap the rewards of it. The only way to shield one of their greatest ever players from an irresistible senior coaching gig was to give him one.
How can one of the most competitive players of all time possibly say no to coaching the club he captained, and loves? After this coaching fire had been lit by his long-time manager and nine-time Port Adelaide premiership icon, Geof Motley urging Buckley that his potential in the coach’s box could trump his unbelievable on-field deeds?
So, club – tick. Successor – tick. How about the bloke that was actually in charge at the time? Cross.
And he was just that.
For Malthouse, it was not a mutual agreement. It was anything but his idea. It was simply an order. And like Buckley, it was an idea he could not refuse – for vastly different reasons.
So, did Mick hold Bucks’ leather poisoned hand through the nuances of the art of coaching? Did he set the side up for the Collingwood golden boy to reign in the glory and kudos for his good work? What do you think?
Instead, he tried to eke out every little bit of success he could before his forced farewell, so much so that captain Nick Maxwell claimed Malthouse made decisions based on the fact his time was limited. It may sound selfish but it delivered the club a premiership and isn’t that the main game?
Despite, a last-ditch attempt to bring the transitional plan to a grinding halt by a core group of senior players including Brownlow Medalist Dane Swan who is on record as saying the coaching drama was a distraction that may well have cost the club the 2011 flag – Mick was gone. Malthouse did not fulfill the remaining part of the agreement to stay on as a coaching mentor for Bucks, nor did he honour his promise never to coach again. After a twelve-month media fling he was at the helm of the old arch rivals, Carlton. It was all on Bucks now.
And it looked like it was all going to end in tears. The graph was not trending the right way at all. 4th in 2012, 8th in 2013, 11th in 2014, 12th in 2015, 12th in 2016 and finally 13th in 2017. The coach was out of contract and the jungle drums were beating.
So, what saved him? Sure, having the name ‘Nathan Buckley’ at Collingwood did not hurt. But that is far from the only reason. Was it the fact that he handled himself publicly better than any other coach in the game, always being measured, strong and respectful? Was it because, despite the wins and losses, it never seemed like he lost the players? Perhaps, a Damien Hardwick-led Richmond revival played a role as the decision was made just as the Tigers were charging towards September?
Whatever the reason, the result has been compelling, and as Collingwood President Eddie McGuire screamed with jubilation around the MCG after their Round 22 win over Port Adelaide, “The Pies are back in Town!”.
Nathan Buckley won a Magarey Medal, Jack Oatey Medal, Best and Fairest and a SANFL premiership for Port Adelaide in an unprecedented season. He won the inaugural Rising Star Award while at Brisbane. For Collingwood, he became one of their greatest ever captains, winning a Brownlow Medal, notching seven All-Australians, six Copeland Trophies and was the Magpies best player in their Grand Final campaigns in 2002-2003 winning a Norm Smith Medal. If Nathan Buckley believes his biggest footballing moment is still to come…
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