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A Tense Nathan Buckley

After 10 seasons as senior coach of Collingwood, Nathan Buckley announced he would step aside after the Round 13 match. This despite a hard-fought win against the Crows in Round 12. However, it was just the third win for the Magpies who sit 16th in the standings with nine losses. St Kilda legend and long-time assistant Robert Harvey will take over as interim coach for the rest of the season. Football boss Graham Wright said the decision was made collaboratively following six months of chats.

Buckley, 48, made the call to step aside almost immediately and faced the media with Anderson and Wright. The press conference was virtual due to COVID protocols. Buckley said he felt "blessed to be part of this football club” and explained his decision to depart midseason and why he thought the club was in decent shape for the future,

“I’ve always felt I’ve given my all ... over the last 28 years. It’s a bit sad to understand that’ll be coming to an end ... We haven’t performed how we’d like to this year … I’ve had a fair crack ... Everyone’s time comes, and mine has come. I’m so grateful for the role the club has played in my life, it’s definitely shaped the person I am. Now I’ll go into the blue skies of whatever I’ll have for the rest of my life … and go on living the best life I can. It’ll always be as a Collingwood supporter.” He continued by saying there was a clear "... appetite for change ... " in recent weeks, “I could sense that as well. My messages, my manner, the way that I lead is established. We had a general sense it was time for something different, new and fresh. This is the right time. I would’ve been happy to coach the year out ... but ... stepping out is an opportunity for new growth, new voices. That’s an opportunity that should happen as soon as a decision is made. I’m really content with the process.” In an earlier statement, Buckley said, “Everything has its time and the club, and I have reached ours. I’ll miss being a part of that but will always feel like a part of me is left with them ...".

The team's game plan, which has seen them struggle to produce high scores, has been heavily criticized and Buckley has been under increasing pressure. He appeared on the TV show AFL 360 two days before his resignation announcement and said that although he felt he had not lost the players, it was harder to connect with them in such a difficult season. He also spoke on Fox Footy, “... There’s not a day goes by that I don’t pinch myself, thankful for the opportunities that the club has given me, and there’s not a day that goes by when I’m not challenged by what’s presented to us in the short term. So, you take the win-loss out of it, I’m still as energized to get into the club and to embrace the next challenge, so we’ve got Melbourne ... they’re in some great form. I’m looking forward ... to see what we can do against them. And whilst that passion is still there, I’m up for it, but the reality is that the best thing for the football club will be the final outcome and everyone has their time so it’s just a matter of taking its course and as we’ve said all along, we’ll make that decision in due course, the club will be a part of that and I think I’ll be a part of that as well.”

Buckley was appointed senior coach in 2012, taking over from Mick Malthouse. At the time it was controversial as it was part of a succession plan. The club wanted Malthouse to stay on as a sort of mentor to Buckley who had served as an assistant. However, Malthouse wanted no part of it and walked away. Buckley managed to get the Magpies into the Grand Final in 2018 and again got them to the finals in 2019 and 2020.

Sports reporter Gerard Whateley spoke on SEN Radio, paying tribute to Buckley's near-thirty years of service to the club, " ... I think Buckley’s presence in the game, his standing not just at Collingwood but more broadly, of course, he’s the figure of debate and consternation at various stages, but for what he has achieved in the game, for what he did on the field and for what he’s done over a long period of time, coaching for a decade, the longevity in that. The fact that everyone gave up on him and couldn’t see what he would become as a coach and then ... he took the team to a Grand Final in what was a stirring run and then they botched the Preliminary Final run the following year. The Elimination Final win last year was one of the great finals wins by any team in the circumstances. Then to live through things as they fell apart in the off-season, and it was foreseeable that Collingwood would have the start to the season that it had and casting an eye towards the long-term where the president said last week the next time they would contend is 2024 or 2025. Would a coach of 10 years be able to see out that period? The answer was likely no. I always thought Collingwood would never sack Nathan Buckley, they wouldn’t have to. He would understand that his time had come ... “It was philosophical ... and now Buckley has called his time.”

Former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire also appeared on AFL 360 and called it an "emotional day" and a “closing off” of his own legacy at the club and a reminder of the great people who have come through, “You can’t help but go back to the early days and the dreams and the aspirations. Early on, appointing Nathan (as) the captain, having the great Gavin Brown still there at the club. Having Mick Malthouse come and the excitement early on of what we were able to do. (Former player and coach) Tony Shaw’s handover was very similar ... So, a lot of emotions of great Collingwood people, that’s ultimately where I was today, just thinking about the people of Collingwood who have given so much ... over the years. There’s no one greater in giving to Collingwood than Nathan Buckley.”

McGuire had always been a staunch supporter of Buckley. He appointed the champion midfielder to take over as coach in 2012. McGuire, who stepped down as club president in early February, was also responsible for re-signing Buckley in 2017 during a full-scale review of the club. Asked if he thought Buckley leaving was the right decision, McGuire said, “I’m not going to buy into the decision or not. There’s been plenty of times over the years where I’ve had to decide whether to sack the coach, keep the coach, or whatever - usually at three-quarter time. In the end ... it was a coming together of circumstances. Ultimately, everyone did the right thing by the club. That’s what I was most proud of... and I’m just so delighted that Nathan will get the accolades that he deserves. As somebody who’s always done the right thing, not only by Collingwood but by the game in general. And his finish is just the same way as he’s always been, he’s done the right thing. Ultimately, he tells me that he believes in his heart that it was the right thing to do. It probably will be, as we all take a deep breath, the best thing for him and his family as well. And a next chapter will open up ... I have no doubt that he has further glories to attain.”

McGuire said when he resigned as president in February, he didn’t envision a change of senior coach happening this season, explaining that there are multiple factors that could have affected that decision, not the least of which was the pandemic which took a toll on so many people, “I always take into account it’s not just what’s happening on the field, you’re looking at other things as well. Bucks had been at the coalface for basically 30 years, and I was watching how he was. Not just him, but myself, I decided to go for another 12 months and didn’t get that far. The Covid thing really hit a lot of people, I keep saying last year was like 10 years and the pressures that were involved and families and all sorts of different things. It wouldn’t have surprised me at some stage if Nathan had have come and said, "Listen, I need to have a break" or "I’m finished". “Having said that, it could’ve been as easy to say "here we are in a rebuild, let’s have a long-term view about this, we know how these things work. We did one already together, Mick Malthouse did two in his time with me at Collingwood, let’s go again and let’s sign up for three of four years and get ourselves right and really go hard on this." There was no decision or thought that it was going to happen, but ... it is what it is because it was a convergence of situations.”

McGuire was also asked about extending Buckley's contract before his own departure and replied, “No, because there was a year there and as far as I was concerned, it was never a case of Bucks leaving or getting the sack with me. It was whether or not we decided the time was up at some stage, we would work it out together. As far as I was concerned, he was on a rolling contract, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t get the flick if he didn’t come up to scratch or he wouldn’t give us the flick if we weren’t doing the right thing either. It was just total trust because you had somebody whose total devotion was to the football club, and you could work through those things. So, there was never any thought about that, but if it came up, you can sit down and do these things as grown people and as professionals with a genuine love and affection for each other but with the ultimate to get the best possible result for your club.”

Asked if Ross Lyon has the natural qualities to be Collingwood's coach, McGuire joked: “Why do you reckon he’s been sitting alongside me?” He added that there were a number of good candidates to take over, “I think there’s a big field of people who will be very good for Collingwood and also Collingwood will be very good for them. “They’re going to walk into a club that has built every situation you could possibly have ... The women’s is set up, everything is set up beautifully. The thing that we wanted to get sorted out was the ‘Do Better’ report, which we initiated some 14 to 16 months ago. It came to its conclusion; those things have been rolled out now. So, I think just about every issue that we could anticipate, and there’s always new ones, Collingwood’s in pretty good shape ...”. He went on to pay tribute to Buckley, “Today’s about Bucks, today's about a lifetime (at the club) - 28 years - about a player who was sometimes criticized for being too professional. Whose high water mark should have been the benchmark for everybody else. But he was just great, and he could’ve been abrasive at times, we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, we challenged each other ... and had far different approaches to different things. But we were able to achieve a lot ... together.”

McGuire admitted that he was still saddened by the fact that a premiership eluded Buckley both as a player and coach. He went on to say despite no premiership glory, Buckley would still be held in high regard in Collingwood's history and the game overall, “He’s just an icon on the game. I remember Jock McHale saying Bob Rose was the greatest Collingwood player he saw, and I know that Bob Rose said Nathan Buckley was the greatest Collingwood player he saw. There’s a couple of good judges over a long period of time at our football club to have Nathan Buckley’s name in such a group. You can’t get much better than that."

Noteworthy events in Buckley's career:

October 2007: Nathan Buckley announces his retirement as a player. He played 21 games for Brisbane in 1991 before crossing to Collingwood where he played 263 games. He won six best and fairest awards, was named All-Australian seven times, was co-winner of the Brownlow Medal in 2003, and won the 2002 Norm Smith Medal (just the third player to do so despite the team losing the Grand Final)

July 2009: Collingwood president Eddie McGuire announces coaching succession plan that will see Nathan Buckley serve as an assistant coach for 2010 and 2011 before taking over from Mick Malthouse as senior coach at the end of the 2011 season

September 2011: Buckley takes over as senior coach after the Pies second consecutive Grand Final appearance under Malthouse, with Malthouse adamant he still wanted to continue as senior coach

September 2012: Collingwood makes to the Preliminary Final in Buckley's first year as a coach but lose to Sydney

May 2017: Collingwood announces sweeping review of the club along with a separate review of Buckley after the club misses the finals for the fourth consecutive year. Buckley is eventually re-signed on a two-year contract after intense external scrutiny

September 2018: A revitalized Collingwood makes to their first Grand Final since 2011, kicking the first five goals of the match before West Coast overtakes them and wins by five points with a set shot goal by Dom Sheed in the dying minutes

October 2018: Collingwood trades its 2018 and 2019 first-round picks along with a 2018 third-round pick to Brisbane for star midfielder Dayne Beams, who initially left the Pies in 2014. He returns to the Pies on a four-year deal

January 2020: All-Australian ruckman Brodie Grundy recommits to the club on a mammoth seven-year deal

July 2020: Collingwood announces inquiry into allegations of racism at the club between 2005 and 2014

November 2020: Collingwood officially part ways with Beams after reaching a settlement on the final two years of the deal. Beams played nine games for the Pies in 2019 before the injury and mental health concerns saw him step away indefinitely

November 2020: Collingwood undergoes a controversial trade period, with the trading of stars Adam Treloar and Jaidyn Stephenson heavily criticized. Treloar and Stephenson both later admit they were disappointed with the club and Buckley’s handling of their exits.

November 2020: Club list manager Ned Guy denies the controversial trade period moves were attributed to a salary cap squeeze in a widely panned interview. Club officials later admit the messaging surrounding the trades could’ve been handled better

November 2020: Collingwood football boss Geoff Walsh quits after 36 years in the game

January 2021: Collingwood confirms it has poached Hawthorn footy boss Graham Wright, who replaces Walsh as the head of footy

February 2021: McGuire and board members hold a 50-minute press conference after the ‘Do Better’ report into racism is leaked

February 2021: After being heavily criticized for his handling of the club’s recent press conference, McGuire announces immediate resignation from Collingwood presidency despite initially planning to step down at the end of 2021

April 2021: In the final year of his current contract with the club, Buckley declares he wants to be the coach of Collingwood beyond 2021 but will wait until “two-thirds of the way through the year” to begin negotiations

May 2021: Collingwood list manager Ned Guy quits, with the club’s new general manager of football Graham Wright taking over the role on an interim basis

June 2021: Buckley announces his resignation as senior coach of the Collingwood Football Club, with the Queen’s Birthday game against Melbourne in Round 13 to be his last at the helm

June 2021: Speaking on Fox Footy’s First Crack after Buckley’s resignation, Brisbane Lions great Jonathan Brown reflected that “the trade period did untold damage” and that “Bucks was probably hung out to dry”. Brown says the trade period “would’ve eroded the trust of the playing group” and that Buckley had been “fighting an uphill battle since then”.

Source:, AFL Record Season Guide

Article last changed on Wednesday, June 09, 2021 - 7:53 PM EDT

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