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Buckley could prove to be one of the great coaches

Nathan Buckley has been Collingwood's longest-serving captain. He has also won a club-record six best and fairest awards. He won't reach Jock McHale's record of 714 games coached, but the signs indicate he could well prove to be one of Collingwood's finest coaches and ambassadors.

Buckley achieved everything as a player, other than the ultimate – being part of a premiership team. When he retired from the field, he impressed with his professionalism in the football media. He then began a coaching career as an assistant, something his contemporaries in Michael Voss and James Hird didn't do to their detriment.

On Friday night, the Brownlow medallist will coach his 40th senior game. If the Pies beat the Crows, his success rate will be 67 per cent. That's much better than the career success rates of Leigh Matthews, Mick Malthouse and Kevin Sheedy, who are all in the high 50s.

Obviously, Buckley will have to prove he can go the distance, and in long coaching careers there will be down seasons, but in what has been a short time in the hot seat, Buckley has impressed as he has overcome the many challenges he has already faced.

The first was to hold his tongue and maintain his dignity when the planned and agreed coaching succession plan with Malthouse started to fray. Buckley was slighted and unfairly ridiculed more than once, but his composure and class stood firm while others didn't.

He then has the courage to be his own man and do things his way as coach. Plenty of new coaches don't.


So things were done differently at Collingwood. Older players who have had success are often reluctant to change. There's no doubt some senior players didn't appreciate the new challenges. But the coach stood firm and was prepared to play kids who would do it his way.

Last year Buckley introduced seven new players into the senior team. This year, another seven have made their debuts, which is the most for any club. In last week's win against Carlton, of the eight youngest players on the ground, seven wore black and white.

It's impressive. And as the kids help to get wins, the older ones realise it's "get on board or get out".

A rotten run with injuries hasn't helped. Last year four of the top six goalkickers were Dayne Beams, Alex Fasolo, Tyson Goldsack and Dale Thomas. They have hardly been seen thus far. Also missing for large chunks of the season have been Darren Jolly, Lachlan Keeffe, Andrew Krakouer, Clint Young and Alan Toovey.

The last week has been a tough one for the Pies, but the Harry O'Brien situation has been handled with a satisfactory balance of sensitivity and strength. Buckley is an accomplished media performer and in times like these he is the ideal man to front for his club.

An embarrassing loss to Port Adelaide two weeks ago could well be the catalyst for the Pies to put their season on track. No one shied away from how bad the loss was and a spike in effort was promised. After a slow start last week against the Blues, the Pies got on a roll and delivered. Super performances from senior players in Dane Swan, Scott Pendlebury and Travis Cloke showed the senior boys are on the same page as the coach.

A win on Friday night over Adelaide, followed by games against Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney could set Collingwood up with a four-win block that will build confidence and form as it approaches its big pre-September test. In rounds 19, 20 and 21 the Pies take on Essendon, Sydney and Hawthorn; all teams that comprehensively beat them in the first half of the season.

There are good reasons why the Pies can optimistically look ahead. They have a coach who has weathered several storms to take on an elevated standing in the game. Ben Reid is proving to be a match-winning swing man. If Keeffe can return to defence and Nick Maxwell can take on taller opponents in the back line, then Reid will be invaluable support for Cloke, who is nearing top form. Heath Shaw is working some effective lock-down jobs. New boys Marley Williams and Paul Seedsman have added dash off the half-back line.

For years the Pies haven't had a tagger. Brent Macaffer has taken on the role and is doing an excellent job as he has the concentration, will, size and skill to curtail elite midfielders. He can also do a defensive forward role if needed. Krakouer's return is so important to the forward mix. His creativity sets up plenty of goals. Dayne Beams won last year's best and fairest. His return will ease the load on the midfield and he will be a regular goalkicker.

Jolly, if fit, is still one of the game's best ruckmen. In his absence Ben Hudson has been good value and Jarrod Witts has been getting invaluable experience. Coming off a knee reconstruction, Luke Ball can only get better with each game played.

Hopefully O'Brien can get his life back on track and return to the back line. In full flight, he is a fine, attacking defender. So there is a big upside for the Pies as September looms. During these trying times at Collingwood, there's been one player I have really admired, and that's Jarryd Blair. The little fellow never stops trying. He gives his absolute all. He has energised a team that, for a period, lost its spark. I hope he has a terrific September.


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