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Buckley's secret - the press

Date

Will Brodie

Nathan Buckley the Channel Seven commentator, withLeigh Matthews, Bruce McAveny and Denis Cometti.

Nathan Buckley the Channel Seven commentator, withLeigh Matthews, Bruce McAveny and Denis Cometti. Photo: Channel Seven

Can you account for every one of your words and actions under pressure in the office last week? What do you think of what that former manager said about the new workflow you oversaw after he left? Does your company monitor your every move, every day on CCTV?

Are you trending on twitter, and the subject of analysis and commentary from an entire radio station and TV channel on top of the rest of the print and electronic media?

If you answer yes to all of the above, you may be ready for a job as an AFL head coach. Sure, you might need to know a bit about handpass-to-kick ratios, zone strategies and corkies, but if you can calmly handle an insane level of scrutiny, you possess an essential modern talent essential to the job.

Tough start: Nathan Buckley hasn't dodged the fallout from Collingwood's disappointing loss to Carlton last Friday.

Tough start: Nathan Buckley hasn't dodged the fallout from Collingwood's disappointing loss to Carlton last Friday. Photo: Getty Images

These days, an AFL coach must be more than 'media-savvy'; he must know and enjoy the cut and thrust of an overheated fourth estate.

The opening of the 2012 season has proven that the AFL is not just in the 'entertainment business', it takes a unique personality to handle the pressure once he becomes the focus.

Coaches are facing questions about questions about statements about opinions, all made by persons other than themselves. Bad form is catastrophic. Bad form plus a couple of injuries, or anything else that can be classified as less than favourable equals CRISIS.

Nathan Buckley talking to the media after hsi first full squad Collingwood training session, 21th November 2011.

Nathan Buckley talking to the media after hsi first full squad Collingwood training session, 21th November 2011. Photo: Matthew Piper

With the Fox Footy Channel, SEN, fantasy footy sites, sites like this and social media added to the media environment in recent years, the feeding frenzy is so ubiquitous and competitive that a calm or rational voice seems sage-like.

So when Nathan Buckley dealt with three days of Collingwood angst with an assured press conference on Tuesday, it felt like we were receiving wisdom from on-high, not simple common sense. He made hand-wringing elder statesmen Mick Malthouse and Eddie McGuire sound like amateurs.

Buckley defused the Magpie mess for a few minutes or hours by using the greatest gimmick known to defensive media strategy, one increasingly employed by the new breed of coach: honesty.

Magpies coach Mick Malthouse (left) shares a lolly from his lolly bag with assistant coach Nathan Buckley during a Collingwood training session, 2010.

Magpies coach Mick Malthouse (left) shares a lolly from his lolly bag with assistant coach Nathan Buckley during a Collingwood training session, 2010. Photo: Paul Rovere

Saving his passionate outbursts for reactions to clanger kicks in the coaching box, Buckley met probing questions with aplomb. He was considered, rational, measured, but frank. He offered the quotes necessary to fill stories and soundbites, and even admitted to disquiet at the spat between Malthouse and McGuire, reducing Collingwood's woes to the matter of on-field performance.

He ignored the uncontrollable world of speculation, rumour, innuendo and emotive big statements, and offered surprising empathy for his aggrieved predecessor. It was a clever and interesting performance.

Buckley, long in the public eye, knows what his interlocutors need. He spent a highly-praised stint in the media post-retirement as part of his self-devised coaching course.

He is representative of a new breed of coaches who embrace modern media madness and try to use it to good effect for their own ends, rather than despising and mistrusting it with a paranoid hostility.

Speaking about the continuing scrutiny of his relationship with former coach Mick Malthouse, Buckley said

"I understand that its going to keep coming and its unfortunate for all of us, but that's just the way it is."

All the same, Buckley will lessen the effects of the feeding frenzy upon his team as much as he can. He will make the best of a situation that only really changes once results and form improve.

In the days of senior coaches delegating to a panel of assistants, the buck still stops with Bucks, the head coach, and you can see why he did his work experience on the other side of the microphone: These days, speaking well, and thinking clearly under media pressure are no mere one-per-centers.

In this environment, at a club as prominent as Collingwood, when times get tough, having advanced media skills could be more like a twenty- or thirty-per-center.

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