Magpies look inwards to find success
Proud Pie: Dane Swan has had a change of heart. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
THE return of leadership guru Ray McLean to Collingwood is the latest example of the firm footprint Nathan Buckley has placed on the football club where he took over as coach 12 months ago. Now, after one underachieving season, he appears determined to drive a redesign.
This might sound brutal, but even the Magpies would admit that a cultural shift is required. Football boss Geoff Walsh said as much during the week when he subtly delivered his ''good riddance'' clip towards the departing ''lad'', Sharrod Wellingham, and pledged a more disciplined outfit in 2013.
McLean's appointment is one of a raft of subtle and not-so-subtle changes about to be enforced at the Westpac Centre. His Leading Teams' philosophies include strong peer assessment and feedback, which requires a strong commitment from the entire club.
It is somewhat ironic that McLean has worked for the past three seasons at Carlton but leaves that club as Mick Malthouse takes over as coach. The leadership consultant worked with Malthouse in the latter's early years at Collingwood - and with the then young captain Buckley - but he and Malthouse had philosophical differences.
McLean remains highly respected and his services are costly. His return to Collingwood underlines Buckley's determination to take more control of key appointments and staff changes one year into the job. Particularly given the fact that the majority of his senior players - with Dayne Beams a glaring exception - did not perform at their best in 2012. No doubt the coach would have taken a look at himself but also at the attitude of his players.
When Buckley replaced Malthouse at the end of last season, the transition was messy because Malthouse struggled with the nature of his enforced expiry date. But when change came it was relatively smooth. Most of Buckley's football staff remained and the only coaching changes were forced on him when two assistants took senior roles elsewhere.
Malthouse predicted Collingwood would win the 2012 premiership and the view has not changed that should the club reap just one premiership from its strong and talented list then that would be viewed as a disappointment of vast proportions.
It is true that Collingwood's early injury toll was devastating, but there were some other bad signs. Andrew Krakouer's personal issues cruelled his pre-season well before he damaged his knee. Brownlow medallist Dane Swan pulled out of the leadership group and when Swan's mate, Wayne Carey, spoke of a player-coach rift, inside eyes fairly or not turned to Swan as Carey's source.
Travis Cloke's contractual standoff hindered his on-field performances and then Swan was suspended by the club for drinking and being less than truthful about the fact. It was just a small thing, but both Swan and Alan Didak gave interviews in which they lamented the grinding and restrictive nature of an AFL footballer's life.
While it was not surprising to read that Didak believed his football career was coming to an end and that he hankered for travel, the fact that Swan doubted he would play beyond his current contract - which finishes in two seasons - was an eyebrow-raiser.
The club now doubts the 2011 Brownlow medallist will stick to that plan and certainly his attitude appears transformed since he so significantly lost face with his teammates.
There were other mitigating reasons, but neither Swan (third in the Copeland Trophy) nor Scott Pendlebury (runner-up) reached their own previous high performance standards and neither did Darren Jolly, Cloke or Dale Thomas. That the Magpies managed to finish in the top four illustrates just how good their list is, given that so few top players were at their best and Luke Ball was absent.
Hawthorn's fate in 2012 underlined just how difficult premierships are to win and clearly the Magpies believed themselves capable of a grand final in Buckley's first season and good enough to win a premiership in his second.
Now Wellingham has gone to West Coast and Chris Dawes almost certainly to Melbourne. Football operations boss Walsh - who generally says very little - damned Wellingham with faint praise and seemed to be assessing a larger group of players and perhaps the team as a whole when he said: ''In terms of his consistency. he probably hasn't got there yet. Will he ever get there? I don't know.''
Added Walsh: ''What I do know is our discipline, our attitude - if that's linked to culture, it is something we would feel needs to improve if we are going to be around in the last week of September.''
A hint of what McLean, who has worked across all football codes and with a number of AFL clubs including St Kilda and Sydney, might offer, comes from a book he wrote about leadership entitled Any Given Team, which referred to his differences with Malthouse.
''While Mick Malthouse actively used and encouraged the leadership group he seemed less interested in using the team's trademark to guide decisions made around the club.
''The coaching staff were anxious from the outset about what would happen if a good player received negative feedback. When that happened, the feedback process was immediately watered down.''
Come season 2013, Collingwood will likely have a new captain and - under the tough-love guidance of an in-control Buckley - the hard edge of a pre-season's worth of home truths.