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Magpies on the move

Nathan Buckley holds a training session for the team in Utah.

Nathan Buckley holds a training session for the team in Utah. Photo: Collingwood Football Club

FOR eight years now, Collingwood has conducted an overseas pre-season training camp at high altitude. One was in South Africa, half-a-dozen in Flagstaff, Arizona. But this time, the Magpies changed their US ''second home'' to Utah, where rival North Melbourne has been based for three years.

An unspoken dipping of the lid to the Roos, perhaps? Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley good-naturedly shoots that one down.

''Mate, we're pioneers of the whole thing. We don't need to be following people,'' he jests.

Well, sort of jests. Because in a big-picture sense, Buckley knows that after at least a couple of years of setting the AFL standard, Collingwood, however marginally, has slipped just a little in the pecking order.

This camp has been all about making up that ground.

''I reckon the perception about next year from outside here could have us anywhere from first to eighth, maybe even lower,'' he says.

''It's not my job to speculate on that, but I've got no doubt there would be question marks about what we're capable of, and that there's a few other sides that quite rightly would now be held in higher esteem after the last 18 months, so we've got some ground to make up.

''I don't feel like we're league leaders any more, we're not the benchmark. So we're definitely aiming to challenge the existing benchmark sides and perform better against them than we did in the last season-and-a-bit.''

The 16-day camp in Utah was the start of that process. Flagstaff had been a proven winner for the Magpies, but had also become very familiar.

This, says Buckley, was about ''freshening the group up a little bit''.

''There's something different to explore, like a new city, a new area. There's a little bit of risk with that, but I think we've probably got a 3 or 4 per cent spike from having a new venue, and probably another 3 or 4 per cent with some of the venues we've been able to secure and use here, so I think it's been pretty positive.''

Collingwood reorganised the timing of its pre-season program, giving its players the bulk of their required leave up front before the camp. On this venture, there's been better accommodation, plenty of use made of the facilities at the University of Utah and more chance to, as the coach puts it, ''drip feed'' into confined game situations the work the Magpies have been doing on two focus areas, transition and contested ball.

''Every destination has its different nuances, but we couldn't be happier with making the change. It just feels like it's freshened the group up. And we want to find another couple of per cent in every area of our preparation, that's with the camp, our contested footy, our fitness, our weight program,'' he says.

''You're always looking to be better, and sometimes if you hold on to what you've got, you miss out on the opportunity to improve.''

That's a maxim that could logically be applied to Collingwood on the field as well in Buckley's first year in charge after taking over from Mick Malthouse.

The master's coaching apprentice refined rather than remade Malthouse's Collingwood model. The judgment on the results of that tinkering depends on whether you're naturally inclined to a glass half-full or empty view of the world.

It's an assessment complicated also by the constant injury curse that hovered over the Pies most of the season, seldom allowing their star contingent to even play, let alone perform to their capacity, as a group.

Few teams can have won 10 consecutive games, as did Collingwood in 2012, and still give the impression it was somewhat below its best.

The upside was that many of those victories came with the injuries mounting, the Pies still able to eke out the wins and blood and develop further the likes of Ben Sinclair, Jamie Elliott, Paul Seedsman, Jackson Paine and Luke Rounds.

The bottom line, however, a finish of fourth with 16 wins, four fewer than in 2011, was clearly a drop-off. The manic defensive and tackling pressure that was the trademark of Collingwood's 2010-11, particularly in its forward half, fell away, as did the Pies' capacity to win the contested ball.

''You still have to win that contested ball in a phone box, and we've got some very good contested-ball players, but I thought at times last year we were nutted in that area,'' Buckley says.

''When we won the contested ball we won footy games, and when we lost it, we lost them, so it continues to be a really strong indicator.

''We really struggled for consistency in our defensive pressure, especially in our forward half.

''We need to be able to put pressure on the ball constantly, and with a big pre-season and a better fitness base and with a focus on controlling the ball, we're going to be able to put more pressure on.

''Sides are getting pretty good at controlling the tempo and getting out of their back half, and we need to be able to match that.''

The biggest change to the game last year, says Buckley, and evident not only in both grand finalists Sydney and Hawthorn, but the likes of Adelaide and West Coast, was about the best teams finding the right balance of inside ability with outside run.

The next likely shifts will come as a consequence of a cap on interchange numbers, to be trialled in February's NAB Cup, but almost certain to be introduced for the premiership season in 2014. That will place an even greater premium on the quality and speed of ball movement, and to that end, Buckley's Pies have attempted to get ahead of the curve.

That transition, as has been clear from the work done at the Utah camp, will be a key to Collingwood's 2013, underlined in the recruiting during the trade period of a trio of penetrating kicks of the football, former Eagle Quinten Lynch, former Hawk Clinton Young, and former Blue Jordan Russell.

''We feel like we've been a little shy on players who can run the lines and maintain their width, and who can cover distance with run then penetrate by foot,'' Buckley says.

''Nearly every one of the players we've brought in has real penetration in their kicking. I felt we had lost the ability to penetrate, we sort of relied so much on turning the ball over in the front half that we actually lost a lot of penetration rebounding out of our back half.

''Leon Davis going had an influence on that, and Heath Shaw being held had an influence, so Young and Lynch and Russell help that, and even the younger draftees have got a bit of pep on their kicks, too, so it's definitely been a focus, we've been able to recruit that, and we're in the process of training it as well.''

Lynch, in particular, will be pivotal, as a key forward replacement for the departed Chris Dawes, and as effective ruck support for No. 1 man Darren Jolly, something the Magpies have lacked since the retirement of Leigh Brown. But Buckley chuckles at the mention of the ''Leigh Brown-type role''.

''If people think you need to match the structure you had in 2010 to be successful in 2013, that's so far off track it's not funny,'' he says.

All types of forward and on-ball structures are possible, ''dependent upon where we think we can take advantage of the opposition defensively, but also a product of the time of the season and how effective we are with our ball-movement patterns''.

Buckley doesn't discount potential input from up-and-coming ruckmen Jarrod Witts or the Pies' first pick in the national draft, Sturt youngster Brodie Grundy, either, recalling the 2010 campaign when a number of players who hadn't been considered part of the best 22 at the beginning of the year ended up with a premiership medal by season's end.

The now only new-ish Collingwood coach, famously demanding of himself, was always going to mark his own first year in the job harshly, but fear of not reaching goals is never going to prevent him setting his own lofty targets.

''I suppose one thing I did find out was when you do have those high expectations that you get disappointed more often than not,'' he says. ''I shake my head at times when I hear leaders in organisations try to manage expectations. I can understand there's a bit of self-preservation in all of that. But I wasn't and won't be afraid to talk up the possibilities and capabilities of our club and our program and players.''

Buckley the coach knows in one sense he's not a lot different to Buckley the former champion player, one area needing constant attention being his ''ability to smell the roses''. ''I feel like I lead best when the shit hits the fan,'' he says.

But show him a first-year AFL coach who has managed to strike the perfect balance of work and personal life and he'd be ''amazed if they actually had the personality required to be able to sink their teeth into the role and get it done''. ''I really try to find avenues to switch off entirely, but it's easier said than done.

''I got better at it as the year went on, I'm a lot more understanding now of the requirement for balance, and I look forward to being a better coach because of that.

''Once the dust settles, you realise how much you invest and how important it's going to be in the long term to be able to take in those deep breaths and maintain a balance throughout the length of the season.''

Buckley happily concedes others close to him, such as wife Tania, see the bigger picture better than he.

''She's been fantastic. She's worked herself up with anticipation of what was going to come and was probably a bit surprised … she probably feels I've got a better balance than what I feel I have, but I still think there's more to go. You're always learning,'' he laughs.

As ever, Buckley is trying to improve that extra couple of per cent. Be it on the home front, be it drilling the Collingwood troops in thick snow and freezing cold on the other side of the world, or be it just planning the business of getting an entire football club back at the head of the pack where it genuinely believes it belongs.

HuffPost Australia

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115vs GCF 89 Stats
SYD 72vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78vs GWS 87 Stats
ADE 140vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123vs GEE 61 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131vs CAR 62 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66vs WBU 85 Report Stats
GWS 101vs MEL 56 Stats
COL 63vs ADE 90 Report Stats
GCF 76vs STK 104 Stats
PTA 44vs SYD 92 Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60vs FRE 104 Stats
ESS 78vs HAW 76 Stats
NTH 133vs BRI 51 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140vs STK 66 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84vs ESS 105 Stats
ADE 80vs MEL 55 Stats
SYD 111vs GWS 90 Report Stats
NTH 105vs PTA 113 Stats
BRI 58vs RIC 137 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127vs WBU 57 Stats
GEE 105vs GCF 96 Stats
WCE 81vs FRE 111 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51vs MEL 83 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
ESS 49vs COL 69 Report Stats
GWS 119vs GCF 53 Stats
PTA 99vs HAW 91 Stats
FRE 74vs SYD 60 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65vs WCE 118 Stats
GEE 67vs NTH 83 Stats
WBU 125vs ADE 68 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45vs COL 120 Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76vs GEE 85 Stats
SYD 73vs WBU 77 Stats
GCF 118vs BRI 54 Stats
NTH 70vs HAW 130 Stats
WCE 120vs GWS 33 Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50vs FRE 118 Stats
STK 80vs ESS 82 Stats
ADE 91vs PTA 115 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL 59vs GEE 100 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 109vs RIC 74 Stats
WBU 87vs STK 94 Stats
GWS 108vs HAW 98 Stats
GCF 78vs ADE 119 Stats
MEL 50vs SYD 88 Stats
FRE 80vs ESS 52 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 75vs BRI 84 Report Stats
PTA 68vs WCE 78 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 82vs NTH 93 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 119vs STK 73 Stats
HAW 155vs MEL 50 Stats
CAR 57vs GWS 135 Stats
SYD 120vs GEE 77 Stats
WCE 135vs GCF 43 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU 88vs FRE 101 Stats
RIC 105vs COL 100 Report Stats
BRI 102vs PTA 65 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 140vs CAR 63 Report Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 78vs WCE 131 Report Stats
GWS 108vs ADE 84 Report Stats
GCF 63vs COL 132 Report Stats
HAW 69vs SYD 73 Report Stats
FRE 115vs NTH 42 Report Stats
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 136vs BRI 78 Report Stats
MEL 103vs WBU 64 Report Stats
PTA 43vs RIC 76 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 122vs CAR 62 Report Stats
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW 93vs GCF 40 Report Stats
MEL 54vs PTA 115 Report Stats
WBU 113vs GWS 68 Report Stats
RIC 72vs ESS 59 Report Stats
ADE 57vs FRE 68 Report Stats
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI 86vs STK 108 Report Stats
COL 112vs NTH 95 Report Stats
WCE 120vs GEE 64 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE 70vs RIC 97 Report Stats
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 90vs ADE 99 Report Stats
GCF 41vs SYD 93 Report Stats
ESS 53vs GEE 122 Report Stats
PTA 100vs WBU 62 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS 97vs BRI 67 Report Stats
NTH 85vs WCE 75 Report Stats
STK 69vs HAW 132 Report Stats
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL 85vs COL 110 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA 69vs GEE 92 Report Stats
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF 46vs FRE 53 Report Stats
WCE 96vs ESS 46 Report Stats
NTH 75vs SYD 91 Report Report Stats
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL 119vs GWS 77 Report Stats
STK 85vs MEL 83 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE 85vs HAW 114 Report Stats
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC 70vs WCE 90 Report Stats
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 110vs PTA 106 Report Stats
GWS 61vs NTH 117 Report Stats
WBU 146vs BRI 74 Report Stats
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 89vs MEL 113 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE 80vs COL 73 Report Stats
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD 77vs RIC 95 Report Stats
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW 114vs ESS 76 Report Stats
BRI 69vs ADE 82 Report Stats
STK 56vs WBU 62 Report Stats
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR 103vs GCF 69 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD 94vs PTA 84 Report Stats
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL 91vs HAW 101 Report Stats
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 78vs GWS 69 Report Stats
GCF 125vs NTH 70 Report Stats
WBU 64vs CAR 53 Report Stats
MEL 60vs WCE 114 Report Stats
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS 52vs STK 162 Stats
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE 84vs BRI 48 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA 66vs COL 63 Report Stats
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 71vs CAR 41 Report Stats
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS 69vs MEL 60 Report Stats
WBU 95vs GCF 73 Report Stats
NTH 120vs GEE 79 Report Stats
WCE 147vs ADE 91 Report Stats
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS 84vs STK 49 Report Stats
HAW 115vs FRE 43 Report Stats
BRI 49vs SYD 70 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH 93vs ESS 68 Report Stats
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE 72vs WBU 64 Report Stats
GCF 79vs GWS 94 Report Stats
COL 56vs WCE 87 Report Stats
SYD 57vs HAW 146 Report Stats
FRE 95vs CAR 53 Report Stats
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL 60vs BRI 36 Report Stats
PTA 113vs ADE 116 Report Stats
STK 73vs RIC 89 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 35vs HAW 173 Report Stats
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS 42vs GEE 69 Stats
ADE 125vs GCF 80 Stats
RIC 78vs FRE 82 Stats
ESS 116vs PTA 129 Stats
BRI 38vs NTH 110 Report Stats
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU 104vs COL 86 Report Stats
MEL 46vs STK 83 Report Stats
WCE 103vs SYD 51 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW 53vs RIC 71 Report Stats
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE 113vs BRI 57 Stats
COL 54vs MEL 91 Report Stats
SYD 117vs ADE 65 Report Stats
CAR 54vs NTH 118 Report Stats
GCF 83vs WCE 83 Report Stats
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA 112vs STK 49 Report Stats
ESS 40vs WBU 127 Report Stats
FRE 84vs GWS 63 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE 88vs RIC 52 Report Stats
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 105vs CAR 87 Report Stats
WBU 128vs PTA 64 Report Stats
BRI 100vs GCF 114 Report Stats
GEE 95vs SYD 63 Report Stats
WCE 74vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 92vs NTH 127 Report Stats
GWS 93vs ESS 61 Report Stats
STK 59vs FRE 96 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 87vs COL 76 Report Stats
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS 59vs ADE 171 Report Stats
NTH 120vs STK 83 Report Stats
PTA 111vs GWS 90 Report Stats
GEE 85vs HAW 121 Report Stats
BRI 131vs CAR 67 Report Stats
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC 138vs GCF 55 Report Stats
WBU 153vs MEL 55 Report Stats
FRE 80vs WCE 104 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW 86vs PTA 108 Report Stats
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 56vs RIC 147 Report Stats
GWS 44vs SYD 133 Report Stats
GCF 97vs ESS 95 Report Stats
STK 97vs GEE 97 Report Stats
ADE 131vs BRI 44 Report Stats
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 94vs FRE 83 Report Stats
CAR 78vs MEL 55 Report Stats
WCE 162vs WBU 85 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE 62vs COL 110 Report Stats
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS 132vs CAR 51 Report Stats
HAW 134vs BRI 62 Report Stats
NTH 73vs WBU 96 Report Stats
ESS 47vs RIC 74 Report Stats
GCF 51vs PTA 88 Report Stats
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE 126vs WCE 69 Report Stats
STK 38vs SYD 135 Report Stats
FRE 108vs MEL 54 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
RIC 108vs NTH 67 Report Stats
Sat, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
GEE 119vs ADE 80 Report Stats
BRI 130vs WBU 122 Report Stats
PTA 122vs FRE 53 Report Stats
HAW 113vs CAR 56 Report Stats
SYD 127vs GCF 64 Report Stats
WCE 125vs STK 30 Report Stats
Sun, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
MEL 103vs GWS 77 Report Stats
COL 92vs ESS 95 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 24
Fri, 11 SepTimes shown AEST
WCE 96vs HAW 64 Report Stats
Sat, 12 SepTimes shown AEST
FRE 69vs SYD 60 Report Stats
WBU 102vs ADE 109 Report Stats
Sun, 13 SepTimes shown AEST
RIC 88vs NTH 105 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 25
Fri, 18 SepTimes shown AEST
HAW 135vs ADE 61 Report Stats
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 51vs NTH 77 Report Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 26
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
FRE 67vs HAW 94 Report Stats
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
WCE 80vs NTH 55 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 27
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
HAW 107vs WCE 61 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 22 17 5 0 118.73 68
West Coast Eagles 22 16 5 1 148.22 66
Hawthorn 22 16 6 0 158.40 64
Sydney Swans 22 16 6 0 127.12 64
Richmond 22 15 7 0 123.09 60
Western Bulldogs 22 14 8 0 115.12 56
Adelaide Crows 21 13 8 0 115.71 54
North Melbourne 22 13 9 0 106.45 52
View all

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