FOOTBALL NATION OPINION
ON the eve of the 2012 season, Nathan Buckley’s ascension to the head coaching position of the Collingwood Football Club will be one of the most scrutinised changes in the AFL.
Following Mick Malthouse as the coach of the most popular (and yes, reviled) club in the AFL takes that difficulty to another level.
But when the person doing the following is one of the greatest players in the Magpies’ long history? Well it’s almost to be expected that the scrutiny facing Nathan Buckley’s every move will be unprecedented.
On the positive side Buckley seems to be well equipped to handle the attention.
He’s had many years on the field as the club’s best player and just as many in the media with regular slots on television and radio. He is polished, confident and media-savvy speaker and it would be almost inconceivable that he would not have already developed the thick skin necessary to survive and not buckle under the pressure (pun intended).
The real challenge therefore is not how well Buckley handle’s the expectations that have been thrust upon him, but how well the Collingwood Football Club and its followers can manage them.
With the exception of its three losses to Geelong, the third of which came in last year’s Grand Final, Collingwood enters the 2012 season on a roll. They have won 37 out of 44 home and away matches in the last two years, and have been a scoring machine during that period with 4,941 points against just 3,204 for their opponents. The club has an enviable and young talent pool of players and is easily the most well financed operation in the league. While other clubs make announcements about hitting 30,000 members, Collingwood quietly and regularly signs up over 70,000.
It’s pretty hard to get past those losses to Geelong, however, and ultimately its only ever premierships that matter.
So can Nathan Buckley get the club to the promised land as their new coach?
Club president Eddie McGuire obviously thinks so. McGuire personally engineered the coaching succession plan that saw Buckley become “coach-in-waiting” three years ago, that effectively took him out of the market for coaching positions at other clubs and, to borrow a basketball analogy, started the shot clock on the incumbent coach Mick Malthouse.
In one sense that strategy has already paid dividends for McGuire with Malthouse delivering two Grand Final appearances and a premiership victory in 2010.
But fans have short memories and glory fades. Interest today is not about the last premiership victory but the next one and with an underwhelming performance so far in this year’s NAB Cup competition the anxiety levels of the club faithful are already rising.
Nathan Buckley has a better chance than almost any of his peers to win the 2012 flag, but that’s all he has: a better chance. The opportunity for the victory that he, the club and the fans seek is over half a year away and so many things can happen over that period of time. While some of those things may be good, at the elite level of competition they almost always seem to be bad and can run from a rash of injuries to poor form.
The sad truth is, unfortunately, that Buckley could engineer one of the all time great coaching seasons in AFL history and still be deemed to have failed if it doesn’t end with the Magpies singing “Good Old Collingwood Forever” from the middle of the MCG.
And looking on of course is the former coach, Mick Malthouse. Last month we wrote that his exit from the coaching booth into the broadcasting one is something that will cast a shadow over his former club this season. In that article Malthouse foreshadowed the looming attention and criticism that Buckley will face when he said “No assistant coaches get pressure on them. It’s like sitting in the back seat of a car. It’s when you take over the steering wheel in the front seat that the pressure goes on.”
In 2012, everyone is going to be watching this drama unfold now that the only hands on that steering wheel are Nathan Buckley’s.
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