Is Nathan Buckley Holding Collingwood Back?
There’s a reasonable argument that last decade was actually Collingwood’s best since the 1950’s.
Which is also an evaluation that should sit fairly uncomfortably upon the shoulder’s of this sporting giant.
Yes, the Pies won a flag and played Finals regularly, yet it ultimately felt as though the Pies left a fair bite of meat on the bone, routinely breaking down when the going got tough.
Which brings us to our overarching question as to where Collingwood’s 16th premiership is lurking.
Is this a club that has blown too many chances, or alternatively, are we about to embark on the next great period of Magpie history?
The Pies list is most certainly in ‘win now’ mode.
According to SI’s Player Ratings, Collingwood not only has a league-high 7 players in the top-50, but all of its contributors are either in the absolute peak of their career, or just on the cusp of entering it.
Brodie Grundy has emerged in recent seasons as a league superstar, claiming not only the mantle as the game’s best ruckman, but there’s a strong argument that he’s the very best in the sport right now.
He leads a loaded Magpie midfield whose +33.4 disposal differential led the league last season, helped enormously by the evergreen talents of Scott Pendlebury and Steele Sidebottom.
Alongside these Collingwood legends, the likes of Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams and Tom Phillips continue to take up their fair share of the slack, and with the trio all under 27, appear more than capable of leading the midfield admirably over the next five or so years.
The Collingwood backline continues to smother opponents too. They ranked #2 last season from a points conceded perspective, possessing a potent mix of variation.
Jeremy Howe remains one of the league’s best intercept players while Jordan Roughead has fit in seamlessly, playing each and every game in his debut season as a Magpie. Darcy Moore is slowly emerging as an All-Australian caliber backman while Jack Crisp is currently ranked as the 7th best defender in the leagueowing to his brilliant two-way game.
It’s up forward however where so many of Collingwood’s question marks persist, and if solved, could potentially provide the key to the next Magpie premiership.
While it is a forward line which lacks consistent production, it's one dripping with outlandish talent.
Jordan De Goey is one of the AFL’s brightest young players, as too is Jaidyn Stephenson, while the Brown brothers, both Callum and Taylor, are two prospects the Pies are deliriously excited about.
No-one’s doubting that Nathan Buckley is one of the AFL’s most measured minds, doubling as a brilliant ambassador for both the league and Collingwood Football Club.
At the same time, it’s reasonable to speculate whether he’s the absolute best candidate to help the Pies land their next flag.
Buckley has a brilliant, diverse squad at his disposal which is very much equipped to win a premiership.
With that said, the question remains whether Buckley is tactically savvy enough to mix it with the game’s best and brightest, and in the biggest moments.
Buckley’s record against the game’s premier minds leaves a lot to be desired which speaks to a familiar theme at Collingwood regarding their ability to beat up on the lesser lights, yet struggle against top-tier opponents.
Since taking over as Collingwood coach in 2012, Buckley has compiled a regrettable 10-25 record against top-4 opposition, while boasting an excellent 35-3 against bottom-4 clubs.
For Buckley, as it is for elite coaches the world over, winning the ultimate prize isn’t necessarily everything, however proving oneself against your industry’s best certainly is. Until his record against the best improves, Buckley’s coaching credentials will remain a point of contention.
For a team seemingly in perennial contention, the Pies have remained strongly invested in the draft, extracting exceptional talent from their prime selections.
Last decade the Pies used 9 first round picks, unearthing stars such as Grundy, De Goey, Moore and Stephenson, while they remain optimistic about 2018’s #13 pick, Isaac Quaynor.
Collingwood have also enjoyed great success in later rounds and through the rookie draft.
While Pie mainstays Tom Philips and Tom Langdon were plucked from the fourth round, their success in the Rookie Draft has been as impressive as any club in the league.
US-born Mason Cox has been an obviously incredible story, however its’s been the recent emergence of Brody Mihocek that has been just as impressive, rising from Rookie Draft after-thought, to Collingwood’s most prolific goalscorer and consistent tall forward.
THEIR ACHILLIES HEEL
It’s an offence that seems to break down when needed most.
While the Pies under Buckley have been an excellent home and away team, they’ve continually come unstuck at Finals time, with their under-performing attack being a predominant reason why.
They entered last September with just the 7th ranked attack among the Finalists which was an output that haunted them in both their matches.
While their 61 points was enough to surprise Geelong in the Qualifying Final, their insipid Preliminary Final performance was very concerning. They mustered just 52 points against the Giants, fuelling a myriad of questions regarding both the set-up and execution of the Collingwood forward line under Buckley.
It's of course understandable that a club's scores would dry up come Finals time when pitted against the best, however it's an impediment that must be broken through in order to take the extra step. It's something Richmond have been able to do convincingly in recent premiership seasons, and an area the Pies simply must step up in.
THEIR BIGGEST WEAPON
Put simply, the Pies are over-flowing with high-end contributors. Not only that, but that excellence is complimented by an envious spread of players all over the park.
Most crucially, this talent is only now starting to come into its own.
While it’s reasonable to wonder whether Pendlebury and Sidebottom can continue to excel, the likes of Grundy and De Goey are only scratching the surface of their enormous potential.
Collingwood’s list has the class, experience and Finals exposure to be competing for premierships both now and into the future, while the club should be commended for its organisational stability, which includes the support of Buckley.
With that said, the pressure is now firmly on their coach who's now in his ninth season at the helm.
Whether he can maintain the confidence of his playing group, and consistently demonstrate his tactical wherewithal, could well be the difference as to whether the Magpies can indeed land that record-equaling 16th premiership.
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