Are We Sure Ross Lyon And Collingwood Are A Good Match?

We keep watching this morbid Collingwood Football club reality show even though we know where it’s going to end up.

Spoiler alert: It ends with Nathan Buckley being chased out of a car park with a swarm of journos draped over his bonnet.

And though we haven’t quite got to that point just yet, it’s entirely justifiable to speculate on who’ll take the reins of this famous club in 2022 following 10 seasons of 'Buckleydom'.

At the moment, there’s plenty of talk about Ross Lyon perhaps being a perfect fit for the embattled club, yet for a variety of reasons the Magpies could do well to think twice about bringing Ross in. Here’s why. 

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A Lyon’s share of success

Through 305 games over 13 uninterrupted seasons and spanning two clubs, Ross Lyon, for the most part, operated as an exemplary AFL coach.

He took two moribund clubs out of the absolute wilderness and into the AFL vanguard. He took St Kilda to back-to-back grand finals for just the second time in its history, then Fremantle to the club’s one and only grand final appearance.

His 2009 St Kilda team was one of the very best of the modern era to not win a flag, while those 2013 Dockers were the only club that got within cooee of the Hawks during their hat-trick of premierships. In fact, if it weren’t for deplorable kicking on the biggest stage, Fremantle could have perhaps killed off the Hawthorn dynasty at berth.

Yet despite Lyon’s coaching prowess, his teams were found lacking in the not too small realm of consistently putting points on the board. 

While sure, he took teams through to September in 8 of his 13 seasons as coach, there’s a massive gap on his resume where curating modern offence is concerned, despite having immense talent at both St Kilda and Fremantle.

And why that alone should absolutely not be an impediment to Lyon re-entering the coaching workforce, it should however be a major consideration where Collingwood is specifically concerned, as the Pies most glaring problem right now and throughout Buckley’s tenure (off-field issues aside) pertains to dawdling performance forward of centre.

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Collingwood’s offence. How bad are we talking? 

For all intents and purposes, the Nathan Buckley era was a fairly successful one, overseeing a post premiership re-build and qualifying for finals in 5 of his 9 seasons prior to this year’s belly flop. He was 5 points shy of becoming a premiership coach himself in 2018. 

Like Lyon, he’s very good at what he does, and should continue to do so at the highest level, yet unfortunately, like Lyon, he’s continually demonstrated an inability to create and sustain a modern, threatening attack.

Through 10 seasons, Buckley’s 2018 Pies were Collingwood’s only top-4 offensive unit, with his average rank being 10th. That’s an uncomfortable reality, especially when you consider that 22 of the last 26 premiers have all required at least a top-5 attack.

While that 2018 team will be remembered as a scorching outfit, and one that had Jordan de Goey, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Josh Thomas and Jaidyn Stephenson combine for 166 goals, the reality is that for the majority of Buckley’s time at the club, the Magpies have been pushing you-know-what up hill when it comes to scoring.

And what’s been even more frustrating for the Pies is that throughout Buckley’s time he’s been blessed with serious midfield talent with the likes of Dane Swan, Dayne Beams, Scott Pendlebury, Brodie Grundy, Steele Sidebottomand even Taylor Adams all crowned All-Australians under his watch, yet so much of their industry amounted to naught when it came to converting that production into points.

And not only did they struggle, but the Pies’ attack crashed in the biggest moments too.

In fact in Buckley’s 4 post-2018 Finals, Collingwood averaged just 55 points, while his current attack sits just 15th in ppg, managing just a single goal from its last three quarters played. 

Production aside, the club is completely bereft of key forward talent evidenced by the club ranking dead-last where marks inside-50 are concerned. 

Whoever does get Buckley’s car park in 2022 will need to demonstrate a heightened understanding of offence, as if he or she can’t, the Pies will have years more pain in front of it.

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But is Lyon really that bad of an attacking coach?

Yep, he really is. 

In fact the numbers would suggest he’s actually performed worse than Buckley from an attacking point of view, producing just a single top-4 offence in his 13 seasons as head honcho (2009 with St Kilda) while overseeing just two further top-8 attacks with the Saints in 2010, and Fremantle in 2014. 

In other words, 10 of Lyon’s 13 seasons as an AFL coach were characterised by rather ordinary attacking football with an average club rank of just 12, with his last 4 seasons in Perth resulting in attacking finishes of 16, 17th, 16th and 16th

And it’s perhaps arguable that Lyon had more offensive talent to work with than Buckley ever has.

At St Kilda he had one of the sport’s greatest ever key forwards in Nick Riewoldt, as well as the club’s all-time best small forward in Stephen Milne. The rest of his squads were peppered with generational talent such as Brendon Goddard and Lenny Hayes, while it’s worth remembering Leigh Montagna and Nick Dal-Santo combined for a handful of All-Australian jumpers.

At Fremantle, Lyon enjoyed the services of Matthew Pavlich and Michael Walters up forward, while his midfields, like Buckley’s, were stocked with extraordinary talent consisting of a couple of Brownlow medalists in Nate Fyfe and Lachie Neale, while being serviced by one of the game’s greatest ruckman in Aaron Sandilands

Once Pavlich retired in 2016, taking his 700 career goals, six All-Australian jackets and six Fremantle best and fairests with him, Lyon seemingly had few tricks left up his sleeve.

To reiterate, Collingwood has nothing remotely resembling Riewoldt, Pavlich or even Walters on its list, which is something it really ought to consider before shaking Ross’ hand. 

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Decisions, decisions, decisions

Ross Lyon should and probably will still find his way back to a head coaching gig. And perhaps as soon as 2022. 

And if the AFL and its clubs had conquered its own repugnant attitude towards age and second chances, Lyon would probably already have a job, with the prospect of him joining forces with Collingwood being null and void.

Yet the reality is the Pies will likely soon need a new coach, while Lyon is very much still available. 

And for any club out there who needs an accountable, defensive mastermind of a coach capable of squeezing every last drop of talent out of its list, Ross Lyon is the man for you. 

If your club wants a fast-track to relevance, Ross can do that too, He works fast and sets high expectations which are very much reflected in his and his own coaching staff’s work rate.

However if you are looking for a coach who’s able to improvise and fashion a variety of avenues to goal, who’s able to deviate away from Plan A, and here we’re talking about the likes of Alastair Clarkson, Damien HardwickChris Scottor Luke Beveridge, then Ross Lyon probably isn’t the right candidate.

Nailing the right coach is of course not the easiest thing, and in Collingwood’s case it’s a process it really hasn’t had to undertake too often. Mick Malthouse of course arrived in a Lexus and within a puff of smoke and flashing lights in late 1999, while the ‘Kirribilli agreement’ transition to Buckley 12 years later was again not quite standard procedure.

Collingwood’s reality show is never short of drama and intrigue, and when you throw a coaching search into regular programming, you can expect ratings to go through the roof.

* This article first appeared on Rohan Connolly's FOOTYOLOGY website

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer and Managing Editor at Stats Insider. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

Email- james@thehypometer.com for story ideas or opportunities.

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