Is It Magpie Nesting Season? Close. But …

Cigar? What cigar?

Nathan Buckley the player was always a supremely confident individual. Well aware of his ability. And what that ability was worth. To him. To his team. Always prepared to do whatever it took in order to produce it.

Nathan Buckley the Coach is no less aware. No less prepared. No less determined.

But as year follows year in his long touted coaching career, his path at Collingwood has hit some interesting detours. Both tactically and relationally.

And it all started one Saturday afternoon two years ago at the MCG against Hawthorn.

By his own admission, Buckley’s original gameplan was not far off.

But just far enough to be disastrously exposed by the ‘sui generis’ scalpel of modern footy’s best version of the most complete example of ‘total football’.

At the time they met, Round 17, 2012, both teams were on impressive winning streaks. Buckley’s media spruikers were so impressed at his galvanisation of a list on the precipice of oblivion, so soon after ascending to the elite pinnacle – only to be summarily expelled by true greatness … The last hurrah of 21st Century Geelong’s Multi-Premiership defining core.

Thanks to the internal sabotage of the Malthouse – McGuire conflict through 2011, being deliberately inflamed as a result of their respective media commitments through 2012, Buckley’s unwaveringly professional response and refusal to buy into the ‘cheap-shot red-spot special sale’, coupled with Collingwood’s withering burst of form and endurance. All this had the mostly self-appointed annointers out in force.

Myrrhic balms and paeanic hymns of praise for Buckley and his team were in holster, ready for the quick-draw to Premiership favouritism.

Only to be rudely disabused by a temperamental, plaster-smashing angry ant, and his team’s surgical dismantling of those who had been confident they could engage Hawthorn on their own terms. Not just in order to compete, but to win.

The irony of this turning point is, Buckley’s admirably prosaic, habitual truthfulness post-match was not actually an attempt to put the best face on a bad defeat. It was an accurately incisive assessment of his way being ‘so close’ … But ultimately undone by a singularly beautiful display of the excellence of execution of modern footy.

This, from a streaking Hawthorn side that Buckley’s Collingwood had deliberately ‘dared to try’, only to be bitten by a complete performance the likes of which has not been seen since.

Also not seen since that day … A unity of purpose and belief amongst the Collingwood playing group. After being neatly dissected and left with their clocks thoroughly cleaned, it seemed the Collingwood playing group – one year removed from a dominant 20-2 Home & Away Season; Two years removed from a Premiership – lost belief in Buckley’s ‘new way’.

Unwilling to accept the truth of how close they had been to success, such a comprehensive defeat served to fracture the newly coalescing Coach – Team dynamic, along ‘Rat Pack’ lines. It was as if the players believed in Hawthorn’s excellence more, than their coach’s confident assertion of how close they had been, thus catalysing their seeming refusal to take that small step forward, towards elite competitiveness.

Instead they leant heavily on the default position of many recently successful clubs’ players who fall on ‘relatively’ hard times … Resting rather selfishly on their laurels.

One can see how some might have felt – quite confidently in fact – that modern footballing administration would have its due AND that any subsequent victims of that would not include any members of a group so infintessimally removed, yet still tangibly proximate to their ultimate playing success.

(The cherry on top of such false smugness being, THAT success was something the current fly in their ointment had never been able to achieve).

We all know how that ended, but before their crossroads match against the short-circuiting Power, Collingwood fans might have been wondering at the wisdom of such a ruthless, enforced twilight.

Where perennial contemporary powers such as Geelong, Sydney and now Hawthorn have provided an example of constructive rejuvenation, Collingwood’s diametrically opposed destructive approach, coupled with their precipitous losing streak, brought Nathan Buckley’s characteristic integrity of purpose and hitherto undisputed acumen, into sharp focus.

Sharp enough for some former rusted on bandwagoneers and preppy peppy cheerleaders to openly wonder, sometimes acidly, sometimes lyrically, at the wisdom of such ‘comparatively obtuse’ perseverance.

The subsequent victory over the Power has gone some way to keeping the hounds at bay, as well as allowing Collingwood the privilege of propping up the Final 8. With four matches to go in the regular season, the Magpies find themselves ‘so close’ yet again.

But this time that proximity is not to success or Premiership favouritism. Instead, it is the as yet still unfulfilled promise of Nathan Buckley’s avowal late that Saturday afternoon in 2012, of just how close to tactical and practical success, Collingwood had been.

What was a ‘near thing’ then, is a dot on the horizon now. As Collingwood prepare to play West Coast (Away), Brisbane, GWS (Away) and ultimately – perhaps most tellingly – Hawthorn to finish the season, indications are ominous indeed.

Will there be pie in some dyed-in-the-wool ‘Black&White’ faces come September, or will Buckley’s determined obstinancy reap decisive dividends?

Can scraping into September action allow the current crop of players, whose inheritance has devalued precipitously from ‘nearly there’ to ‘hardly anywhere’, to rediscover their way. To a trail those now long departed, thought Nathan Buckley had been taking them the wrong way towards?

I think they can get close. As a Hawthorn supporter, my confidence in my team is on the verge of being undermined by the paranoia, of just how close.

Comments

  1. Et tu Brutus Swanus?
    I haven’t looked forward to a game for ages, as much as I am looking forward to Sunday’s Eagles game against Collingwood.
    Was our win in Adelaide a portent of a new generation flowering under Simpson? Nothing before suggested it, but suddenly the right mix of new and old; structures and strategy seemed to emerge.
    Are Collingwood as clueless rudderless as they had seemed in the time since Maxwell retired and Swan sulked (how many years is that now?)
    Are the 2 Adelaide teams that bad?
    Enticing prospects. After a fallow winter the first sprouts of footy spring are emerging for me.
    Delicious.

  2. Gregor Lewis says

    I must prevent thee Cimber Sidebottom … I am as ‘affixed’ as the Northern Star …

    Nah Pete. I’m as wobbly as jelly on a griddle on this one, but as you say, it’s a live matchup, made all the more intriguing after last night’s result.

    Like JTH wrote during the week … Closing schedule is a doozy. Question is, which one of the top contenders ends up like Sylvester the Cat, with Tweety Boird starting off with …

    ’50 Wions & a Putty Tat!’

    Only to close ominously with …

    ’50 WIOOOONS!’

    I hope my Hawks ensure it’s the Kitties themselves after plucking their whiskers in a coupla weeks. But I’m not confident enough to do more than hope.

    grl

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