Nathan Buckley living la dolce vita

An off-season sabbatical to the birthplace of the Renaissance is symbolic of Nathan Buckley’s enlightenment.

 

So long defined by his footballing frustrations, many would have predicted a tortured summer for the Pies coach haunted by visions of Dom Sheed’s sealer and thoughts of what might have been.

 

Instead, a three month Italian holiday in the wake of a Grand Final heartbreaker is the latest sign of a man reborn.

 

And yet, it wasn’t so easy to separate Buckley from his one-time discontented footballing bio as the curtain fell on September’s epic decider.

 

The enduring image of the Pies coach – head in hands as the final siren blared – fit snugly into the tragic Buckley footballing narrative.

 

After all, he had of course graced this grand stage before.

 

Twice as a Collingwood player – and in spite of his best efforts – Buckley had left the big dance licking his wounds.

 

This one promised to be different, and in one fundamental way it was.

 

Buckley lost again, but he didn’t lose angry.

 

Anger seemingly borne of an unrealised footballing entitlement, for it wasn’t meant to be this way.

 

Buckley’s 1992 coming out party – featuring a best on ground performance in Port Adelaide’s SANFL Grand Final win and the Magarey Medal – should have been the precursor to Buckley’s inevitable AFL coronation.

 

Looking back at photos of the day, a beaming Buckley radiates youthful exuberance. There he was, triumphant with the football world at his feet.

 

And then – after a year-long cameo in Brisbane – he chose to play for Collingwood, the biggest club in the land.

 

The kink in the plan was two-fold.

 

Most obvious, was that he joined a declining Pies outfit that robbed him of regular finals football during the first half of his black-and-white stay.

 

But no less galling was that in doing so, he spurned future premiership powerhouses, the Lions and Kangaroos. A fact he was rudely reminded of every time he confronted these all-conquering spurned foes.

 

And we saw less of the smiling Nathan.

 

Seemingly frustrated by his footballing lot, Buckley exuded coolness.

 

He was hard to embrace, even when the football world was ready to wrap its arms around him.

 

His heroic Norm Smith Medal winning performance in Collingwood’s agonising Grand Final loss to the Lions in 2002 is perhaps best remembered for Buckley disdainfully stuffing the medal in his sock.

 

And then his playing career ended just as Collingwood’s golden run began.

 

The awkward Eddie McGuire-orchestrated coaching handover from Mick Malthouse that followed did little to improve Buckley’s demeanour.

 

Collingwood’s consecutive Grand Final appearances – and 2010 premiership glory – coupled with Malthouse’s messy exit, cast Buckley as gate-crasher.

 

He inherited Malthouse’s team, but not the premiership-fortified love his players felt for his predecessor.

 

Buckley then spent six humbling years in the football wilderness, barely surviving and seldom smiling.

 

He often appeared puzzled by his plight, as if wondering how a game he had long mastered as a player could betray him as a coach.

 

And then he changed.

 

He grew a beard and joked with reporters.

 

He smiled more, a happy smile with just a hint of the beaming young man from that Adelaide premiership dais of yesteryear.

 

The relief of last year’s contract extension – which came at the crossroads – surely played a part in Buckley’s sunnier disposition.

 

But it’s more than that.

 

It’s that rare form of enlightenment borne of confronting one’s own footballing mortality.

 

Humbled but unbroken, Buckley is now free to enjoy because there’s nothing left to fear.

 

In any event, he gets it now, he gets it all.

 

That was plain to see in the uber-natural way he consoled the cheer squad member after the torn banner episode and then the errant Collingwood runner on Grand Final day.

 

And now, this extended off-season European vacation.

 

Not only that, but his team is good and getting better.

 

Having run out of it as a player and so nearly during his first incarnation as coach, time is finally on Buckley’s side – a magical 2018 season has ensured that.

 

Most importantly, the players love him, just like their predecessors loved Malthouse.

 

One only need hear Travis Varcoe tell SEN of Buckley “If you wanted to be like someone, that’s where you want to head” to appreciate the depth of feeling for the Pies coach within the dressing room.

 

It would be wrong to say in Buckley’s case that it’s now more about the journey than the end. For a premiership would be more fulfilling now than had it arrived as the divine footballing right it once seemed.

 

But the journey is certainly far richer for Buckley’s renaissance.

 

Buckley remains forever Collingwood, but no longer just black and white.

 

 

About

Jump Ball is a Melbourne sports writer trapped in a lawyer’s body.

Comments

  1. Andrew Starkie says:

    Gday Jump, well written, mate. I’ve held a different view of Bucks since his playing days ended. I thought he handled the golden handshake period for Malthouse extremely well. Mick drained the energy from the place in his final year, 2011, as he lobbied and bullied for an extension, costing the club a premiership and him his legacy to an extent. Meanwhile, Bucks kept his counsel, in front of the cameras at least, and that’s all we have to go on, maintaining some dignity and maturity, I thought. He became coach and spent a years trying to clean out a top down ‘me, me, me’ culture, that worked so well for MM but couldn’t possibly so for those following. And Mick knew this, I believe. It’s fair to suggest there was a fair bit of whiteanting by a few of Mick’s ratpack, all of who went one by one. I’m sure he would have been given the flick this time last year if Ed could find a replacement. But he didn’t and the rest is history. So history turns. Next year is another test. Will anything short of a flag be acceptable? What about the Tigers? it’s a year of redemption for them?

  2. There could be numerous alternative views of Mick’s and Bucks’ coaching legacies. Mick, after coaching to a premiership in 2010 and losing a close one in 2011, to the only team to beat them during the season (yes, the Pies only lost 2 games for the season), was probably justified feeling jilted by Eddie who loved Bucks more. It is true Mick became spiteful. Bucks inherited one of the youngest premiership teams in history. Some would say that Mick was willing to accommodate the personalities of his players and coached them within their limitations, whereas Bucks proceeded to dismantle the team and take it out of the top eight by trying to impose a game style that did not suit them and he didn’t appear to have a plan B during games. Bucks’ 2018 reprieve and somewhat forced change in attitude and support coaches, combined with a soft draw, saw the team have a Lazarus moment. The Pies are back to a tough 2019 draw, so it will be interesting to see whether the team can hold its place. As a Pie supporter I hope so.

  3. BJ – lost a close one in 2011? 38 points as I recall? A 56 point turnaround from the second quarter.

    Nice work Jump. Its fair to say that Buckley has grown on non-Collingwood people. He’s gone from FIGJAM to EALJAM (experienced a lot, just ask me). I thought he handled himself very well throughout the year, and particularly well on the day. As did your captain, Scott Pendlebury (take note Tex Walker).

    The fact that a lot of people were saying that a Collingwood premiership (albeit against West Coast) would have been tolerated was astounding.

  4. Ok Dips; but it was only 7 points at 3/4 time. Perhaps I have PTSD and have blocked out the pain of that last quarter, until now.

  5. Andrew Starkie says:

    Mick must take some responsibility for losing GF. Midway through season they looked certainties. He made it all about him.

  6. I think much of the reason why Bucks has grown on non-Collingwood folk is that he’s developing into a latter day Bob Rose (geez – put an old suit on him and give him a short back and sides and he even looks like Rose!). All those near misses are becoming quite endearing and to his credit, he’s handling them with Rose-like dignity. Long may it continue!

  7. george smith says:

    It’s remarkable, but all those GF misses since 1958 have been coached by 4 blokes! yes 4!
    Alphonse Kyne 1 (a debacle doesn’t really count) Bob Rose 3, Hafey 5, Malthouse 3, at least one of which was gettable… and of course Buckley with his one.

    Leigh Matthews is the only one of all those folks who drank from the poisoned chalice who never coached Collingwood to a grand final loss. Mind you, after 1990 he never won another final until he moved somewhere else…

    Buckley has won 2 finals in a year which eluded Weidemann, Shaw, Mann and until 2016, Footscray (well for a very long time). if Beveridge and Hardwick can win a flag in their first year of being any good, then for Buckley it is not beyond the realms of possibility. Heck even Ross Lyon can salute the judge if he gets his act together.

  8. Thanks Jump. I find Nathan Buckley very interesting. We were given some terrific insights by his parents Ray and Karen at the Almanac Grand Final Eve lunch.

    Nicely loaded Stainless.

    Dips, I am happy to acknowledge (admit to?) a flicker of affection for the Pies.

    AS, you are right, we only have what we see to form our views – so controlled. How good would a private conversation with some of these characters be!

  9. Andrew Starkie says:

    I may have called out ‘Go Pies!’ late 4th Quarter of GF.

  10. David Conallin says:

    2011 lost was (IMHO) mainly due to Hawkens having a field day on Ben Reid in the last quarter when Ben couldn’t get out of his own way due to a leg injury (quad?), Still wonder why Mick left him on Hawkens.

Leave a Comment

*