Whatever happens, Collingwood, you already won

“Drop the idea of becoming someone, because you are already a masterpiece. You cannot be improved. You have only to come to it, to know it, to realize it.”


Tuesday afternoon. I just bought tickets for me and the Buds for Saturday evening.
Collingwood v Greater Western Sydney.
Preliminary Final 2019.

And peace is upon me.
Whatever happens on Saturday, I feel like the buds & I have already won.
I feel that Collingwood has already won.
Not won the Preliminary Final, but at life.

Collingwood is a club of which we can be proud. The longer this season has gone, the more pleased I am with the approach of Collingwood FC.


The pessimist in me had wondered about the wheels coming off in 2019 following Collingwood’s sharp rise in 2018. Indeed, I worried that they may have with J Stephenson’s betting on footy (betting on his own team!) and subsequent internal club suspension, for instance. But instead, I took from that episode the stand of J Howe and other team leaders.

And always I wonder about the role of injury and luck. Lynden Dunn, such a character, doing his knee. Dayne Beams and his difficulties. Mason Cox. Tommy Langdon. J De Goey off to Germany. Levi Greenwood doing his knee in the semi. I see Daniel Wells retiring this week. I wonder about the galvanising effect such an act might have on a group.


And yet, a couple of weeks ago I saw the documentary: From the Inside Out on ABCTV. The documentary tracked aspects of Collingwood’s men’s footy team through the 2018 season. It revealed so much. It revealed a group who valued each other as people. People with their myriad hopes, dreams, fears and weaknesses.


To recognise and then to walk this path is not especially new. Other groups have walked this path, too. In Australian football, in recent years I suppose West Coast did this, Richmond, the Western Bulldogs. Maybe all teams do this. Maybe we only hear about the teams that play off in Grand Finals. The Australian men’s cricket team also tread this path under the captaincy of Tim Paine. Certainly, the path of vulnerability has been long recognised in the field of education. Society waits for other areas of community leadership to show similar levels of vulnerability. Probably it’s fair to say that society presently lacks leadership at the political level and at the spiritual level. Increasingly sporting clubs and institutions fill the void.


At Collingwood there has been a significant and conscious shift from chest-beating to humility. For many years the Collingwood mantra was one of “us against them.” There was hostility within that framework; a pride, yes, but also an antagonism. And I get that.


This approach of humility, though, focusses ONLY internally. Within it we look at one other; at what we bring; at how we can be better; how we can better help the collective cause. (The opposition can look after themselves; they cannot be controlled). And there is so much to be gained from looking inwards.


I remember N Buckley’s Dad, Ray, interviewed at the Almanac Grand Final Eve lunch last year – so open, honest; revealing a depth of reflection and awareness of his role in shaping his son as a youngster. Talking candidly about finding another path. I remember N Buckley’s mum, Karen, even moreso. I remember hearing of her pride, her happiness. I remember her impression was that in 2018 she had got her son back.


And I remember those tumultuous minutes before the 2018 Grand Final commenced; I remember N Buckley running to support a cheer squad member who was distraught as the team banner she had worked on tore open on the biggest stage; ruined. In that moment, could N Buckley have chosen other ways to spend that time and that energy? Were there more important things to be addressed? The answer, as he showed, was no.


In Collingwood From the Inside Out we are shown Adam Treloar’s battles with the black dog; incredibly we are included in his one-on-one therapy session. We understand him to declare himself a “terrible human”. We watch Brodie Grundy seek to create a life for himself after football, all while playing and contributing as a footballer at a very high level; maintaining the perspective to joke, play and seemingly understand his place in the universe. We watch Jarryd Blair seek to gain another year on his Collingwood contract; and fail. We see what this means. We are inside the rooms immediately after the Grand Final defeat. Slumped in front of the players, N Buckley says simply (and honestly): “I don’t know how to lead you right now.”


At Collingwood now, it seems that personal relationships are given primary importance; with the idea that all else will flow from a foundation of integrity and strength. People truly know one another.


As West Coast won the Grand Final last September, I wondered whether 2018 would come to be seen from Collingwood’s perspective as a small, isolated and thwarted fairytale. But as 2019 has ticked along, I see mounting evidence that 2018 was not a one-off. Rather, steps taken in 2018 seem to have represented a fundamental shift of direction. Throughout 2019 I have seen players and coaches clearly enjoy one anothers’ company. I see them support each other in taking risks; I see a wonderful attacking brand of footy.


Backs are happy to centre the ball because it is a tactical risk WORTH TAKING.
All players perform a helter-skelter press all over the ground because it is a physical risk WORTH TAKING.
All embrace an unpredictable forward set-up as it is a creative risk WORTH TAKING.


I wonder what sort of environment would need to be established so that risks were seen as WORTH TAKING. I wonder how such an environment could be created and then nurtured. I wonder about empowerment, leadership, morals, perspective. I wonder about people and what they need. I wonder about young men.


I think of human connection.
I think of people helping their elderly parents.
I think of the before-school routine.
I think of people getting about their days; hourly, daily.
I think of people making mistakes, trying again.


Thank you to the leadership at Collingwood for embracing this vulnerability. And for choosing to share it publicly. I have no doubt that good will come of this.
Thank you to Ray and Karen Buckley for speaking so candidly and warmly at the Almanac Grand Final Eve lunch in 2018.
Thank you to John Harms for his ongoing energy, enthusiasm and custodianship, his support and advocacy of the wonderful Footy Almanac community.
Thank you Almanackers past and present.


And while this note concerns me and it concerns my club, Collingwood, I suppose that all clubs have a story.
That’s fine.
That’s great.
Whatever happens from here, Collingwood FC, you have been magnificent.
It has been a pleasure.


Taylor Adams of Collingwood wrote about club values, 19 September 2019, here at The Athlete’s Voice




Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and likes to walk around feeling generally amazed. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Wonderful read ER, just wish I could write something like yours about the Essendon Football Club. One day!

  2. Thank you Col. Maybe these things are happening at Essendon, too. I’m not sure.

    Grateful for the message of NC Buckley and Collingwood.

  3. Nicely put ER. My humble observation is that not many coaches get the lifeline afforded Bucks for so long, particularly with the team he inherited. I still cannot easily forgive him for dropping a young dual grand final team out of the 8 so quickly. It took an internal review and Bucks on the precipice to cause him to reflect and change the way he coached to turn around the team’s fortunes to where they are now. I’m hoping, that despite Collingwood’s terrible grand final record, he can coach us to some silverware in the next few years.

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Magnificent work ER.
    Very proud of how they have gone about it over the last 2 years. Misplaced hubris and chest-beating replaced by reflection and connection. Signs of maturity.
    Love the Osho quote. ‘Wild Wild Country’ is a great doco. Another lesson in humility.
    Go Pies !!

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Beautiful piece ER.

    The change in Collingwood has been wonderful to see evolve. While it has reaped on field results in 2018 and 2019, I could sense the change in 2016 & 2017, years where luck, injuries and precision in our play were not there. While the injuries have not let up in 2018 & 2019, the buy in to the system, the coach’s ethos and humility, the spirit and leadership of the group has been first class. One player goes out injured, another fills that role.

    Adding to Buckley’s transformation is the superb on field leadership of Pendlebury and Sidebottom. As fine a captain/vice-captain as modern Collingwood has had. Plus other strong leaders in Howe and Adams.

    I’ll be there this afternoon with my two boys. Nervous, excited, proud. Go Pies!

  6. Jim Kesselschmidt says

    In the immortal words of Jack Little: “All I can say is wow”. Wonderful, moving and delightful. Magnificent.

  7. Great piece David, it has been fascinating to see the changes at the Pies and other clubs

    Go Pies !

  8. Dave

    Thanks for this piece. I enjoyed reading it this morning, and It will now serve as sustenance til round 1, 2020.

  9. #proud

  10. They came and then went into mothballs till next season.

  11. And the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

  12. Prescient words, ER?

    What a magnificent contest yesterday. GWS were mighty. Collingwood looked done and dusted, then sensed their chance as the opponent tired. But they had given themselves too much to do. Just.

    I think you may be right. It would surprise me if the Pies didn’t dust themselves of and go hard again next season.

    I’m just hoping the Blues can eventually get themselves meaningfully back in the picture. Both clubs will be very different from the last time they contested a final.


  13. Commiserations to Collingwood. There’s very little to hate about you lot these days and you have every right to feel proud of what you’ve achieved in the last two years. I have every respect for GWS but I will admit to feeling huge relief that Richmond isn’t facing the Pies this week.

  14. Stainless, I’d be wary of that relief, if I were you.

  15. Very good call JB. Was just checking the likely “ins” for GWS from the last time we played them. Scary!

  16. Frank Taylor says

    Well done again Tall man.
    I have been very proud of our club, The Club, in embracing compassionate leadership. Kind leadership. Considerate leadership. Real leadership. Their real efforts for the homeless. Their rejection of the gambling “industry”.
    Very proud indeed.
    (Just need to sort out the medical/fitness stuff…….)
    Go Pies!

  17. What a great, great read. As a Royboy, I’ve always envied the certainty of the Pies. Death, taxes and the Collingwood football club. It is a club secure in its identity that can embrace its vulnerability.

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