Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley says he’s prepared to step away from his role at season’s end if it’s “for the betterment of the football club” and the Pies would benefit with a new direction.
Entering his 10th season in charge at the Magpies, Buckley’s deal runs out at the end of the 2021 season, with the coach confirming his contract situation was “not something that we’ll be addressing until later in the year”.
Buckley has been frank and realistic when discussing his coaching future in the past. He famously put an expectation on himself when he said there was “no way” he’d be at Collingwood in 2018 if his side didn’t make the 2017 finals series. The Pies ultimately didn’t feature in the 2017 finals series, but they still recommitted to Buckley, who would lead the club to a heartbreaking Grand Final loss in 2018.
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Speaking on an AFL Media podcast, Buckley said he’d continue to discuss the best way to handle contract discussions with club chief executive Mark Anderson and new footy operations manager Graham Wright, but conceded negotiations would more likely take place later this year.
“We sit down and we go: ‘OK, how will we address this?’ And the first port of call is what is the best thing for the football club? How are we going to address what direction the club is going to go in and who is the best person to have at the helm of the team, in terms of the senior coaching role?” Buckley told AFL Media. “That’s the first conversation, rather than how we’re going to communicate it.
“Those conversations take place consistently – and it’s a really easy one, because whatever’s best for the football club will occur. There’s a settling period that needs to happen, or a reinforcing period or a re-establishing period, that needs to happen.
“Our performances this year, no doubt, are going to have a say on what is best for the club going forward. I don’t feel like I have to be the senior coach going forward if that’s the best thing for the club.
“(If) I feel that I can still impact and help the club move towards contending consistently and winning flags, well then I’ll put my hand up (to coach again). And if the club felt it was better to go in another direction, well then I would understand that. So that conversation will be held in good faith and it’s not something that we’ll be addressing until later in the year.”
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Asked if he’d step away from the coaching role if he felt he wasn’t getting enough out of the group to the point where it wasn’t ready to contend, Buckley said: “Yeah, I mean the club has to come first.
“Funnily enough, in the last three or four weeks, we’ve had a lot of really solid conversations where we’ve tried to unpack 2020 and what the hub’s meant for us, we’ve had the Do Better report and how that reflects on us and who we want to be and how we see ourselves and where the gaps are and what we need to focus on. And clearly then, there’s performance in all of this as well, like actually winning games on-field and maximising the talent that you have at your disposal.
“We’re only custodians for the time that we’re there. We contribute to the football club as much as we can and we want to get the best out of ourselves.
“So yes, if the club can be better making a change with our playing list or making a change with our coaching group or a senior coach or a CEO or a board member or a president, that should happen for the betterment of the football club – and we’ve just got to keep making those decisions.”
Collingwood snuck into the top eight last year. It caused a massive boilover against West Coast in Perth before being humiliated by Geelong in a semi-final.
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Since the end of last season, the Pies endured a disastrous trade period that saw them lose Adam Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson and Tom Phillips to rival clubs. However they loaded up on young talent at the draft, selecting the likes of Oliver Henry, Finlay Macrae and NGA recruit Reef McInnes.
Despite many pundits tipping the Magpies to miss finals this season, Buckley said he still had high expectations for his side.
“We know that we lost some players without really replacing experience, as such. We brought in a really solid batch of young kids and they’ve trained up really well. Half of them haven’t played for 12 months given COVID, but what we see I’m really happy with what the recruiting group have done,” he said.
“But you can’t expect first-year players to come in and have an instant impact. You’d like to think a couple would pop through, but in the end I’m pretty sure they’re thinking ‘we can help make a difference for you’.
“So the challenge for us is really looking after that top end and getting the most out of our top end and having growth come from the middle and really challenging for spots.
“We haven’t lowered our expectations. We believe that we should be a team that wins games consistently, that qualifies well for finals and contends when we get to September. That expectation hasn’t shifted, hasn’t changed and we still believe our best football is going to contend against the best teams.”