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Is Nathan Buckley taking credit for the courage of Craig McRae?

Back in 2017 I wrote a piece entitled ‘Stop baffling me, Buckley!‘, which focused on the simple fact that I was finding it very difficult to work out whether Nathan Buckley was a competent AFL coach, or a favourite son destined to drive the Collingwood Magpies well and truly into the pit of irrelevance.

After inheriting a mighty Collingwood team that had won the 2010 flag and lost just three times in 2011, on each and every occasion to the eventual premiers Geelong, Buckley sought to establish his coaching reputation at the Magpies.

The shadow of former coach Mick Malthouse loomed large and as the wins dried up over the following five years, the doubters appeared to have been correct.

2012 saw Buckley lead his team to 16 wins, 14 followed in 2013, before the team slumped into mediocrity between 2014 and 2017; four fruitless years without finals play.

Many at the time were wondering just how Buckley continued to have the faith of the board, even considering the voices on it that were convinced he was the man to return to club to greatness.

The Collingwood playing champion was to have something of a revival as a coach over the following two years.

2018 saw the Magpies advance all the way to the final match of the season, only to have Dom Sheed snatch victory from them in the final moments and 2019 brought similar pain, as the GWS Giants prevailed over them in a low-scoring preliminary final at the MCG.

By that stage of Nathan Buckley’s coaching career, I was completely mystified.

At first he had seemed like a dud, them loomed as a man who was potentially learning on the job, before the final days of his mentoring at Collingwood appeared to confirm that he was simply not up to the job.

By late 2021, a season where the Magpies won just six matches come season’s end and slumped far beyond contention, Collingwood fans finally witnessed what had been seen as inevitable years earlier, as the board and Buckley agreed to part ways.

Nathan Buckley, coach of the Magpies, looks dejected

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Most concerning was the negative and stodgy method being employed by the team each week and despite all and sundry appreciating the defensive pillars implemented by Buckley, only a fool would have believed that his conservative approach would ever lead to a flag.

Former Brisbane Lion Craig McRae was employed as the man to take the club forward and after what was something of an up-and-down start to the 2022 season, the subsequent explosion of success speaks volumes of not only his coaching and guidance, but also of Buckley’s inability to extract something similar from what he openly admits is a very similar playing group.

McRae has turned the Magpies into the most exciting team in the AFL, one on a remarkable run that has seen them win 11 matches in succession and become a serious contender that sits second on the ladder heading into the final two weeks of the season.

As a Fox Footy commentator, the challenge for Buckley was always going to be considerable. A team that many had predicted to finish in the bottom three or four on the ladder now sits near the top of the pops and the man who took the reins has made his conservative predecessor look something of a goose; a coach too restrictive and conservative to be able to unleash a playing group that have proven their attacking potential in 2022.

It was sad to hear Buckley’s comments after the Pies toppled the Demons in what was another nail-biter last Friday night at the MCG, as he somehow attempted to take undeserved credit for a win born of the refreshing and expansive coaching of McRae.

”This is five years of good footy with a bad year last year, what Fly has done has been amazing, but it’s been built off the nucleus of a senior core that have been there for five or six years doing this.”

I’m sorry, Nathan, but that is utter rubbish.

The Collingwood Magpies had been driven into the ground under your guidance, even considering the odd spike in success based on a resilient defence.

What the team is producing in 2022 is simply brilliant, brave, adventurous and bold; elements that your conservatism would never have allowed.

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