What’s the first thing you can remember about your life? For me, it’s sitting at my aunt and uncle’s house bawling my eyes out after the 2002 Grand Final. I was five years old and my beloved Pies had just lost to the Brisbane Lions by nine points.
The following year gave you a real idea on the disparity between the two teams, the all-conquering Lions completed their three-peat with a 50-point win. A midfield comprising of Voss, Black, Lappin and Akermanis, Brown and Lynch as key pillars up forward, the mastermind Leigh Matthews in the coaches box.
On paper it was men against boys, yet amongst the boys there stood one man. That one man almost single handily dragged his side over the line in 2002, with some slight help from the big fella Anthony Rocca who kicked four up forward. On route to a norm smith medal in a losing team, Nathan Buckley racked up 32 disposals (including 28 kicks), four tackles and a goal. To give you an indication of the difference in class, behind Buckley on the disposal count came Ryan Lonie with 21 – a name many wouldn’t remember.
It’s sad that many constantly allude to the fact that Buckley has and may now likely never reach the ultimate premiership success, yet few will recall that inspiring performance on the biggest day of the year in 2002.
From that vivid memory at the age of five, Buckley has been the biggest figure at the Collingwood Football Club in my lifetime. Now, after all that time, the working relationship between club and player/coach has come to an end. For any Collingwood fan, regardless of your thoughts of him as a coach, it’s a sad day.
Do we recognise his ten seasons as coach as a failure purely because he didn’t win a premiership? Many in this cutthroat industry will suggest so, but he did end with a positive W/L record (116-99-2) and for me, he provided the greatest Collingwood season in my lifetime.
We deservingly won the premiership in 2010, we were the best team. As Collingwood fans in 2010 and 2011, we grew accustomed to the team just rocking up and winning by 40+ points every week.
At the beginning of 2018 the club was a mess and Buckley’s job was in serious jeopardy. I went to the MCG in round one to watch them play Hawthorn. At some point early in the fourth quarter, I turned to a Hawks fan and we both acknowledged that this was not an AFL game we were watching, the quality was more adjacent to that of an under 16’s game. The Hawks won by five goals and the Pies seemed destined for another miserable season.
For the rest of my life I will never understand how six months later, the club was less than a kick from premiership success. The turnaround was downright extraordinary and immensely enjoyable, it’s why, despite the fact we didn’t enjoy the ultimate success, I’ll always rank 2018 above 2010.
So for that, and for all the enjoyable moments you provided as coach and player, thank you Nathan Buckley. It’s a shame the club and fans can’t provide you with a proper send off on Monday at the MCG, yet I hope that the boys can somehow pull one out of their backsides to send you out in winning fashion.
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