THE CLOCK would seem to be ticking on the Nathan Buckley era at Collingwood.
The 18-point loss to Essendon on Anzac Day leaves the Magpies at 1-4 and as Buckley lamented afterwards, three games adrift of the .500 mark that gets them back into finals contention.
It is Buckley himself who put the finals on the agenda in his brutally honest radio interview late last year. Make them and he continues as coach; miss them and this time next year he will likely be munching party pies at half-time in the MCG media centre.
He will coach them as hard as he can for as long as he holds down the position and on Tuesday evening he said there were all sorts of "little things" that were holding the Pies back. But again, Buckley might too honest for his own good, with the frank admission that's what letting the team down in games are the very things that are identified during the week and worked on at training.
You can ask if that's an issue of coaching or does it sit with the players? It might be the latter, but come the end of the season, it will be much cleaner and quicker to make a change with the former.
Buckley didn't identify what might be No.1 on his list of items to fix, but the forward line has been the main issue all season and it was again on Tuesday. It might be trendy to bang on about 'inside 50 entries' being an over-rated stat, but the Pies won that count 66-43 on Tuesday and the most telling period of the game might have been time-on in the second term, which was played almost entirely in Collingwood's forward half, but which yielded just 2.5.
The Pies went in at half-time trailing by just three points but really, could just as easily have been three goals up. Then we would have a different ball game on our hands.
Collingwood has tried almost everything forward of centre this year – two talls, three talls and one tall and none of it is working. Dominant patches of games just don't translate often enough on the scoreboard and that's what will most likely hurt Buckley come the end of the season.
And while it is unfathomable that the Pies will change coach before the end of the season, consider this scenario. Collingwood faces Geelong on Sunday off a five-day break. Loss No.5 is surely coming then. And there will be no complaints from them about the timing given how they covet their Anzac Day timeslot and the short turnarounds that sometimes follow.
But six days later, the Magpies host Carlton on a Saturday afternoon at the MCG, a timeslot and an opponent hand-picked for the club's 125th anniversary. The Blues crashed the party when the Pies celebrated their centenary in 1992. Heaven help Buckley, and perhaps some of those charged with appointing him in the first place, if there is a repeat performance on that day.
Nathan Buckley and Scott Pendlebury contemplate the Anzac Day loss. Picture: AFL Photos
Save the date
Richmond and Melbourne are now in the blockbuster business. What other conclusion can be drawn from a fixture, which in just three years has grown from a crowd of 58,175 to Monday night's monster figure of 85,657 that created all sorts of attendance records, particularly for the Demons?
Surely the Anzac Day eve game now gets pencilled into the fixture on a permanent basis, even if it means playing on a Tuesday night next year. Whatever challenges the coaching and fitness staffs will face will be more than compensated by the big bucks this game will now reap for the home team, which next year will be Melbourne.
From a fixturing point of view, games the following Sunday between Melbourne and Essendon, and Richmond and Collingwood, would be the fair outcome and should take care of things.
It is hard to believe now, but there were those in footy who were vocally opposed to anything that might encroach on the occasion and grandeur of the Essendon-Collingwood Anzac Day clash. Well done to those at the Tigers and Demons who created a game of their own with a real point of difference.
An aerial view of the Anzac Day eve pre-game ceremony. Picture: Michael Willson, AFL Photos
1. The weather pre-game dictated that Tuesday's MCG clash would be one for the small forwards. Advantage Collingwood? Actually, no. In what has been a great year to date for little men close to goal, Orazio Fantasia stamped himself on the game with four goals, one in each quarter. Josh Green chimed in with three goals, while at the same time surely thinking to himself, "How good is this?". More than 87,000 fans and a win at the MCG on Anzac Day sure beats the pants off another inglorious defeat in front of a fraction of that crowd at the Gabba.
2. The Bombers can't get back the loss to Carlton a fortnight ago when they played fancy, dry-weather footy on a wet and miserable day. Darcy Parish will want to have back a moment in the third term when he broke free and took a bounce on the outer wing only for the ball to bobble away, but otherwise, Essendon adapted much better to the greasy conditions at the MCG on Tuesday.
3. Perhaps there was a memo and perhaps because of the public holiday it might have been stuck in the mail, but there were large periods on Tuesday when the umpires simply refused to pay holding the ball decisions . There was a stage in the third term where the Bombers appeared to stick tackle after tackle, without any recognition from the umpires. And when they finally did get around to paying a holding the ball free kick, it was to Collingwood. All up, just 18 free kicks were paid for the day, compared to 44 the previous night for the Tigers-Demons.
4. Jack Riewoldt has enjoyed more productive games of footy, but it is doubtful he has played more influential games than Monday night, where he finished with six goals and was close to the difference between the two sides. He kept the Tigers in touch early and thanks largely to his efforts they were close enough at three-quarter time to set up the barnstorming finish. The value of keeping Riewoldt largely close to goal was plain for all to see.
5. Round six will be bookended by a pair of really good games. Greater Western Sydney and the Western Bulldogs reprise their epic 2016 preliminary final and make some history in Canberra on Friday night, while the unbeaten Adelaide and Richmond close it out at Adelaide Oval on Sunday evening. The Tigers have won two of five at the ground, and will head there with a degree of the quiet confidence that has marked their season to date. Regular Richmond watchers can't remember a roar as loud as when Riewoldt put the Tigers in front late in the final quarter, but the lid isn't quite off just yet. That might change if they return from Adelaide with another win.
6. The whiteboard in Simon Goodwin's office will get a solid workout this week as the Melbourne coach tries to plot a way forward without his two main ruckmen. Sam Frost and Jack Watts rucking by committee? Is there a role for Cam Pedersen so that Frost and Watts can play in the key positions? There is much for Goodwin to contemplate, but the bonus for the Demons is that they are far better placed to deal with such key absences than they were even a season ago, thanks to a series of successful drafts and some excellent coaching and player development.
7. Jordan Lewis was brought to Melbourne specifically for occasions like Monday night. Big games in front of huge crowds, it was his bread and butter at the Hawks - and experience that was sorely lacking at the Demons. But he couldn't do much from the grandstand for the third straight week as the Demons crumbled in the face of an opposition run-on. It's hard to believe Melbourne would be 2-3 had he been playing. Lewis returns this week for the Essendon game, which is now really important in the context of Melbourne's season. He now owes plenty to his footy club and to himself and he simply has to stay on the park every week from now.