COLLINGWOOD coach Nathan Buckley has contrasted former Pies Adam Treloar and Tom Phillips' reactions to being offloaded in last year's Trade Period, saying Treloar viewed it a "personal" decision and Phillips a "professional" call.
And Buckley said the Magpies are now back in a position to hit the trade and free agency market, with Collingwood understood to have been among the clubs last year to register their interest in Essendon star Zach Merrett who will this year become a free agent.
Reflecting publicly on the Pies' Trade Period that saw them push out Treloar, Phillips and Jaidyn Stephenson due to salary cap pressure, Buckley said the club "had very real conversations about futures" with its players before leaving the Queensland hub.
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Treloar, who crossed to the Western Bulldogs, and Stephenson, who joined North Melbourne, slammed the Magpies' communication during the Trade Period, while Phillips headed to Hawthorn.
Buckley, whose Magpies face the Bulldogs in round one, said he had attempted to contact Treloar since his departure, with the pair's relationship dating back to 2009 when he was coach of the AFL Academy.
"'Flip' (Phillips) came down and watched our praccy match a couple of weeks ago and he looks like he's going really well, and I suppose there's a bit of contrast in the reality of professional existence," Buckley told AFL.com.au.
"We believe, and I believe I, show genuine love and care for our people and we really challenge the professional. And sometimes when there's professional decisions that need to be made, it's hard to separate the personal side of it. I've reached out to 'Ads' a couple of times and we haven't connected.
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"We'll let round one come and go. I hope he does really well. He's a great guy, he's a very talented footballer and I do wish him all the best and I look forward to reestablishing the relationship in some form."
Upon joining the Bulldogs Treloar said he was "hurt" after the Pies had told him senior players wanted him to move on from the club, which Buckley has denied. The coach said the Pies' bulging cap, which had seen the club backend Treloar's deal through to the end of 2025, meant their decisions were part of the football business.
"Obviously been a lot of focus with 'Ads' and the way that transpired but the very same conversations were being had with Tom Phillips, and he handled it a whole lot differently and saw that it wasn't a personal decision, it was a professional decision," he said.
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"That's not to say that Ads was wrong and Flip was right, or that you don't treat people as individuals, but for me that shows the contrasts. You can have the same conversations with two different people around exactly the same circumstances and there's going to be two different responses. That's Ads' experience and that's Tom's experience.
"But in the end the club will do what it feels it needs to do, and it needs to honour its people at the same time and we weren't able to honour the person in that regard because there's so many football players still – you can't ignore this, you can't get away from it – they wrap their personal worth into their professional worth.
"That's part of my job as a senior coach, to help them separate that, because they are more than footballers. And we spend a lot of time seeing our players and staff as more than just what they bring to the table professionally and sometimes that's hard to disassociate."
After falling achingly close to a premiership in 2018, the Pies loaded up for an assault at the flag in 2019-20, stretching their salary cap to the limits in the ambition of claiming a cup.
But after last year's semi-final exit, the club realigned its list by moving out the trio and a large portion of their salary.
"From what I can gather there's a multitude of reasons why we were in that position. It's probably not something we will end up speaking publicly about all of those reasons because it doesn't serve anything other than to say we needed to take steps and we need to make sure we don't get in that space again," Buckley said.
Buckley says the Pies are now in a position to be able to target big names again, having not had the money to compete with Richmond in their bid for Tom Lynch in 2018.
"We feel like we are in that window now and if we find someone that we feel is going to really make a difference for us we'd be negligent in our duties not to follow it through," he said.
Asked if he or the Pies had contacted Merrett last year as the Bomber weighed up his future before his free agency year, Buckley said: "A lot of conversations happen, and mainly through (list manager) Ned [Guy] and management."