COLLINGWOOD coach Nathan Buckley has emphatically rejected the notion that the increased speculation surrounding his future is having a lingering impact on his playing group.
The Pies suffered their fourth straight defeat on Sunday, with a gallant 24-point loss to the Bombers on Anzac Day resigning the club to a 1-5 start to its campaign and leaving hopes for the season in tatters.
Buckley, who is uncontracted beyond 2021, told AFL.com.au on the eve of the season he would walk away from the club if he felt it wasn't "the best thing" for Collingwood and if he wasn't moving it towards "contending consistently and winning flags".
It's led to much debate surrounding his future, as was the case back in 2017 when the Magpies coach conceded the ongoing attention on his position at the helm of the club was having an adverse effect on his players.
However, now into his 10th season as Collingwood's senior coach, Buckley disagreed with the suggestion history was repeating and that his playing group was being impacted by the noise surrounding the club.
"I said that four years ago, did I? That's probably where it should belong … no, would be the short answer," Buckley said after Sunday’s match.
MAGPIES v BOMBERS Full match coverage and stats
Collingwood lost key personnel during last year's Trade Period, with Adam Treloar, Jaidyn Stephenson and Tom Phillips all departing during a turbulent summer for the club both on and off the field.
However, despite the significant overhaul of the playing group, the Magpies coach revealed he expected – and still expects – for the team to be challenging the elite sides in the competition.
"Our list is very different this year to last year," Buckley said.
"It's not just the trades that have been speculated on. It's the number of AFL games that went on, it's the experienced players that went on.
"Not a lot of them played a lot of games of footy, but Ben Reid, Travis Varcoe, Lynden Dunn, Tom Langdon, Dayne Beams, even Matt Scharenberg … we're not quite as experienced across the board.
"That does have an impact in the short-term, but I didn't look at the list and think that we couldn't find a way. We've been pretty competitive for all of our games, we just haven't had the killer instinct to be able to finish off.
"This is the second week in a row out here, with GWS a couple of weeks ago and now tonight, where the last five or six minutes we've just run out of legs and haven't been able to go. It was a weight of numbers thing tonight, with some young blokes who looked like they couldn't go.
"But, no, we're not giving up on it. We can be better, and we will be better."
A young Essendon side cruised to victory with an emphatic final quarter, led by young midfielder Darcy Parish who claimed the Anzac Medal following a superb 42-disposal and two-goal performance.
In their first game at the MCG since July 2020, and their first game at the MCG with supporters in attendance since August 2019, the Bombers' rebuild under first-year coach Ben Rutten took a significant step in the right direction.
Essendon had nine players featuring in their first ever Anzac Day match – including Archie Perkins, Peter Wright, Harry Jones, Nick Hind, Nik Cox, Andrew Phillips, Will Snelling, Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Brayden Ham – but held their nerve to claim victory.
The combination of the performance, and the context in which it was executed on a significant day for the club, left Rutten thrilled with the steps his young side has taken through the season's opening six matches.
"Someone said it was the biggest crowd in the world in the last 12 months and since (the COVID-19 pandemic)," Rutten said.
"We haven't played at the MCG for a while, probably since we played Collingwood about this time last year. The guys were really excited to get back here and to have that turn out, with 78,000-odd fans here, that was awesome.
"I think we had nine guys playing their first Anzac Day game, so there were so many bits that we'll be able to take out of this game and so many players will be able to take a bit out of this game.
"I think we improved on some areas that we wanted to fix, but we're certainly nowhere near where we're going to get to in terms of what we need to do. Our players are pretty clear on that, they're driven, and they want to get better all the time.
"We'll enjoy this win, because they've put a lot of work in to get it, but I think the way we've been attacking every day we turn up at the club, that has been the most pleasing part. It's good to get the reward on the scoreboard tonight."