NATHAN Buckley may be the smoothest, and best, media operator to ever grace AFL coaching ranks.
Always prepared to provide considered and detailed responses to industry questions and debate, Buckley, armed with his own set of trusted contacts who keep him informed of all necessary information and conflict, understands and excels in the "media game" as proficiently as anyone working full-time in it. Buckley doesn't get caught off-guard when talking into microphones. Diplomacy has constantly been a theme.
On Friday, Buckley, Collingwood coach, offered strong opinion on the Mark Korda versus Jeff Browne fight for control of the Collingwood Football Club boardroom. The always-calculating Buckley knew he had three options before opening his mouth. Back Korda. Back Browne. Or sit on the fence and say something like: "My responsibilities at the club are to coach the team and I will leave it for others to determine who sits on the board."
He chose to strongly back Korda. "What I would say, and for what it's worth, I actually believe that there's been a whole heap of change at this football club over the last three or four years in particular," Buckley said on Friday.
"I think we're a much better organisation across those years and I believe the people that are on the current board have had no small part in that progress.
"Yes, we're struggling at the moment on field and our win-loss doesn't look great, and there have been some challenges in terms of the salary cap and obviously the Do Better report, which was really public.
"But there's been that much change that has taken place, I believe the people that are on the current board are the right people to take the club forward, and believe in time that will be vindicated."
One reading of Buckley's words would be that he already knows he's out of the job if Browne is successful. That he is managed by Craig Kelly who is close to and is publicly backing Browne in the Pies board fight lends weight to that theory. Another reading might be that, as Buckley himself publicly flagged in the off-season, he may have already chosen to leave the coaching profession at the end of 2021.
Whatever the reasons behind his decision to publicly put his own chips on Korda, Buckley managed to steer his team to its third victory of the season on Saturday, with an energetic win against the odds against Adelaide. If you add that victory to the Pies' previous two matches, which were respectively 10-point and one-point losses to premiership contending outfits Geelong and Port Adelaide, it could be used to mount a case he is still coaching very soundly.
While some have focused heavily on the aesthetics attached to the Cats and Power defeats, Buckley nearly secured victories with a terribly depleted team. And when he belatedly got access to a high-quality player – Jamie Elliott, who had been unavailable since round two and then kicked a match-winning six goals on his return against the Crows – who allowed him to properly focus on an offensive game plan, he delivered at his end.
Buckley has reached a Grand Final and on two other occasions finished in preliminary finals in his nine completed seasons. While he could record his lowest ladder finish (previous worst 13th in 2017, currently at 16th) in his coaching career in 2021, one could mount a case that the horrendously botched list management of the Pies that has led to the problems of 2021 has seen Buckley in the coaching form of his life.
Over to you, Mark Korda and Jeff Browne, on what your plans are for Buckley. Surely you both go public on whether Buckley will coach in 2022 and beyond before you ask members for their votes.
Desperate times as Blues fall out of finals race
For the Blues, it was the match they couldn't lose. So of course they did. That's what they seemingly always do when the pressure for victory is ramped up.
Carlton's 2021 finals chances had been on life support for some weeks already, but as of Sunday's so-predictable loss to West Coast at the SCG, the machine has been turned off.
Harry McKay's early exit with concussion was obviously a major setback, but Carlton was still in front on the player availability scale given the Eagles were without Oscar Allen, Jeremy McGovern, Luke Shuey, Josh Kennedy, Tim Kelly and Liam Duggan, and then lost All-Australian Brad Sheppard also with concussion.
Despite so many promises and pledges, nothing changes at Carlton. Coach David Teague is in his third season now. There were excuses in the first two. He had caretaker status only in 2019 for the final 11 rounds where virtually any alternative to Brendon Bolton was going to be embraced. Last season, COVID-19 didn't help his cause, and the Blues won seven of 17.
They are four from 12 in 2021, and none from seven in games against top-eight teams, and there are zero excuses now. The salary cap is back somewhere near its maximum, with big money being paid to questionable recruits who haven't ultimately changed fortunes, and equally big money being thrown at the still yet-to-publicly commit captain Patrick Cripps and McKay.
Teague has had 40 matches – nearly "two seasons" – in charge of Carlton. He is 17-23. While the final 10 games of 2021 will be meaningless from a finals perspective, they will be crucial to his own future. These are again officially desperate times for the Blues and a Blues coach.
Demons' off-field pain balances on-field gain
That Melbourne's two best home-and-away season wins in maybe 21 years have come in front of, respectively, zero and 3000 spectators is an unfortunate component to its premiership-credentialled surge.
That COVID-19 has also led to a planned $1.8 million disappearing from the club's books is shattering.
The on-field wins have been big in rounds 11 and 12, against the Western Bulldogs and Brisbane, the off-field losses equally big – a guaranteed $800,000 from the Northern Territory government was lost when the Lions match was transferred to Giants Stadium, and up to $1 million foregone with the forced transfer of next Monday's Queen's Birthday match against Collingwood from the MCG to the SCG.
Melbourne made a Grand Final in 2000, but in that year it was always going to battle against the dominant Essendon. Its best result since then was 2018, with two wins in finals before being stopped in a preliminary final. This year, it has reached round 12 as the competition's standout team.
As demoralising as matters would be right now for CEO Gary Pert, the balance sheet won't matter one bit if the Dees can continue their compelling drive toward a first flag since 1964.