NATHAN Buckley took the extraordinary step last Friday – a day before he was to coach Collingwood to an unexpected road trip win against Adelaide - of publicly taking sides in the ugly boardroom fight for control of the Magpies.
He backed the still-new person in the club's president's chair, Mark Korda, against the one who wants to be, Jeff Browne. It was a highly political move from a savvy media operator, a last-ditch attempt to change the course of the "appetite for change" movement Buckley had been feeling in recent weeks.
Korda, tellingly, didn't reciprocate the support and four days after it was offered, proved that he had already determined the coach's fate when Magpies heavies relayed to Buckley the decision they'd reached – that they would be looking elsewhere for a coach.
Korda and his embattled board has continued to operate under internal divisions even after president Eddie McGuire's resignation in February, after the fallout of both the contents and club handling of the Do Better report into racism at Collingwood. Korda and fellow stand-in president Peter Murphy took nearly three months to decide who would take the permanent mantle as club boss, more than enough time to convince Browne the board was rudderless and needed to be taken on.
On Wednesday after the Buckley exit had been announced, Browne told AFL.com.au of his push to take over: "I hope we can get a speedy resolution to the off-field issues."
Though he was a McGuire-endorsed board candidate himself back in 2007, and has sat on the board during the problems – including the salary dump and exiting of key players in last year's Trade Period - which have led to the crisis in which the club now finds itself, Korda has wanted to take Collingwood down a path far, far away from McGuire. The removal of Buckley, whose contract was to expire at the end of 2021, was another key destination on that path.
Given these COVID-19 regulated times, the media conference to announce Buckley's end at Collingwood was conducted on Zoom, and Buckley's final game of what will be a 218-match tenure as coach will be played against Melbourne, in Sydney.
NINE MONTHS OF HELL Where did it all go wrong for the Pies
As he has done since even before entering the AFL with the Brisbane Bears in 1993 - a debut season which saw him finish sixth in the Brownlow Medal, just four votes from the winner – Buckley gave plenty of himself to media questions on Wednesday.
The 20-year-old who entered the AFL system after winning a Magarey Medal was once consumed by the pursuit of the ultimate success. The nearly 49-year-old exiting it is a worldly, weathered, nuanced person who will forever be frustrated by a lack of a premiership as a player and coach, but one who won't allow himself to be defined by that, let alone care what others think of it.
Buckley won a Norm Smith Medal in a team which lost a Grand Final by nine points. He lost another Grand Final as coach by five points, was in front with less than two minutes to play. Even though you probably know that, just ponder it, slowly.
VOSS, ROSS, CLARKO, SAM? Eight contenders to replace Buckley
He won a Brownlow Medal, six best and fairests, seven All-Australian jackets, was Collingwood captain for nine seasons, coach for nine and a half. As a player, he reached two Grand Finals, one preliminary final. As a coach, as well as the 2018 Grand Final, he reached two preliminary finals, and another season where he won a final.
In his past three matches, he has taken Collingwood to one- and 10-point losses to premiership-contending outfits Port Adelaide and Geelong, and to a win in Adelaide last Saturday. He's going out swinging, the same way he came in, and will next year almost certainly dominate in all forms of media.
The coaching bug will always be curling inside him, though. Moreso the lure of the feeling after a premiership.
What happens next at Collingwood is anyone's guess. Not even those in charge know these days. The club will this week likely start to officially make the calls to prospective coaches it may already have been making unofficially.
But there will be no serious dialogue with any serious candidate. That will be impossible until that candidate can get a proper answer to the obvious first question he will need to ask: who is actually running Collingwood?
The board battle may be the undercard fight, but the main event can't even start until Korda and Browne properly lace up the gloves.
Tickets for the Big Freeze in Sydney match are on sale now. Get your tickets HERE. The famous blue Big Freeze beanies are still available from Coles, Coles Express, Bunnings or fightmnd.org.au, while donations can be made at fightmnd.org.au.