Collingwood’s shock loss in its elimination final to Port Adelaide has signalled a need for change at the Westpac Centre. Port Adelaide implemented a game plan of quick outside ball movement that an ageing Collingwood side struggled to contain. The result was an enormous surprise to all in the football world who had perhaps misguided faith in many of the older Magpie statesmen. Post-match, Collingwood coach, Nathan Buckley, was clear the time had come for the club to stop holding onto past success. Buckley showed he was not a coach that was persuaded by any thoughts of sentimentalism but rather, a coach firmly looking towards the future.
“If we have any person or anyone or have any thoughts at all that we need to cling on to what we’ve had, well, then this is the last blow that lets that go and you need to keep evolving.”
While some initially dismissed the sincerity of Buckley’s post-match comments, Collingwood has so far been swift in culling its playing list. The club’s oldest veterans, Darren Jolly, Alan Didak (both aged 31) and Andrew Krakouer (30) have been delisted despite all expressing a clear intention to play on. New recruit Jordan Russell, who played nine games in 2013, has also been shown the door alongside rookies, Michael Hartley and Ben Richmond. Furthermore, there have been suggestions that current captain, Nick Maxwell, will join Ben Johnson in retirement due to struggling with form and injury over the past two years. However, it is likely he will survive the cull even if Scott Pendlebury, quite rightly, replaces him as captain.
Although none of the above departures were a major surprise, the sacking of Didak demonstrates that Collingwood cares little for protecting those that were instrumental in breaking their premiership drought in 2010. The common opinion is that Collingwood has made the right decision in no longer persisting with older players who struggle to maintain good form. No club in the AFL is stronger than Collingwood at developing young players and discovering gems with late draft picks. Thus Magpie supporters can have confidence that they will not have to wait too long before their side returns to the top four, even if Dale Thomas leaves the club for Carlton.
It will be interesting to see the extent to which Buckley is ruthless in making further changes to the club’s playing stocks. Buckley does not have the same level of tolerance as his predecessor, Mick Malthouse, to players who do not fulfil the strict behavioural standards demanded in general by football clubs. It is well known that Buckley clashed during his playing days with teammates, such as Chris Tarrant, who did not display the same level of commitment at training. On the issue of discipline, Buckley boldly questioned, after the loss, whether the club is “making the right decisions in regard to culture and in regards to environment.”
Reports have emerged that Buckley has concerns over several players whom he believes are compromising the club’s culture. Heath Shaw is one player who Buckley has reportedly lost patience with. Shaw’s lack of on-field discipline cost the Magpies dearly against Port Adelaide with the rebounding defender struggling repeatedly to contain his temper. To make matters worse, Shaw is a member of the club’s self-titled “rat pack” – a group of players whose poor off-field behaviour has led them to encounter punishment from the club. Two members of the “rat pack”, Didak and Johnson, have departed, leaving Shaw and Dane Swan as the remaining members of the “crew.” There is little doubt that Shaw is an immensely talented footballer who provides skilful run off the halfback. However, it appears Buckley’s push for cultural and generational change could lead to Shaw being traded.
In short, the humiliating defeat to Port Adelaide gives Buckley a mandate for change. The initial signs indicate that Buckley is taking this mandate seriously, yet more important decisions are still to be made. Whatever is decided could just determine whether we will see Collingwood back up the top in the next five years.