COMMENT: Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury controversially stated a couple of weeks ago that the Magpies may have partied too hard in 2011 celebrating the 2010 premiership success. Many disagreed with Pendlebury on this occasion, including some former players. Collingwood finished the season on top in 2011 with a percentage of 168% and during the course of the home and away season and finals campaign only lost to one team – Geelong. Anything the Magpies were doing was probably working.
But it got me thinking of the hangover experienced by the club since that point in time, and the magnitude of the downhill spiral the club has been on since that point. The steady decline of the Magpies since 2012 has been apparent and noticeable. Not once in his coaching career has Nathan Buckley and his team improved the ladder position achieved in the previous season, and at this stage into the 2017 season the Magpies sit 5-9.
As an introduction, I grew up with the number five on my back, my favourite player was Nathan Buckley. Post 1999 when Eddie McGuire and Mick Malthouse came on board the Magpies transitioned into a side that aspired to be in the upper echelons of the competition. Collingwood completed two successful rebuilds and tilts at the flag. Once rebuilding for two runners up in 2002 and 2003, then again to make a preliminary final in 2007, a grand final win in 2010 and a runners up in 2011.
But here we stand seven seasons post the club’s 2010 premiership success, standing seemingly further away from a flag than ever before. In light of this Eddie McGuire recently announced the appointment of experienced businessmen Peter Murphy to perform a full holistic review of the Collingwood Football Club. This review is slated to look at all aspects of the club.
In this long read I will have a detailed look at where things have gone wrong for Collingwood, both on the field and off the field. Including:
– The list management strategy
– The fans
– The coaching
– The fitness/injury management
– The administration
The list management strategy
Collingwood did not take shortcuts with its rebuild after its attempt at success in 2002 and 2003. In 2005 Collingwood doubled up with top five draft selections Dale Thomas and Scott Pendlebury. Then in 2006 doubled up again with draft selections of Ben Reid and Nathan Brown. The strategy of going back to the draft early and often worked wonders for the Magpies, and had been a strategy adopted by Melbourne and St Kilda in recent years, which is now bearing the fruits of success for them. Due to having the depth provided from draft recruitment when Collingwood were ready for a flag tilt they topped up with Darren Jolly and Luke Ball which aided their success in 2010. To a similar point there are now rumours St Kilda are heavily into Josh Kelly, this could be just the missing ingredient they need to spearhead them to success.
After the 2011 season there was a transition to Nathan Buckley, and it was clear there was a different strategy that was implemented. Collingwood famously moved on Dale Thomas, Heath Shaw, Luke Ball, Alan Didak, Darren Jolly and Dayne Beams. Brought in Taylor Adams, Travis Varcoe, Levi Greenwood, Jeremy Howe, Daniel Wells and Chris Mayne. They also signed Travis Cloke to a big money deal, all the while moving further and further down the ladder of the AFL.
In the section below players traded in and drafted by Collingwood over recent times are rated as a pass or a fail. While this rating system may seem harsh for some, this perspective is needed to critically analyse where the club has gone wrong.
Players traded in by Collingwood
- Taylor Adams – Pass
The move to go from Shaw to Adams has been rated as a pass. Shaw was 28 and had value, while Adams was 20 and had already proven his pedigree as a midfielder. Adams has flourished at the Magpies and will continue to deliver for the Magpies long after Heath Shaw is retired. Collingwood however, did need to pay a significant amount of Shaw’s salary at GWS to move him on and get him off the books at the Magpies.
- Jack Crisp – Pass
This move was a pass for the Magpies. Beams had to leave for family reasons so Collingwood’s hand was forced in this situation. The Magpies received Jack Crisp, pick 5 (used on Jordan De Goey) and pick 25 (which was traded to Levi Greenwood) which is a fair return for Dayne Beams, who although is a terrific player, has always struggled to keep himself on a park due to injury. Crisp has been a serviceable addition for the Magpies.
- Levi Greenwood – Fail
The move to bring in Levi Greenwood at the cost of a second round pick was a bit concerning, before coming to Collingwood he had one good season at the Kangaroos. He has done many good jobs as a tagger, but isn’t played in that role consistently, mostly because with the quality of the Magpies midfield a tagger isn’t always required. Jack Crisp is often utilised ahead of Greenwood for the run with role in the midfield. Greenwood was bought in to take the place of former Magpies tagger Brent Maccaffer and while he has been okay in patches hasn’t set the world on fire for the Magpies.
Greenwood has been squeezed out of the midfield in recent times and often plays a bit part forward role. Before the start of the season his spot in the team was seemingly under pressure, but due to injuries to the likes of Elliott, DeGoey and Wells, he has been required to fill the role. If at any stage Collingwood declares its finals chances over, the Magpies will be keen to have a look at a few kids, at which stage Greenwood may have to make way and could find himself in the VFL.
In the end a second round pick is a big price to pay for a player that just three years later, has yet to make a significant contribution, having not yet finished above 8th in the Magpies best and fairest count.
- James Aish – Fail
The Magpies paid a significant price in trading away two 2nd round draft selections to bring in Aish, a former number six pick from the Brisbane Lions. Other than a few stand out games at the back end of last season Aish has been largely underwhelming for the Magpies. He was dropped by coach Nathan Buckley for several weeks to regain his form last year. He only manages 12 touches against Port Adelaide in Round 14 and has only averaged 15 touches for the season.
Aish was dropped again after a poor performance against the Power. At Collingwood, he has not yet showed the quality of a top 10 selection, and looking back the Magpies must surely now be thinking they would’ve been better of taking those two selections at the national draft.
- Travis Varcoe – Pass
This was a solid recruitment, Varcoe has been a solid contributor since making the move from Geelong. He came to Collingwood as part of a three way trade with Harry O’Brien going to the Demons and Mitch Clark going to Geelong. So it’s clear Collingwood have got the best part of that deal.
- Adam Treloar – Pass
The former GWS midfielder is one of the premium midfielders in the AFL. His burst out of the contest and presence around the ball are replicated by only very select few players in the AFL. Although he cost the Magpies two first round draft selections not many magpie fans would argue that the price of his acquisition wasn’t well and truly worth it.
- Jeremy Howe – Pass
On his recent form Howe is arguably the best recruit the Magpies have bought to the club in recent seasons. The defensive post is clearly his best position, his ability to read the play behind the ball is elite and he is in strong contention for an all Australian spot this season.
The Magpies got Howe as a free agent from the Demons. However one has to question how much credit the recruiting staff can take for this acquisition. As Howe was brought in as a forward, and his stellar form of recent times had been a defender. The fact that the recruitment staff traded him in as a forward may explain the lack of help in the forward line at present for Darcy Moore.
- Daniel Wells – Fail
The 32-year-old was acquired from the Kangaroos on a three-year-deal at $600k a year. Collingwood traded for Wells with full knowledge of his past injury troubles and ability to get through a season. Wells form when playing this season has been great. Of his six games Collingwood are 5-1. Without him is a different tale all together, only winning 1 of 7 games.
Bringing in a player with such injury concerns is a significant risk, but can pay dividends if a club has confidence in its fitness and performance department to get a player right. But as written about later in this piece, if Collingwood had confidence in its own fitness and performance department to do just that with Wells, then it was definitely unfounded considering the turbulent injury history of the Magpies in recent years.
Bringing in a player at Wells’ age and injury history does not fit the profile of the players brought in previously and seems odd considering the stage in the Magpies progression and list build.
- Chris Mayne – Fail
Arguably the worst of the recruitments for the Magpies at 28 years old the Magpies brought Mayne in as a free agent, playing him $2 million for four seasons. From the outset this signing was largely criticised. As from the outside it looked as though Collingwood paid significant overs for Mayne.
Mayne had just played two games for the Magpies, one as a late emergency and has spent the majority of the season in the VFL. The basis for this signing was flawed from the outset, Mayne was always a role player for the Dockers, someone who could play a role for the Dockers as required by Ross Lyon.
This signing can also be questioned in the context of who else Collingwood has in the forward line. Jamie Elliott, Alex Fasolo and Will Hoskin-Elliott are all of a similar size. How is it that pundits and fans alike from the outside of the club that realise that all four can’t fit in the same side, yet the club recruits Chris Mayne and Hoskin Elliott in the same trade and free agency period while neglecting the need for another key forward to help out Darcy Moore.
- Will Hoskin-Elliott – Pass
The Magpies paid a second-round selection to the Giants to bring in the talented forward, and while Mayne struggled to find form, the 22-year-old has had no such problem. Hoskin-Elliott has had a good first half of the year for the Magpies, having played every game to date and looks to be a good recruit.
Players drafted by Collingwood
- Jamie Elliott – Pass
Without doubt the recruitment of Elliott is a pass. Collingwood look a different side with Elliott in the team at full flight. The excitement machine is a fan favourite among the Collingwood supporters.
Elliott spent the entirety of the 2016 season on the sidelines with a back complaint. On his return in 2017 it was a welcome surprise to the football viewing public to see Elliott back to his best and firing. Elliott was consistently kicking bags of three or four goals up the point where he was cruelly struck down with an ankle injury. The Magpies are a different side within him in the team and his return to the side is very much welcomed.
- Brodie Grundy – Pass
The 23-year-old ruckman was taken by Collingwood with pick 18 in the 2012 national draft. Undoubtedly one of the best picks the Magpies have taken in the recent era. Grundy is in All-Australian contention this season and at only 23 looks have the world at his feet. Grundy has been rumoured to be on the verge of signing a new deal for Collingwood.
- Tim Broomhead – Fail
The 23 year old has been crueled by injury during his career, with shoulder and ankle complaints meaning he has missed a significant amount of footy over the past few years. When he is played he has shown promise and endeavour, and has for the most part earned a starting spot for the Magpies this season through his consistency.
It’s hard to rate the youngster as a fail, because he is actually think he’s quite a talented young footballer. However, take this draft pick of Broomhead at 185cm in the context of all of the shorter players on Collingwoods list it is quite perplexing that yet another small midfielder forward type would be taken. The size of the list overall at Collingwood unfortunately smacks of an incoherent list management strategy.
- Nathan Freeman – Fail
The youngster was cut down by injuries during his time at Collingwood. Plagued by hamstring injuries and not being able to play a game for the Magpies. On the two year mark he decided to part ways with the Magpies and requested a trade St Kilda.
Take at pick 10 in the 2013 national draft in hindsight it’s a baffling selection for Collingwood, in consideration of the sheer number of similar type short midfield players already on the list as discussed previously with Tim Broomhead. With this draft selection the Magpies passed up on the chance to select gun midfielders Dom Sheed and Patrick Cripps.
- Matthew Scharenberg – Fail
Former Port Adelaide coach Mark Williams once said that Matthew Scharenberg was the best schoolboy prospect he’d seen since Wayne Carey. But at this stage Collingwood has yet to see the potential of Scharenberg at an AFL level.
This is mostly due to Scharenberg doing with ACL twice. Luck has cost him a lot to this point in his AFL career. The 21 year old has played a significant amount of VFL footy this season. It took him three 40+ possession games in a row for Nathan Buckley to take notice and select him. He had four games at the AFL level before he was dropped again after an off game against Melbourne.
You would think considering the investment Collingwood have put into Scharenberg and his age Nathan Buckley and the selection panel would stick with him and continue to select him. It is also odd that Scharenberg needs to play sublime footy at the lower level over a significant stretch of time just to be selected, and even then that’s sometimes not enough. Maybe there is something that he’s not doing that the coaching staff can see that the general football viewing public can’t. But aside from the Melbourne game Scharenberg was quite good and looked composed and comfortable at the AFL level in 2017.
- Jordan DeGoey – Pass
DeGoey was a shining light for the Magpies in his first season. He was recruited at pick 5 in the 2014 national draft DeGoey using the pick acquired from Brisbane for Dayne Beams. DeGoey had a bit of a softmore slump in his second season, not managing to replicate the promise shown in his first year.
The beginning of this season didn’t go exactly to plan for DeGoey. Lying to the club about a hand injury being caused by his dog the week before the season started wasn’t the start to the season DeGoey had been looking for. Particularly after a strong NAB cup campaign, the lack of respect shown to the players, fans and coaches by lying about his hand injury was disappointing.
The injury and subsequent suspension caused DeGoey to miss the first six weeks of the season. However since his return he has impressed and is starting to show some of the form that made Collingwood draft him so early in the first place. While his draft pick was warranted, Collingwood did pass on both Peter Wright and Jake Lever to get him and in terms of need a forward like ‘2-meter Peter’ or a back like Lever is exactly what Collingwood need right now.
- Brayden Maynard – Pass
The 20 year old had been a consistent part of the Collingwood half back like since his debut. The hard nut has won plaudits with his toughness and endeavor at the footy. Collingwood have found a solid half back flanker in Maynard for the next 10 years you would think.
- Darcy Moore – Pass
The young key forward has looked the goods since making his debut for the Magpies. While he is still developing he has shown enough promise for Magpies fans to know he is going to be a crucial element in their team for years to come.
But as a young developing forward the last thing he needs is to be the number 1 key forward so early in his career, Collingwoods recruiting failures to draft another key forward has meant they’ve placed an unnecessary amount of pressure on Moore to deliver. Getting the best defender every week is a lot for a 20 year old developing forward to deal with.
While Darcy Moore is a talented young prodigy, the recruitment can hardly be put down to the Magpies recruiting team considering he is the son of one of the Magpies all time great players Peter Moore and recruited via the father son rule.
- Brayden Sier – Fail
A season and a half into the his career at Collingwood, Sier has yet to play a game for the Magpies and has yet to make a significant impact in the VFL. The Magpies drafted him at pick 28 in the 2015 national draft, taking him well above where many pundits thought Sier was going to be taken. Sier did not play TAC Cup in his draft year, having only played games for Marcellin College. Many expected Sier to go around pick 60-70 but Collingwood jumped in early to take him, even with the likes of the highly rated Mitchell Hibberd and Rhys Matheison left on the board.
Looking at the list of players traded in and drafted Collingwood fans are quite right to ask where are the key defenders and where are the key forwards? The Magpies are small in defense and small up forward and it is painfully obvious watching the Magpies play that there have been deficiencies in the recruitment of players since the club’s last successful era.
Why Derek Hyne and his recruitment staff somewhere along the way haven’t identified this as a key need for the Magpies, years out to allow for development, is completely beyond many supporters. Serious questions need to be asked as to why we are a team devoid of a quality key forward to help Darcy Moore and a quality key defender to help Ben Reid.
Up until 2011 it was a view shared among many that the Magpies had the best list recruiter in the league. However, it’s now quite apparent that they do not at all. The recruiting department at other AFL teams have gone from strength to strength while the Magpies recruiting and ability to get quality players from the draft has gone backwards.
Derek Hyne’s position at Collingwood has to be under significant scrutiny in the whole club review that is taking place, the results speak for themselves and in the end he has accountability for those decisions.
Collingwood have one of the largest fan bases in the AFL. Even against interstate opponents the Magpies draw at least 35,000 to the MCG. For the most part, in the past Collingwood fans have always been united as one. United by the us against them mentality, every other team hates Collingwood, so the fans are going to stick together, side by side. But in recent times that simply hasn’t been the case, and the fans have been divided for a number of reasons.
The cheer squad
The cheer squad has become toxic to many Collingwood supporters. Evidenced by every Collingwood game at the MCG where you will see the cheer squad in level 1 of the Ponsford stand surrounded by empty seats. Reserve seat ticket holders near the cheer squad either don’t want to sit in their own seats or are not turning up to the games. The club could fix this by implementing a system like Essendon, where season ticket holders could notify the club they aren’t attending and the club could sell their seat for a game.
Alternatively Collingwood could make all of level 1 available to general admission members on a first come first serve basis. This would allow the average supporter a chance to sit on level 1 and a chance to support passionately alongside the cheer squad. A change to ticketing on level 1 talked about a few years ago by the club at the members forum but has not been acted on by the club. It’s still a problem that’s not going away. Collingwood won’t get the loud and long Collingwood chants of old unless they resolve this situation immediately.
The big issue
The other issue for the fans is the elephant in the room; the coach. Collingwood supporters are split firmly down the middle.
- Camp 1
There is a group of Magpies supporters that are hard and fast supporters of Nathan Buckley no matter what, and even in the face of obvious shortcomings as a coach will steadfastly defend the Collingwood great.
- Camp 2
Then there is another group of supporters that question the decision making of the team’s tactics and hold Buckley accountable for the team’s performances over the last 5-6 years.
Where I sit
It is a hard one for me to decide which camp I sit in as I grew up wearing number 5 on my back. My passion and love for football can almost be solely attributed to idolising Nathan Buckley and going to watch him play every week growing up. On the field he is one the best the best footballers I have seen play the game, his booming right foot, his hardness at the footy and talent was unreal. When you hear him speak after the game he is able to dissect the games events and pin point the team’s downfalls and the other team’s strengths better than most coaches. As a media performer there isn’t many better than Bucks. It’s for these reasons that I am hoping that he achieves every success he wants at the club and ultimately leads Collingwood to premiership glory.
But on the other hand I’m not blind to the team’s tactics, selection and game style genuinely having a detrimental impact on the club’s ability to win games of football. Ultimately a coach will be judged in the success they achieved while at the helm of a football club and at this moment, the results speak for themselves. There has to be a level of accountability that falls squarely on the shoulders of the coach.
The coaching at the Magpies has been brought into question, quite rightly, by the media and supporters alike. Whether be it at the selection panel or the game style itself the ability for the coaching staff at the Magpies to get the best out of its players and develop a winning game style has to be called into question in consideration of the recent lack of success.
Jobs for the boys
In recent years since the success of the 2010 era Collingwood have appointed former players Anthony Rocca and Tarkyn Lockyer into developmental coaching positions and Scott Burns into an assistant coach position. In addition to these appointments Brent Macaffer is employed by the club as a player development manager.
These are former players that have limited experience beyond the four walls of Collingwood to gain experience elsewhere. But remain at the club where the head coach is their former captain. These appointments could have well been on merit, and although Burns has some experience at the West Coast Eagles, looking in there is an obvious perception that it’s “jobs for the boys” and rather than searching the league for the best coaching talent and drawing on tactics that have worked elsewhere, Collingwood have instead rewarded former players with cushy coaching positions.
The Magpies recruited Brenton Sanderson in the off season. The former Adelaide coach would have been considered a sound appointment, but for one reason; he is Nathan Buckley’s best mate. Surely one would perceive a conflict of interest existing in that appointment. In addition to this, surely the perception is there that Buckley had recruited a “yes man” to fill a vacancy at the assistant coach level.
As discussed previously Scott Burns is also an assistant coach, as well as former two time brownlow medalist Robert Harvey. Harvey was a fantastic midfielder in his day, but one has to question why Harvey, a champion midfielder is Collingwood’s defensive coach. Surely one would think the best person to have in the position of defensive coach is a former defender? It seems strange looking at it from the outside.
Collingwood’s VFL coach is Jared Rivers, who Collingwood appointed during the off season to replace the departing Dale Tapping, who left to take up an assistant coach role at the Brisbane Lions. Tapping was rewarded for his brilliant coaching of the Collingwood VFL side with the VFL coach of the year award. From an outside perspective you would think Collingwood would do whatever they could to hang onto Tapping, even consider promoting him to an assistant coach role. When you have the best coach in VFL at your club it’s surely incumbent on the club to do whatever they can to keep him there. Which is why it was so surprising to see Tapping depart.
Collingwood’s selection has often baffled football experts, media pundits and supporters alike. The decisions made at the selection table have a direct impact on the team’s ability to win games and Collingwood’s selection of recent memory has been questionable to say the least. Below are just a few baffling examples that come to mind.
- Matthew Scharenberg
As discussed previously in this long read Scharenberg was dropped after his off performance against the Demons. What a young player of Scharenberg’s age and talent needs is a consistent run of games at the elite level. The knowledge that he can work on his game and improve at the AFL level without the added pressure of getting dropped would do wonders for his development.
There’s no point in dropping him to the VFL, as he’s just going to rack up another 35 touches and dominate, as he did against Port Melbourne while the senior team lost to the Port Adelaide. He is clearly too good for the VFL. The Magpies have invested enough time, effort and money into him, its time the selection panel got on board and gave him the opportunity at the elite level to show us what he’s got.
- Mason Cox
On the day of the 125th anniversary of the Collingwood football club, the Magpies came up against arch rivals Carlton in a game where Collingwood were heavy favourites to defeat the Blues. As forecasted, on the day of the game there was heavy rain pre game and yet the decision was made to go in with Mason Cox in the line up. As most would have expected, Cox struggled to make an impact on that game in the wet, with just four possessions for the entire game.
- Ben Reid
After returning from injury Reid had a solid outing against the Power, being named in the best for Collingwood, he was one of few Collingwood players who could hold their heads up high after a poor team display. This made it even more baffling to see the team news on the Friday before the Hawthorn game with Reid being omitted from the Magpies side. Nathan Buckley was quoted as saying it was due to the strong form of Lynden Dunn and Tyson Goldsack. While both Dunn and Goldsack have been solid contributors for the Magpies, most media pundits and supporters would agree with the assessment that they don’t bear a candle to the All-Australian defender Ben Reid.
In 2016 the scrutiny was on the Collingwood selection committee and the coach for chopping and changing too much every week, at no point during the season did you think Nathan Buckley knew what his best side was. Things haven’t seemed to change from that point, even now, more than five years into his coaching career at Collingwood a defined best 22 isn’t apparent. Which is a big problem the club needs to address.
It seems a perpetual problem at Collingwood in that the club has always lacked an ability to make the most of its chances and kick accurately for goal.
Of the 14 games played this season the Magpies have kicked more goals than behinds in just four of them, and two of those five games goals only beat behinds by 1. The Magpies have had more scoring shots than there opponent twice and lost, round 1 against the Bulldogs and round 5 against Essendon. Collingwoods missed chances have hampered their ability to not only stay in games, but to kick clear and punish sides.
This has been a problem that has plagued Collingwood for years, and it is perplexing how the coaching staff haven’t made inroads to address this significant problem.
Five years into the coaching career of Nathan Buckley the Magpies do not have an identifiable game style that one could use describe the way Collingwood play. With Mick Malthouse clubs knew what you they were getting when facing the Magpies. An aggressive one on one game style, where taking risks was encouraged, handballing often and using skill to move the ball around the boundary. But with Buckley at the helm the Magpies have never seemed to own their own identifiable game style.
The game style adopted by the Magpies is very reactionary and dependent on what the other team’s game style is. The game against Port Adelaide was symptomatic of the way the Magpies have been playing for the entire season. The side is playing with a fear of losing rather than trying to win a game. The players aren’t taking risks, handballing and playing on from marks is down and they are not winning the one on ones either.
There’s a reason Collingwood have lost so many close games this season and aren’t getting beaten badly. It’s because they are playing reactors to the opponents game style instead of having a definitive game style of their own, but have a midfield strong enough to react well and stay in games. But in the end, it only makes sense that an opponent playing the game on their terms will have an advantage over Collingwood who don’t dictate the play or type of game being played.
Collingwood often get found out when the other team is going harder at the ball and brings an aggressive, pressure game plan to the Magpies. It’s at this point where the players need to step up and match that physicality and fight that the other team are bringing. But also their own game plan needs to change to move to respond to situations better in games.
Early warning signs
My first worry about Nathan Buckley as a coach came in the 2013 elimination final against Port Adelaide. Where the Power decided they were going to double and triple team Travis Cloke all night to stop his power marking and prowess in one on one contests. It was clear to see from the first quarter of this game what was going on. But Collingwood, just kept bombing it long to Cloke who got outmarked due to the numbers game. There was seemingly no noticeable change or directive in this game by the coaching staff to use the extra players on the field the Power left by double and triple teaming Cloke to run the ball into the forward 50. Or even move Ben Reid forward, who stayed back to the entirety of that game.
- Ben Reid
On that point comes the question of Ben Reid. The injury plagued Collingwood swingman has been moved from defender for forward on many occasions depending on what the club needs. While his best position is clearly down back, there has always been a need for Collingwood to provide another forward option to help either Travis Cloke or Darcy Moore. While that situation is partly born out of the recruitment departments failure to draft another quality key forward or key defender, Reid needs certainty in what position he is going to play. Reid got injured in the game against Giants, but in what was arguably one of Collingwoods best game for the season, albeit a losing effort, Reid offered a presence up forward and helped Collingwood kick what was almost a winning score. But when he returned from injury he was put back in defense.
Reid cannot keep switching positions at a whim, a player can’t be expected to train with the defenders all pre season and in the lead up to games then all of a sudden click in the forward line. Collingwood need to make a final decision on what position to play him and stick with it.
While there has been impediments and barriers to Nathan Buckley’s success at Collingwood including the player recruitment as previously discussed as well as the fitness/injury management and administration of the club as discussed below there is no question of the accountability Nathan Buckley holds for the team’s on field success.
Having famously stated that it’s finals or bust in 2017 for his coaching career it remains to be seen whether the club will hold him to that, or whether he will in the end hold himself to that. Buckley is a proud man, and after five seasons at the helm with no noticeable improvement of performances by the club on the field he may in the end fall on his own sword.
The fitness/injury management
In the last few seasons Collingwood have been hampered by a series of soft tissue injuries. Collingwood sought help from experts on soft tissue injuries in 2014, and in 2016 had to defend its long injury list by saying that the large amount of injuries was down to luck. But from the outside it seems like it’s more than that, the training methods of the players can and should be called into question.
Fitness guru Bill Daveron was appointed after the 2013 season to improve the Magpies’ methods of training and greatly improve the fitness of the players. Immediately after he joined the club the players’ training loads were increased. There was a vast increase in the Magpies’ injury list during the 2014 season, when there were 219 games missed due to injury. That’s equivalent to 10 players on the club’s list being out for the entire season. Soft tissue injuries were a common occurrence, but Magpies fans were told at the Magpies members forum and through other avenues in the media that it was due to the initial hard slog and would lead to improved fitness levels in the long term.
However the 2016 injury stats don’t paint a rosy picture for those claims. Collingwood had 217 games missed due to injury, an improvement of just two games from the 2014 season. When all the pressure has been heaped on Nathan Buckley during turbulent times for the club, the coach must surely wonder at times when at the selection table why more pressure and media scrutiny isn’t diverted from him and onto the fitness program.
For all Daveron’s hard work and the tough regime he has put he players through, it hasn’t seemed to pay dividends. It seems as though the fitness departments at other clubs are streets ahead of the Magpies are. Of the nine losses this year, Collingwood have been in winning positions in the second half in six of them, but have been overrun by their opponent. This more than anything else has to be an indictment of the fitness regime currently in place at the club.
The club’s fitness and injury management remains is clearly a significant hindrance to the club’s on-field success, and should be a major focus area of the club review that is taking place. One would think the ultimate accountability for the club’s injury record in the last few years lies with Bill Daveron.
The way the football club has been run since Collingwood’s last premiership success hasn’t been all too flash either. The administration of the club clearly has a lot to answer for.
Collingwood have had five football managers in the last five seasons. This fact has contributed to its odd list management strategy. The amount of football managers has meant there has seemingly been too many fingers in the pie for the rebuild strategy. Which might explain the lack of key position players the Magpies have at the moment.
The Gubby Allen saga
The way Neil Balme departed the club at the end of last season and Gubby Allen was brought in was unprofessional to put it lightly. Reports that even people within the club didn’t know this was occurring were surprising. At the time Gubby Allen was appointed Collingwood knew he was being investigated over the Whitfield saga, yet carried on with his appointment anyway. Balme was demoted to a position with less responsibility than what he had previously and not surprisingly took an opportunity to move to a general manager of football position at Richmond.
Gubby Allen then took the helm and led Collingwood through a controversial and tenuous trade and free agency period. During that period not only did Collingwood sign Daniel Wells and Chris Mayne on big money deals, but all of Collingwood’s business was seemingly being done in the media.
During the trade period there was talk Collingwood were shopping around Jordan DeGoey, Levi Greenwood and James Aish. It also was revealed that Collingwood spoke to Tom Rockliff to sound out his interest in coming to the Magpies. Collingwood were also reported to be interested in securing the signature of Brent Harvey.
The leaks coming free and fast out of the Holden Centre at that point either highlighted the discontent within the club at Allen’s appointment, or maybe even more disturbingly was a business strategy employed by Allen himself.
Once Allen was suspended by the AFL for a year following the Whitfield investigation Collingwood replaced Allen with Geoff Walsh. Considering the predicament Collingwood were in after Allen’s suspension, Walsh would almost certainty not have been the club’s number one choice, but due to the stage in the off-season was the only option they had to go with.
The decision to hire Gubby Allen comes directly from the CEO Gary Pert. The man at the helm of the Magpies has to take responsibility for the lack of due diligence done before hiring Allen. Pert himself narrowly missed out on the MCC CEO job. The Magpies supporters should expect a CEO that is committed 100% rather than one eye elsewhere.
The accountability for the number of football managers Collingwood have cycled through lies directly with Pert. The club hasn’t been able to build through the strategy of one football manager, which has resulted in not only an incoherent list management strategy, but has contributed towards the lack of an identifiable game style that plagues the club at the moment.
The Club’s Finances*
The financial report numbers for the Magpies under the leadership of Pert are heading in the wrong direction when viewing the annual report numbers over the last few years.
- Collingwood Football Club Net Profit
The deterioration in net profit/loss position of $4,640,615 over a three year period were explained away from the club as being due to an increase in depreciation and amortisation as a result of the opening of the glasshouse community centre in 2015. For those not from an accounting background depreciation and amortisation is simply the reduction in the value of an asset over time recognised as an expense, this is due in particular to the wear and tear of an asset. The depreciation and amortisation numbers over the same period are shown below.
- Depreciation and amortisation
As we can see above there has been only a $1,109,495 increase in depreciation over the last three years, which doesn’t quite account for the significant deterioration of the net profit the club generates. In explaining the result for the 2016 financial year the Magpies focused on the operating profit, which does not include depreciation and amortisation expense. When comparing other club’s announcing their results the use of an operating profit figure was rarely used, this is because depreciation and amortisation expenses are widely recognised within the accounting sector as a cost of doing business and important for users to understand the financial results of a business.
While focusing on the operating profit Gary Pert not surprisingly only spruiked the fact that they had achieved a profit, and did not focus on the significant reduction in this figure.
- Operating profit (before depreciation and amortisation)
Despite Collingwood saying they have a strong operating profit before depreciation this figure has declined by $3,530,940 since 2014. In the announcement of the annual report there was no attempt made by the club to draw attention to these declining numbers.
Further analysis of the financial report of the club over the last few years suggests a deterioration of underlying revenue may be the reason for the decline in operating and net profit, rather than “depreciation and amortisation” as suggested by the club.
2014 – $76,819,714
2015 – $66,485,870
2016 – $71,475,457
What the above analysis reveals is a $5,344,257 reduction in underlying revenue since 2014 is the main contributor to the club’s financial woes. In determining what the underlying reason behind the drop off in revenue all we have to do is look towards the main revenue line item of any club, it’s membership numbers.
Membership numbers seem to be going in the wrong direction over the last few seasons, there is a natural decline in the club’s membership when they aren’t performing on the field. Since 2014 Collingwood have shed 5,974 members. By multiplying a conservative average membership of $300 per member lost that is for foregone revenue of almost $1.8 million as the key reason for net profit and revenue deterioration that has occurred over the last few seasons at Collingwood.
There are a multitude of factors working in combination that contribute to this. For one some club members realise the club is rebuilding and are less keen to get on board as members. In consideration of the above financial results, one can imagine the decisions Collingwood have taken to plug gaps with older players like Chris Mayne and Daniel Wells and statements made publicly by club officials that the club is ready for finals is somewhat a financial decision for the club rather than being based on sound list management strategy.
Collingwood can’t afford to run net losses into perpetuity and need to stem the loss of members and give members a reason to sign up. And even though 2-3 more years of investing through the draft may be what was required to bring ultimate success, considering additional investments in netball and women’s football Collingwood can’t exactly afford for the AFL team not to have optimism and a reason for members to sign up.
There would also be some club members disenfranchised by the decision to remove Mick Malthouse after two grand final appearances in a row for Nathan Buckley to start a new rebuild. Ultimately that infamous decision will be judged on the success of the Buckley tenure at the Magpies, and whether or not that tenure brings any more success to the club. This is a decision that falls squarely on the president Eddie McGuire.
The controversial figure has been at the helm of the club for almost 20 years, longer than any other president in the AFL. As president of the club he also holds accountability, alongside the Board, for the decisions made at the club that has led them to this point. His time at the club has been littered with controversy including the infamous racist remarks towards Adam Goodes.
The final take
Whatever this review to be conducted finds, it should take into account the facts presented and lay out clear responsibility for the decisions that have been made and hold the powers at be at Collingwood accountable for the decisions made.
The way forward for the club to move past all of its issues is to clean house and start anew. Get experienced talented administrators and coaches in positions of power to make a frank list assessment and start moving the club forward by building a path towards premiership success.
What’s your take on the predicament Collingwood find themselves in? Who is to blame for the lack of on-field success in recent times? Please leave a comment in the comment section below.
*Alex is a qualified CPA with work experience in reviewing and analysing financial report results.