The best and worst moments of Nathan Buckley’s career
Nathan Buckley's 478 games as a player and coach at Collingwood have been filled with many highs, but also many lows.
Following his decision on Wednesday to resign as Magpies coach at the conclusion of the Queen's Birthday clash against Melbourne this Monday, we've taken a look back at some of the key moments over the club champion's decorated career.
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2018 preliminary final
Mason Cox will forever be the hero, but this was surely Buckley's greatest accomplishment as the Magpies stopped what appeared to be an unstoppable Richmond. The Tigers say they had hit the wall and learnings from 2018 have helped them time their run for the past two premierships, but for Collingwood it was a preliminary final upset for the ages. Buckley had gone from zero to hero, leading Collingwood to a grand final only 12 months after most in the football world suspected his time was up.
2017 contract extension
One finals win from six seasons in charge is hardly cause for celebration, and as the 2017 season slipped away countless media types declared Buckley was gone. Journalist Tony Jones said it was a matter of time and Kane Cornes said they should rip the band-aid off in July. They were far from alone, although a comprehensive full-club review led by Geoff Walsh somehow saved Buckley, who was re-signed for two years after cruelling Melbourne's September dream in the final round. Captain Scott Pendlebury played no small part, telling Eddie McGuire: "He is our man". Mid-season, Buckley was asked about his shaky future and his ability. He answered: "I'm pragmatic, I'm not defeatist" and "There's two things in it - there's hard work and there's talent. I'm working really hard".
2003 Brownlow Medal
Collingwood largely became a 'Let's get Bucks a Brownlow' footy club in the 1990s, such was the adoration for its champion and realisation it was a long way off a premiership. Buckley finished runner-up in 1998 and third in 1999, but by the time he won it - sharing the medal with Adam Goodes and Mark Ricciuto in 2003 - the Magpies were six days away from playing in their second grand final in as many seasons. Buckley was the only player to miss a game and poll at least 20 votes that season, with his single vote in Round 22 (former winners Shane Woewodin and James Hird also polled) ensuring he didn't miss out.
2002 Norm Smith Medal
The game that summed up Buckley's 29 years in the AFL - individual glory made bittersweet by premiership heartbreak. Buckley remains just one of four players to 'win' a Norm Smith in a losing team, alongside Maurice Rioli (1982), Gary Ablett Sr (1989) and Chris Judd (2005). Lions captain Michael Voss' brilliant last 10 minutes came after judges had voted, prompting the AFL to ensure the 2003 Norm Smith would not be decided until after the final siren. Buckley polled 12 out of a possible 15 votes, winning it from Anthony Rocca (eight) and Nigel Lappin (five), with Voss' five crucial disposals at the death largely ignored.
Anytime Buckley was 60m from goal
It was one of the best sights in football in a joyful era where congestion was found outside on Hoddle St instead of inside on the MCG grass. Magpies fans would lean off their seats whenever Buckley stormed into space in the front half of the centre square, which was within striking distance for the magnificent midfielder who rarely wasted a disposal. Buckley's 46 disposals against Fremantle in 1999, the year he became captain, and 6.0 against Brisbane Lions in 2006 were just two of his unforgettable games. He was a superstar for all of his career, most of which came playing in ordinary teams.
1993 Rising Star
The inaugural "Norwich" AFL Rising Star boasted the greatest field of them - James Hird, Matthew Richardson, Glenn Archer, Mark Ricciuto, Dustin Fletcher, Scott West and David Neitz were all nominated. But a 20-year-old from Brisbane Bears who averaged 23 disposals and a goal a game beat them all to a gong that only one Collingwood player (Jaidyn Stephenson in 2018) has won.
1992 SANFL Glory
Ray Buckley pushed his son to join Port Adelaide and in 1992 Buckley enjoyed the perfect finish to the perfect season. The local kid who counted not only every kick he had, but also those of opposition players won the Jack Oatey medal for best-on-ground in the grand final … to go with a premiership medal, the Magarey Medal (league best-and-fairest) and the Magpies' best-and-fairest.
1995 Anzac Day draw
Scores were level when Buckley picked up a loose ball and sprinted through the centre square in the dying moments as 94,825 fans went berserk. Buckley tried to hit up Saverio Rocca, who had just kicked his ninth goal, but a swarm of Bombers defenders descended on Rocca and killed the contest. Should Buckley have unloaded a right-foot cannon and gone for glory from just outside 50m, given any score would've put Collingwood in front? It was the famous finish which gave birth to the famous Anzac Day rivalry.
1996 crowd abuse
Buckley scorned Essendon supporters who tried to sour Scott Pendlebury's moment when he won the 2019 Anzac Day Medal. "Shame on anyone that booed a champion," Buckley said from the MCG mic stand. If only somebody had voiced that message to the Magpie army in 1996, who turned on their own when they became convinced their out-of-contract superstar was going to walk out on Collingwood to return to Port Adelaide when it joined the AFL the following season. "I was booed by my own supporters for a lot of the back end of '96," Buckley once said. Buckley would end up playing in Port Adelaide's maiden AFL match, which was a 79-point loss to his Magpies at the start the '97 season.
A scrupulously fair player, Buckley's rare brush with the tribunal came in bizarre circumstances when in 2002 he smeared his own blood on the jumper of Geelong tagger Cameron Ling. It was seen as a "if I have to go off under the blood rule, you're coming with me" act after Ling split Buckley's forehead open. Buckley was charged with misconduct and admitted he had exploited the AFL's blood rule. Asked about the potential infection of bloodborne diseases, Buckley told the landmark hearing that he had taken an HIV/hepatitis test two years earlier and had been in the same monogamous relationship since. Both Buckley and Ling (striking) were suspended for one match.
A frustrated Buckley sat on the MCG bench and watched Geelong champion Jimmy Bartel deliberately absorb tackle after tackle to drain the clock in the 2007 preliminary final. At the time it seemed bizarre that Buckley wasn't standing with Bartel on Collingwood's forward flank as Geelong led by five points. But the 35-year-old warrior had pinged his hamstring one last time and, after a year of chronic hamstring problems, decided to retire while away on holidays a week or so later. Even if the Magpies stunned the Cats it was likely that Buckley would've missed the grand final against a Port Adelaide team thrashed by 119 points.
2013 elimination final
President Eddie McGuire was so confident the Magpies would roll Port that he was already barking about a six-day break for a semi-final that Collingwood was not yet in. Instead, what transpired was a watershed night for Buckley's Magpies. A shock loss at the MCG was followed by a press conference where Buckley told the football world the club's culture was a mess as many of the club's 2010 premiership heroes were booted out. "You've got to ask if we're making the right decisions in regard to culture and in regards to environment, personnel, game plan, coaching staff," Buckley said. Heath Shaw joined GWS, Dale Thomas joined Carlton, Ben Johnson retired while Alan Didak, Andrew Krakouer and Darren Jolly were delisted. Jolly called Buckley a "coward" on his way out. "We had a problem. He had an issue with me and I had an issue with him. And I'm not the only one. There's a lot of players there that are in that same boat."
Collingwood's history of systemic racism, as uncovered by the club's 'Do Better' report, overlaps with Buckley's tenure, and Heritier Lumumba says he confronted Buckley in 2014 before he was traded to Melbourne. Buckley allegedly made light of Lumumba's stand against the team's racist and homophobic banter and, after walking two laps of the club's oval, Lumumba barged into Buckley's office and called him "an insensitive f---.". "You have fantastic football knowledge but you lack sensitivity and emotional intelligence," Lumumba said.
2018 grand final loss
The best of Buckley was on show on before and after the most heartbreaking game of his career. Pre-game Buckley consoled teary cheersquad members after their most cherished banner ripped apart just minutes before players were due to burst through it. Then, post-game, Buckley threw his arms around Alex Woodward - the luckless ex-Hawk who has suffered five ACL injuries - in a beautiful moment in the MCG rooms. Woodward, who was acting as the Magpies' runner in the match, accidentally blocked Jaidyn Stephenson in the third quarter as Elliott Yeo took an intercept mark and kicked a goal in a critical moment. Buckley told a distraught Woodward not to blame himself after the thrilling five-point loss. For Buckley, at least he was an assistant coach for the 2010 flag.
2021 split with Pies
Buckley will become the fourth key pillar at Collingwood to fall in six months - following president Eddie McGuire (replaced by Mark Korda), football boss Geoff Walsh (Graham Wright), list boss Ned Guy (Troy Selwood) and now Buckley (interim coach Robert Harvey). Hampered by a bursting salary cap and a slow and stodgy gamestyle that struggled to strike a balance between defence, Buckley's list ultimately became too devoid of talent to compete in 2021. Geelong destroyed the Magpies by 68 points in last year's semi-final and went on to finish runner-up. One team then added Jeremy Cameron, Isaac Smith and Shaun Higgins while the other lost Adam Treloar and Jaidyn Stephenson. Really, what hope did the Magpies have this season?
… and the sliding doors moment
In 2009, Buckley was working for Channel 7 and coaching Victoria's under 16s when he wanted to speak to North Melbourne and Richmond about vacant coaching positions, following the mid-season departures of Dani Laidley and Terry Wallace. The Kangaroos offered Buckley their top job - and in swooped Magpies president Eddie McGuire, who orchestrated the succession plan with Mick Malthouse, as Buckley signed instead a five-year contract with Collingwood (2010-11 assistant, 2012-14 senior coach). Brad Scott was appointed at Arden St.
Originally published as The best and worst moments of Nathan Buckley's career