Four years ago this week the football world was at the feet of the Collingwood Football Club.
The youngest side since Kevin Sheedy’s 1993 baby Bombers to win a Premiership, the talk of a dynasty dominated the off-season. Who would be able to challenge such a talented and well-coached side?
Certainly not Geelong, having lost their coach and best player. St Kilda would come again and Hawthorn would be thereabouts, but they don’t have the key players to breakthrough for another flag just yet. Sydney? They don’t have a forward line, and Fremantle are getting older.
Three years ago this week, one of the greatest seasons in VFL/AFL history went to waste. The best percentage of all time amounted to nothing as Geelong swept the Pies away in the final quarter to claim yet another premiership. It was the start of the end of an era for Collingwood, an era that realistically should be continuing now.
It is well documented why the era ended. A coach tore up his contract and began a career in the media, while the favourite son took over the top position. A president stuck his nose in matters that had nothing to do with him. Players were offered big money from other clubs and even if they didn’t accept it, the media accepted it for them.
Collingwood are a sporting club unlike any other in Australia. Every move a player makes and every breath the president takes, the media are watching them. There may be eight (effectively nine) clubs in Melbourne, but only one can singlehandedly sell newspapers or produce clicks.
Geelong have their sleepy hollow at Kardinia Park while St Kilda are down at Seaford, and nobody seems to care about Carlton anymore. Nobody cared about North Melbourne and the Bulldogs in the first place with Melbourne remaining irrelevant ever since the sacking of Norm Smith. Essendon have copped their fair share in recent times to be fair but even Hawthorn can sail across Bass Strait to cool down.
There is no escaping the Westpac Centre.
The pressure put on the club by supporters, sponsors and the media is second to none; and rightly so. The biggest and richest club in the league needs to be smashing the expectations placed on them, feeling the pressure but revelling in it at the same time.
Over the past three years, the pressure has been all too much for Collingwood.
On the field Collingwood have failed. The drop from fourth to eleventh during Nathan Buckley’s tenure has not met expectations set by the board or the supporters, disappointing many.
However, after the elimination final loss to Port Adelaide to conclude the 2013 season, Buckley realised that something that possibly could’ve been avoided had unfortunately occurred. Like any issue at a football club this wasn’t his complete wrongdoing, but as senior coach you must bear the brunt and accept the challenge.
The rebuild was on.
It’s hard to believe that the youngest premiership side in 17 years would require a rebuild. Just a few years earlier a dynasty was on the cards and now it was over before it begun.
While the handover from Malthouse to Buckley and the troubles it created is a good plot for a movie, it won’t go down amongst the best decisions that the football club has ever made. Despite that, it happened and everyone must move on.
Some players didn’t want to. The truth that is now creeping up is that the playing group was, and to a small extent, still is.
‘Mick’s boys’ at times appeared lackadaisical in their approach under Buckley, and anyone who knows the slightest thing about Buckley knows that he will not tolerate it, and neither will the supporters.
Out went Dale to join his Dad, Sharrod went home and Darren Jolly was delisted and then went and had a whinge despite being destroyed by Wayde Skipper in the VFL Elimination Final. Dayne’s next.
Other players simply didn’t have it anymore and Buckley realised this. Alan Didak is one of these players, and as much as everyone at the club loves him, there is next to no room for sentiment at football clubs in the modern era.
In come players who are willing to do anything and everything (that is legal) in trying to claim a 16th premiership for Collingwood. It’s Buckley’s way or the highway. It remains to be seen whether the club will arrive at the destination and how long it will take, however when an entity is truly unified they can achieve great things.
It’s not just the on-field component of Collingwood that required attention either. McGuire knows the whole club needs a look at.
Crowds are falling, the atmosphere at matches is numbingly bad and sponsors have taken over. Supporters no longer feel as strong a connection to the club as they did when Nick Maxwell dedicated the premiership to them back in 2010. Many members don’t believe they’re being told the truth as they are entitled too, as their money keeps the club running.
Promises such as a European football style cheersquad in the Ponsford Stand and the largest member facilities of any sporting club in the world have yet to be fulfilled, however they appear to be high on McGuire’s agenda.
Ultimately the bottom line is that the club doesn’t need to manufacture crowd noise or run kiss cam at every break in play to generate a superb atmosphere, the only thing that needs to happen is for the team to play an attractive brand of football, something that hasn’t been seen at Collingwood since midway through the 2011 season.
All of this change is unsettling for Collingwood supporters in particular. The media spotlight has amplified, the opposition supporters are having a great time laughing at the ‘downfall’.
Little do they know that it is in fact the beginning of something great.
You don’t have to believe that every decision the club makes is the correct one, and that everything they say is the truth, but the Collingwood Football Club do not take failure well.
Mistakes will be made and lessons will be learnt, but we will rise again. It will all be worth it when Scott Pendlebury and Nathan Buckley hold aloft our 16th VFL/AFL Premiership.