GILBERT GARDINER navigates the minefield that lies ahead in season 2017 for a number of AFL coaches
FINALS or bust is nothing new for Collingwood. It is always the case for a club with so much pride. The fly in the ointment this year, however, is the expiration date on Nathan Buckley’s contract — end of 2017.
“If we don’t win, you don’t stay” in a sport with “high performance expectations”, Buckley told SEN last year.
He added, “There’s no way” he could see himself coaching Collingwood beyond 2017 if the team does not feature in September action.
What’s worse for the Pies is their tricky start to the season starting with premier Western Bulldogs, Richmond, Sydney (SCG) and St Kilda before the traditional Anzac Day clash with Essendon.
The Pies’ win-loss record has fallen steadily since Buckley took over from premiership coach Mick Malthouse. Injuries have not helped the cause. But Collingwood is capable of big things in 2017. Buckley is armed with the top-ranked midfield in the game, according to Champion Data.
He has weapons in attack, and ruckman Brodie Grundy is capable of bridging the gap to Max Gawn and Todd Goldstein as the best big men in the game. The backline is the great unknown.
A SOFT draw presents a good foundation that could ensure Hardwick sees out his contract through to the end of 2018. The Tigers must get on the board early with four of their first five games at the MCG against Carlton, Collingwood, West Coast and Melbourne. Also play Brisbane at the Gabba.
Each is winnable but as the past shows, anything is possible at Punt Rd. Wins early will protect Hardwick from questions about job security and the club from more board upheavals.
The Tigers have been crying out for depth in the midfield — and they have it in spades with recruits Dion Prestia and Josh Caddy.
ROSS LYON/ KEN HINKLEY
TRICKY start to the season for both coaches who could easily find themselves 0-4 and 1-3 respectively heading into Round 5. Injuries applied the blowtorch to Lyon’s Dockers last year with Nat Fyfe, Aaron Sandilands and Michael Johnson missing large chunks of the season. Another sub-par season and Fremantle administrators might start to get an itchy trigger finger despite Lyon being signed until 2020.
Hinkley, who is contracted until the end of 2018, could also fall out of favour at Alberton unless he finds a way to reinvigorate Port Adelaide after missing finals for a second season. He caught the competition napping in 2013-14 with a fast-paced game style. Any edge Port had is now gone.
A WRETCHED start to the season — West Coast, Geelong, GWS and Western Bulldogs — could cause jungle drums to beat around Arden St. And it does not get any easier with Fremantle (at Subiaco), Gold Coast, Adelaide and Sydney to come.
But Scott, in his eighth season and contracted until the end of 2018, might have earned a year’s grace by overseeing the departure of club champions last year.
Imagine the fallout had he stuck with favourite sons Drew Petrie, Brent Harvey, Michael Firrito and Nick Dal Santo and potentially gone zip-eight to start this season.
Scott built the list once and will get a chance to do it again. Whether he is there to reap any rewards depends on how bad the losses get this year and next.
SIMON GOODWIN/ ALAN RICHARDSON
THEIR jobs are safe. There is no doubt.
But how high are the expectations of these two? Melbourne and St Kilda are expected to push into the eight but is there room for both?
North Melbourne should drop out but not many other 2016 finalists are likely to make way for the Saints and Demons. Both teams recruited well in the off season. Melbourne has weapons at both ends of the ground, a hard-nosed midfield and arguably the best ruckman in the game.
St Kilda is similar if not better given the options in attack with Josh Bruce, Tim Membrey, Paddy McCartin and Nick Riewoldt, who can play anywhere on the ground.
The midfield runs deep with Koby Stevens and Jack Steele added to the mix, while Jake Carlisle adds muchneeded size to a versatile backline.
The sides play twice this season (Round 1 and 21) and that could decide which coach sees September action.
Alastair Clarkson: Earned the right to lead the Hawks after shipping out Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis but cannot afford to drop too far off the pace. Been in the job 16 years and not many coaches get to leave of their own accord. Four premierships help.
Brendon Bolton: The build is slow and meticulous but the Blues are making inroads under Bolts. Will be another lean year as far as wins go but getting games into Silvagni, McKay, Weitering and Co is crucial.
Don Pyke: 16 wins and finals in rookie season is a big tick, but must repeat the dose to shore up future at West Lakes. Brenton Sanderson came within a kick of the Grand Final in his first season as coach and was gone two years later.
Luke Beveridge: Probably has the job for life at the Whitten Oval after helping the Doggies snap their 62year premiership drought.
Chris Fagan: No danger in rookie season. Will get a couple of bites at the cherry to develop Brisbane Lions and begin the climb up the ladder.