DEPTH CHARGE

GIL­BERT GAR­DINER nav­i­gates the mine­field that lies ahead in sea­son 2017 for a num­ber of AFL coaches

Sunday Herald Sun - - Sport - gil­bert.gar­diner@news.com.au

NATHAN BUCKLEY

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.

DAMIEN HARDWICK

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.

BRAD SCOTT

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.

FREE HITS

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.

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