Buck­ley dis­plays an amaz­ing grace

Sunday Herald Sun - - Opinion - PA­TRICK CAR­LYON PA­TRICK CAR­LYON IS A SUN­DAY HER­ALD SUN COLUM­NIST pa­trick.car­lyon@news.com.au

NATHAN Buck­ley had to go. It was April. It didn’t mat­ter where he went, so long as it was else­where, or so went the pre­vail­ing wis­dom. First, how­ever, the Colling­wood coach would re­ceive some friendly ad­vice, as all AFL coaches must, from for­mer play­ers, fans, and ran­dom passersby. If Buck­ley were to point the fin­ger for his team’s fail­ures, one com­men­ta­tor ex­plained, he should point it at him­self. Buck­ley didn’t go. Nor did he go last week, when — once again — self-pro­claimed ex­perts ex­plained that he had to. By now, he had ac­quired a new hon­orific — “un­der siege”. His sixyear reign was “all but over”. He was re­duced to a “dis­trac­tion” — Colling­wood’s fu­ture would be mud­dled un­til he went.

Buck­ley didn’t go. Even when he re­ceived the gravest of news — a club prom­ise that he would be kept un­til sea­son’s end, which is in­ter­preted as code for his be­ing shown the exit — Buck­ley stayed firm. Five years in Aus­tralia’s tough­est gig has be­stowed him with grace and poise, if not al­ways the re­sults he has sought.

Mal­colm Turn­bull, by com­par­i­son, has it easy. Prime min­is­ters can lose 15 opin­ion polls in a row, but they still aren’t sub­jected to the kind of scru­tiny an AFL coach en­dures.

Turn­bull, af­ter all, plays the same strat­egy week af­ter week. Ev­ery­one knows he can­not spot a back pocket from a full for­ward. Yet no one is sug­gest­ing that he reap­ply for his job along­side other can­di­dates; well, not yet any­way. That’s what’s been sug­gested Buck­ley do — sub­mit him­self to an open re­cruit­ing process.

Turn­bull and Buck­ley do share one thing — the per­cep­tion that their teams are not very good. Turn­bull didn’t re­spond well when that was pointed out to him.

On elec­tion night last year, he was petu­lant, as if the vot­ers were bit play­ers in the big­ger arc of his per­sonal destiny.

Buck­ley, in con­trast, fronts up reg­u­larly. He’s ar­tic­u­late and gen­uine, light in the face of ad­ver­sity and thought­ful de­spite dis­ap­point­ment. He cracks jokes when he’d be for­given for punch­ing walls.

Some ex­perts say he is good at his work and bonded to his play­ers, and that the only prob­lem lies in that crit­i­cal set of num­bers on the score­board. True, it’s a big stick­ing point, that. The club that claims to be Aus­tralia’s best is not as good as many other AFL clubs. Buck­ley has won a soli­tary fi­nal since 2012.

Yet he doesn’t hide be­hind sta­tis­ti­cal jar­gon. He as­sumes re­spon­si­bil­ity for de­feat or, in the silly par­lance of AFL House, he “owns the de­ci­sions”.

He has grown as one of those rare fig­ures in sport. Buck­ley stands to be ad­mired for the char­ac­ter test, for rea­sons re­moved from the usual mea­sures of win­ning and los­ing.

Buck­ley’s team has lost twice as many games this year as it has won. He has bat­tled the phan­tom no­tion that Colling­wood may have per­formed bet­ter if Mick Malt­house were still in charge.

Buck­ley re­ceives more free com­men­tary than Bernard Tomic and most of it is just as unkind. He him­self spoke of last week’s loss as a “tipping point”, but many ob­servers have treated ev­ery week of his ten­ure since 2012 as such.

A few months back, for­mer player David King said that Buck­ley was “dy­ing on the vine”. The tenor was in step with the pre­vail­ing line — in­deed, King was more con­struc­tive than some. “I be­lieve Buck­ley’s coach­ing ca­reer is still sal­vage­able be­fore the lack of scor­ing im­pacts the crowd at­ten­dances and view­er­ship,” said King, a vet­eran of zero games as an AFL coach.

James Hird, who does know about coach­ing pres­sure, spoke of watch­ing Buck­ley coach some eight-year-olds on a Sun­day morn­ing, a few hours be­fore a big­ger coach­ing gig against Gee­long. He said: “Be­ing an AFL se­nior coach is like no other job I have ex­pe­ri­enced. I have never op­er­ated on some­one, guided a mis­sion to the moon or sent young men to their death in war. All these roles carry far greater sig­nif­i­cance in life than that of an AFL coach, but the pres­sure and stress that comes with be­ing an AFL coach is unique and mostly un­healthy.”

Buck­ley grasps that. When Malt­house was sacked by Carl­ton in 2015, Buck­ley pointed out that nine out of 10 coaches seemed to fin­ish their ca­reers sacked.

“You very rarely get a chance to jump on the horse and ride into the sun­set,” he said. “I’m not ex­pect­ing to when my time comes.” Buck­ley might go. If and when he does, some­one should get him a horse.

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