Buckley fulfilled despite no AFL flag

·4-min read

Nathan Buckley wouldn't change much about his career as an AFL coach and player, aside from a kick here or there that would have altered the course of football history.

Buckley will be revered as one of the most decorated figures in the famous Collingwood story, alongside fellow club greats Jock McHale, Bob Rose, Lou Richards and Tony Shaw.

But the 48-year-old ultimately leaves without the coveted premiership that eluded him as a champion player and senior coach.

Buckley won the Norm Smith Medal in the first of a trio of grand final losses that he felt in 2002, 2003 and 2018.

Agonisingly, the first defeat to Brisbane and last against West Coast were by single-figure margins.

"My coaching career has mirrored my playing career pretty closely, if I'm talking about it from my perspective," Buckley said.

"Ultimately, to not have been part of a premiership, if I reflect back to what I would've thought 20 years ago, I think I would've been absolutely gutted and shattered by it.

"I'm disappointed (but) I'm definitely not unfulfilled, because the journey itself has been tremendously fulfilling.

"Bar a kick here or there, I wouldn't change much.

"I sit here tremendously content with the work that I've done, the people that I've met, what we've been able to achieve and the way that I've gone about it probably more so."

As a player, Buckley - having won the AFL Rising Star award - left the Brisbane Bears in a high-profile move at the end of 1993 and joined Collingwood over North Melbourne in pursuit of premierships.

He would go on to captain the Magpies during a decorated 280-game career, claiming a share of the 2003 Brownlow Medal and winning seven All-Australian jumpers and six Copeland trophies.

But the irony of back-to-back grand final defeats to Leigh Matthews' triple-premiersip Lions, as well as the Kangaroos' pair of successes in the 1990s, was not lost on anyone.

Almost inevitably, Buckley entered the coaching realm, and he was an assistant to Mick Malthouse when the Magpies won the 2010 grand final replay against St Kilda.

What became a messy handover orchestrated by then-president Eddie McGuire saw Buckley begin his coaching career after Malthouse's side lost the 2011 grand final to Geelong.

Buckley took Collingwood to the finals in 2012-13 and survived a review of his position in 2017, before leading the Magpies to a surprise grand final in appearance 2018 after four barren years.

The Pies kicked the first five goals in the decider against West Coast but were gradually hauled in, and beaten in the dying seconds when Eagles sharpshooter Dom Sheed slotted the match-winner from deep in the forward pocket.

Preliminary final and semi-final appearances followed for Buckley's Magpies in the two years after, before a summer of turmoil preceded a dramatic fall in 2021.

A turbulent trade period, botched list management, the leaked Do Better report and long-time Buckley ally McGuire's resignation all took their toll on the club.

A 3-9 start to Buckley's 10th season in charge came against the backdrops of a boardroom power struggle for control of an embattled Collingwood and a period of chaos for the game as a whole, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing major cutbacks across the board.

"The last 18 months has been as bizarre as you would ever wish to see or be a part of," Buckley said.

"There is a little bit of trauma that comes with that, but nothing that is not capable of being overcome."

So what's next for Buckley?

After spending time being a father to his two boys and assessing his options, the respected figure would easily slot into a media role if he desired, and would have no shortage of suitors in that regard.

But does Buckley have the passion to continue coaching elsewhere, should the opportunity arise?

"If I'm going to leave with my options open, then I think that's probably a wise decision for anyone out there," Buckley said.

"I don't know, I don't know ... it's still really raw."

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