AFL post-match press conferences can be rather predictable.
Whether having won or lost, coaches tend to stick to a script when answering questions. Several clichés are recycled such as players “executing their role” or “maintaining their aggression”, and of course there’s the timeless classic of “taking one game at a time”.
Most coaches are conservative when it comes to their replies. Winning strategies are something to be guarded at all costs from the opposition.
Likewise, addressing weaknesses or frustrations is best done behind closed doors. Therefore, it is relatively uncommon for a coach to elaborate on questions directed at him after a game.
However on Sunday evening, Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley surprised everyone by going one further and commenting on a topic that no one had broached.
Just when the press conference looked to be wrapping up, Buckley chose to rebut an article written earlier in the week by Mark Robinson of the Herald Sun.
The article suggested that there was an emptiness to his career because he missed out on a premiership as a player and he has not yet reached the pinnacle as a coach.
It is commonplace for players and coaches to ignore opinion pieces, particularly if they have a negative leaning. However, on this occasion, Buckley felt the need to set the record straight.
“My life is very far from empty,” he said.
It was a defiant response to an oddly timed article that was trying to overshadow his achievement of coaching 200 AFL games. Is it only something that should be celebrated if there is a premiership attached?
Buckley could have reeled off a very impressive resume had he chosen to do so. He didn’t. His record speaks for itself.
Personally he has reached the heights that most players can only dream of, including being a seven-time All Australian and a Norm Smith Medalist. He is also one of a very elite group of players to win a Magarey Medal (SA) and a Brownlow Medal (Victoria), the highest individual honour in Australian rules from two separate states.
To imply there is a void in his career without a flag is simply unfair. Buckley has earned the respect of the AFL community and he deserves more than to be thought of as unfulfilled.
Not surprisingly, Pies president Eddie McGuire came to his defence, calling Robinson’s article “bizarre” and saying he had completely missed the point.
Sadly, there are many examples over the years of players who have climbed the premiership mountain, and for whatever reason, have struggled with life since retiring. There have also been some very public falls from grace. It’s a balancing act that not everyone gets right.
Throughout his playing career Buckley attracted criticism for being too obsessed with victory and not being able to appreciate his achievements at the time.
These days, with the support of his family, he appears to have everything in perspective. We just need to look at his example in the 2018 grand final where he made a point of comforting the visibly upset cheer squad member when the Magpies’ banner was ripped to shreds by the wind before the game. No doubt he comforted several other people that day as well.
Premierships are fantastic but they should not be only thing to judge an AFL career on, otherwise we risk deleting so many champion players from the conversation.
But for what it’s worth, Nathan Buckley has won a premiership with Port Adelaide in the SANFL in 1992. He has experienced the ultimate success as a player and he is working towards doing it as a coach of Collingwood.
Whether he does or not remains to be seen. Either way, it won’t define him.