Buckley’s positive new mark on the game
NATHAN Buckley has saved his job as Collingwood coach. Will he now save the game of Australian football - at least at the AFL level - as well?
If Buckley delivers the Magpies the AFL flag on Saturday, there will be the inevitable forensic study of how Collingwood rose from also-ran at 13th last season to the premiership.
And it is much more significant than just a new piece of AFL jargon such as "chaos ball".
Critically, Buckley's 2018 playbook has re-established "risk for reward" in Australian football again.
The Collingwood midfielders are prepared to kick to a one-on-one contest inside 50. This might be easier when there is the fast-leading Jordan De Goey in the goalsquare and 211cm American Mason Cox putting up his arms to be almost invincible in marking contests.
Most reassuring - at a time when the game's custodians are hung up about the "look of the game" - is Collingwood's preference to move the ball forwards rather than sideways and certainly not backwards.
There is dare among these Magpies - as well illustrated in Adelaide in the Friday night clash with the Crows on April 13. Even when rain suggested a safety-first approach with kicking, the Collingwood players were eager to work handball - and fearlessly - through the centre corridor.
They had 217 handballs that night - and 215 kicks. And they broke the watershed 100-point barrier by scoring 16.10 (106).
Buckley might have proven that the game does indeed evolve - to its best look - without prodding from AFL House-inspired rule changes.
If Collingwood beats West Coast at the MCG on Saturday, Buckley will not only have the AFL premiership that eluded him as a player but also the ultimate moment to remind all again that the game can mend itself.
The AFL Commission will leave the grand final armed with recommendations from new football boss Steve Hocking's competitions committee to double the length of the goal square (to 18m), create a 6-6-6 split of the players with starting positions, banish the runners to the bench until a goal has been scored, and a stricter interpretation of the holding-the-ball rule.
Ruckmen will be more valuable if they can "tap" - as the great Graham "Polly" Farmer did - rather than "palm" to create space for midfielders. Well-skilled and fast midfielders will be needed to load up forwards once again working with just one opponent - and no "spare" defender clogging leading space.
Buckley seems to have read the future better than most other AFL coaches.
For all that went to the competitions committee as it diagnosed the health of the Australian game, the most surprising omission from the recommendations to the AFL Commission next month is the lack of debate on further reducing interchange rotations, currently capped at 90 a game for each team.
The old guard still wishes interchange was abolished with a return to reserves, say six. And in this traditionalist group are sage men who say removing interchange rotations would make coaches - such as Buckley - again have greater influence on match day. Imagine that.