COLLINGWOOD HAVE made the right decision in re-appointing coach Nathan Buckley, says Neil Balme, who is in a better position than most to know. RON REED reports:
NATHAN BUCKLEY has all that it takes to become a successful coach – providing Collingwood, as a club, gets its act together behind him. That’s the verdict of Neil Balme, who as director of coaching oversaw two of the five years Buckley has so far spent in one of footy’s hottest seats. Balme is certainly a fan.
“I reckon he is going to be a very good coach but how successful a coach is is not determined by how good the coach is,” he told guests at Carlton legend Percy Jones’s fortnightly lunch at the North Fitzroy Arms pub. “It’s what you have around him and what you expect of him – the behaviour and values of the club.
“I think he’s up against it a bit at Collingwood because they’re still all over the place in terms of leadership.”
Balme was referring to the famous old club still having no permanent Chief Executive several months after the mid-season departure of Gary Pert, while several other executive positions have been fluid. Balme’s second stint there finished a year ago when he moved to Richmond as football manager, where he helped oversee the Tigers’ historic premiership.
He left on not entirely positive terms after being told his job would be taken by Graeme “Gubby” Allan – “who I wouldn’t appoint to mow my lawn because in my opinion he’s yesterday’s man in footy” – and appears to have mixed feelings about long-serving president Eddie McGuire.
“Eddie’s been wonderful for them,” he said. “They went from useless, no money, no good, to the club they should have been. But I think it’s been a little bit too much about him and not everyone else. His behaviour has shown to be a little bit egocentric and selfish, that’s the lead everyone else takes and it’s hard to control all your people when that happens.”
Of Buckley, he said: “I think Bucks is a very good coach. He knows what he’s doing and he has got a very good relationship with the players. The effort he puts into spending time with the players and relationships with them, being with them for hours and hours. He is an amazing young man. I had a bit to do with him in (his early days in) Adelaide.
“Every hurdle he has had to jump he has jumped. He’s changed all the things he does in life enormously. He’s gone from “Fig jam” (Buckley’s old nickname in his playing days: F**k I’m Good, Just Ask Me) from just worrying about himself and playing good footy, to being a good captain and a bloke who really cares about other people to a good coach who cares about his players. Apart from when they play the Tigers, I hope he does extremely well.
“I don’t know what the club is going to do (about the CEO job) but that will have a big impact on whether he’s able to be successful as a coach. From a playing point of view, I think they’re reasonably well equipped. They don’t need too much more.”
Balme is a former coach himself, having led Norwood to two premierships in the South Australian league before coaching Melbourne for five years between 1993-97, winning 41 games and losing 57 and getting as far as the preliminary final in 1994. He looks back on that with mixed feelings, too, especially his relationship with president Joe Gutnick, the minerals multi-millionaire who has now fallen on much less prosperous times. Balme was also caught up in the aborted attempt to merge with Hawthorn in 1996.
Coaching Melbourne was an enjoyable experience, he said. “Coaching an AFL team is a wonderful thing to do. Not many people get the chance. I was working with really great people, especially players such as Jim Stynes, Garry Lyon and Todd Viney.
“Unfortunately, we went through the process where we had to decide whether we should merge with Hawthorn. It was interesting to go through that. It reminded me that it was a game rather than a business. If it had been two chemist shops we would have done it tomorrow – it would have been bigger and better with more resources and would have sold more drugs or whatever chemists do. But the things that stopped it were what colours would it be, who would be captain, what song would we sing – all the emotional things. It was a good outcome because it reminded us what footy is – it’s fun, it’s not just a business.
“Unfortunately, Joe Gutnick virtually took over Melbourne Football Club. He had zero idea what football was all about (as an Orthodox Jew, Gutnick missed most Demons matches because he could not attend on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons). It was a power struggle between him and (stalwart and former president) Ian Ridley – they were joint presidents for about a week and “Tiger” (Ridley) was left lamenting. It was a bad time for Melbourne.
“In a way I was fortunate to get the sack. I had never played for Melbourne, just coached, but had been committed 24/7 for five years. Now I have no relationship with the club at all, which is a pretty horrible thing to say.
“I care about the blokes who played for me, but the club wouldn’t give a hoot if I lived or died, I think, which is sad. When you coach a footy team it’s a pretty significant commitment.
“I sat down with Joe Gutnick once and told him I’d do a deal with him, if he didn’t tell me who to play on the half-forward flank I wouldn’t tell him where to look for diamonds and gold. I think that was probably a big mistake.
“We had a lot of injuries and problems so it was inevitable (that I would be sacked). But they were great people to coach. Todd Viney is almost my favourite player ever. And Jim Stynes, it was a wonderful thing to be involved with him.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have anything to do with (Melbourne) now.”
Author: Ron Reed
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.