Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley has transformed the Pies in 2018. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley has transformed the Pies in 2018. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty

Revealed: Bucks’ game-changing pre-season speech

IT WAS the November address that formed the backbone of Collingwood's resurgence.

The source of inspiration for senior coach Nathan Buckley, though, had nothing to do with football.

Rather, it was a man known as the "Bear Grylls on wheels", Canadian cyclist Svein Tuft.

Before he turned pro, this Tour de France warrior packed his belongings, and his dog, on to a small trailer and pedalled around the Canadian back country, dodging hungry bears, wolves and hypothermia, all on a few dollars a day.

Buckley might not have expected much when he arrived for the launch of acclaimed cycling documentary All For One at a Melbourne cinema in August last year.

But the Collingwood coach left the 90-minute screening, which tracked the rise of Tuft and the rest of the Aussie-inspired GreenEDGE cycling team, absolutely buzzing.

And when the Magpies gathered for one of their first pre-season meetings in November last year, Buckley used a quote from Tuft to set the scene for the Magpies' incredible come-from-the-clouds campaign.

Svein Tuft of Canada leads his Orica GreenEDGE team. Picture: Bryn Lennon/Getty
Svein Tuft of Canada leads his Orica GreenEDGE team. Picture: Bryn Lennon/Getty

Up on the big screen, in front of the entire Collingwood paying group, the slide read: "WE COME FROM TRIBAL COMMUNITIES AND WE LIKE TO BE CONNECTED. MOST OF US ARE STILL SEARCHING FOR A GROUP OF PEOPLE THAT ARE GOING TO DO SOMETHING SPECIAL."

Buckley leaned against the front row of chairs in the Collingwood auditorium and began some deep self-reflection.

The room fell silent."The thing that I have realised in my existence," Buckley told the Magpies, "is that I have given, or cared too much, about what other people think.

"And I reckon we can all fall into that at times. I know I do."

They had been through a hellish ride in 2017, the Magpies, but here was the chance, with a re-contracted coach and a rejigged set-up, to start afresh.

As a whole club, the Pies had to become closer and more connected.

Definitely, they had to become less distracted, and Buckley was sure everyone could learn something from Tuft.

This was a man who fought off a wolf with a broken hockey stick, which he used as a kick-stand for his bike on his six-month trip, and survived a freezing night stuck on a cliff edge when his rock-climbing rope jammed.

For Tuft, 41, those sorts of life experiences in the Canadian wilderness made the serious stuff of pro cycling less serious, especially when the five-time national time trial champion would plough into strong head winds for three quarters of a Tour de France stage, all for the benefit of a teammate.

And for Buckley, the most scrutinised man in football, Tuft's wisdom struck a chord about perspective, belonging and, perhaps most importantly, about belief and team unity in the cut-and-thrust world of the AFL.

Tuft inspired Nathan Buckley’s changed outlook to the 2018 season. Picture: Julian Smith/AAP
Tuft inspired Nathan Buckley’s changed outlook to the 2018 season. Picture: Julian Smith/AAP

"This was a quote from one of their old heads," Buckley told the players.

"He was the guy who packed up all of his worldly belongings, put them on to a trailer on the back of his bike and just rode around Canada for six months, searching for meaning, looking for where he belonged.

"Pretty brave thing to do. He's obviously got some perspective, this bloke.

"But the two things that stand out for me is 'connectedness' and 'we want to be part of something special'.

"Personally, boys, as the year went on, I felt this (connectedness) more and more, (because) within myself, I'm questioning where I fit, whether I'm of value? Whether I'm connected enough? Whether I feel like I was contributing as much as I want to?

"Was I listening too much to what was going on outside? Yeah, I was.

"As soon as I let that go and come back to you boys, I felt a whole lot better about what I was doing and what I was a part of. And that I believe that we can be a part of something special.

"I reckon this group is something special. We have just got to believe it a little bit more."

Buckley knew the Magpies had the talent, and the capacity, to run deep this season, yet not everyone was as convinced.

Only three of the 20 tipsters in the Herald Supre-season magazine had the Pies in the eight - and one of them was Collingwood champion Dane Swan.

But there were some crucial tweaks of the coaching staff to help refine the program.

New assistant Justin Longmuir had helped steel the defence, Garry Hocking brought energy and know-how into his stoppage role, and Matthew Boyd rolled up his sleeves with the young players.

Nathan Buckley celebrates Collingwood’s round 10 win with Scott Pendlebury. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty
Nathan Buckley celebrates Collingwood’s round 10 win with Scott Pendlebury. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty

Buckley asked the players to trust their system - and the troops went with that wholeheartedly.

"As a club, I don't care what the other 17 clubs are doing, I really don't," Buckley told the players.

"If we do what we do, and we come together, and we play our game style and we impose that and we go and execute it (we will succeed).

"We will each play a really important role, staff, players, admin, everyone in the environment will play a really important role in that.

"The coaches have an idea on how we are going to coach it, but you guys are going to have to go and do it, and feel it, and be able to execute it, and go and answer the challenges that are going to be thrown at it.

"But I'm looking forward to it."

All that faced an early acid test in round three.

The Magpies lost their first two games of the year and then trailed cellar-dweller Carlton by three goals after 14 minutes of the opening term.

It was a flash point, but the players responded, according to captain Scott Pendlebury.

"We all believed (in Bucks)," Pendlebury said.

"But as much as he has talked about us being connected and that we can do something special, he has also been very strong on the action side of things.

"Going 0-2, the year was sort of sitting there (on the line) and it was like, 'What is about to happen? If we go 0-3, we know what will happen.'

"I thought we played good footy for the first two rounds without getting the win and then when we started poorly against Carlton, it (the worry) crept in a little bit.

"But then we got that result and we went over to Adelaide and I think that was the big moment for us."

Up against the grand finalist in Round 4, Collingwood belted the Crows by 48 points, capitalising on Buckley's belief the sky was the limit for the black and white army in 2018.

"We all sang the song as a club, so everyone that was there jumped in the song and something just clicked in that game, where we thought, 'We are a pretty good side'," Pendlebury said.

"We knew from there if we keep going the way we are going and we stay true to how we play that anything is possible and that has sort of been our mantra for the whole year."



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