Collingwood football club has been in my blood forever. I’ve ridden the various highs and lows with dogged fanaticism. I have borne the multiple Grand Final losses with a proud stoicism and embraced the us against them mantra that has been part of the club’s existence since 1892.
Collingwood is part of my DNA and if you hate them (us), I love the fact that we’re still worth hating. Even this year when the wheels have completely fallen off and the club has bitten the bitterest of pills people still hate Collingwood.
There’s a lot of people who enjoyed the team’s on field lack of performance this year. It doesn’t bother me much. These things are cyclical in nature. Sometimes you have to go backwards before you go forwards. The club has recognised this and made a slew of good appointments after making some tough decisions.
From the moment Geelong dismantled the team in a semi final last season it’s been twelve months from hell.
Salary cap issues that had been kicked down the road for several seasons had to be faced. Players were let go. Coach player relationships were destroyed. The team’s on field strength took a serious but not insurmountable hit. What could not be calculated and perhaps has still not been adequately accounted for is the damage done to the fabric of the club. Maybe that could have been overcome if it weren’t for the commissioning of the Do Better report and long time President Eddie McGuire’s ham fisted response to it.
Eddie McGuire Collingwood Saviour or Pariah?
I have a strong affinity with Eddie McGuire. We’re about the same age. He bleeds black and white and has a strong respect for the traditions, history and culture of the club. He’s been through all the pain, frustration and humiliation of countless Grand Final losses, board implosions and two near bankruptcies. Like me, being the good catholic boy that he was, he prayed fervently for the life of John Greening after the potential superstar was callously felled behind play in 1973.
Eddie McGuire loves Collingwood. Every action he took can be seen in that light. He never played a game for the club. He wasn’t that good a footballer but his name will adorn the same honour boards at Collingwood that have names such as McHale, Rose and Buckley engraved in them. In many ways Eddie has been living his dream. He has been front and centre of the most important sporting club of his life for over twenty years. That’s some heady drug.
I get Eddie. I love his passion. He saved the club from itself in the nineties. For that I am eternally grateful. But for all the good he has done, Eddie has developed an enormous propensity to put his foot in his mouth. This propensity has simply got worse as he has got older.
Ed’s declaration that the release of the Do Better report was great day for Collingwood was the final straw. Sponsors got very nervous. Some of the more socially aware players are rumored to have been in open revolt. Eddies hand picked board started to respond to the pressure and Eddie fell on his sword.
You simply don’t lose a figure like Eddie and hope to retain equilibrium.
Filling the vacuum
The board was left to pick up the pieces.
The logical choice for replacement President was Peter Murphy. Murphy had conducted a full review of the club’s football operation in 2017 and made a series of sweeping recommendations that saw a rapid improvement in Football Department operations and board accountability. Murphy is widely acknowledged by Collingwood faithful as a unifying and respected figure. The only trouble with Murphy’s suitability for the job was that he didn’t (and still doesn’t want it).
Corporate undertaker (receiver) Mark Korda stepped into the role. Korda is a lifelong Collingwood supporter who has served on the board since 2007. I have heard that it was Korda’s recommendations that saved the club from some serious financial consequences in 2009, but I haven’t done enough research on to verify that claim. Suffice to say, if true Korda has well and truly earned his stripes.
That said, Korda is the antithesis of everything that Eddie McGuire stood for. He is measured, cautious, wooden in the media spotlight and well, boring, for want of a better word. Mark Korda was on a hiding to nothing from the moment he stepped into the role.
He now says that he saw himself as a transitional president- someone who could help the club navigate from one era to the next. Some say he campaigned against Murphy which is odd, if Murphy indeed didn’t want the job. In any case, Mark Korda can add President of Collingwood Football Club to his resume. While some will say that’s a huge boost to his ego,, Korda doesn’t present as the type of bloke who would give two hoots about his resume. His performance in his chosen field speaks for itself.
Perhaps Korda truly believed he was the person with the skills most suited to what was bound to be a rugged journey.
In the Eye of the Storm
So Collingwood limped into the 2021 season, with a diminished playing list made up of some ageing stars,some journeymen, three, possibly four genuine A Graders , a couple of seasoned pros and a bunch of kids. They simply could not afford injuries to key players and they were heavily reliant upon their A graders to have exceptional years. There were already murmurings about the coaching position. The football world waited with eager anticipation.
There was sure to be blood in the water. It came pretty early.
The team played listless unexciting footy. Key players got injured or played well below expectations. By round 5 the writing was well and truly on the wall. It was quite possible that Collingwood could win the wooden spoon. Despite the obvious inadequacies of the team, Korda gave a well intentioned but ultimately disastrous radio interview that denied that the team was in crisis while stating that the club expected to make finals.
Around this time the first whispers of a potential board spill emerged. Jeff Browne, a long time associate and friend of Eddie McGuire emerged as a credible alternate President. Browne has plenty of media and AFL contacts and his press coverage has been favourable and unquestioning. It’s hardly what a new board and fledgling President needed. The destabilisation process had begun.
The media had a field day. Korda was clearly not up to dealing with the media scrutiny and they feasted on his words all the while salivating at the seemingly inevitable messy sacking of the coach and favourite son, Nathan Buckley.
Korda was clearly uncomfortable with the publicity, but he was adept at letting people do the jobs that they were paid to do. From a football perspective, he wisely chose to remain at arm’s length and he let board member and former player Paul Licuria work closely with Buckley and football boss Graham Wright to determine the future direction of the club on the playing field.
By round 11 that triumvirate had formed an agreement that change should take place. Nathan Buckley, one of the most iconic figures in Collingwood’s modern history and arguably their greatest ever player had come to the end of the road. It could have been really ugly. The fact that it wasn’t can be attributed to Wright, Licuria, Buckley and Korda. It was handled with a great deal of respect and dignity by all parties.
A press conference was called and fronted by Wright, Buckley and CEO Mark Anderson. Crucially Korda did not appear on camera, although he was metres away. The contrast to the McGuire years could not have been more stark. Korda was savaged by some elements of the press for not being front and centre. To my mind, he couldn’t win either way. He is not a media performer and if he appeared in front of the camera the focus would have shifted from the matter at hand to the looming board challenge.
I doubt if it could have been handled any better.
Perceived Mismanagement of casual vacancies
As had been the case throughout Eddies long reign, casual vacancies were filled according to need, Dr Bridie O’Donnell was appointed to the board. O’Donnell has a background in sports science and a keen interest in women’s sports. She was seen as the perfect fit. She probably was. But it wasn’t long before photos emerged of her wearing a Bulldogs jumper. Context was not important. It was portrayed as clear evidence that the board didn’t know what it was doing. If there was ever a time that the club needed the media skills and savvy spin of McGuire it was then. He neither criticised nor supported. The club and O’Donnell were left to fend for themselves. Again, in the absence of a strong media presence, the media jackals had a field day.
The club was now in freefall. In the space of eight months, it had gutted its playing list, lost its long term President, its coach of ten seasons and a raft of support staff. There was a lot of anger amongst fans and much of that anger was directed towards the current board.
Jeff Browne and his associates were quick to fan the flames. Brown issued a seven point list of grievances which slated all responsibility for the fiasco at the feet of Korda and the existing board. There was no acknowledgement that the seeds for the current situation had been sewn by Korda’s predecessor just an inference that Korda had to go and Jeff Browne was the knight in shining armour.
The search for a new coach
Korda and the rest of the board got on with the job as best they could. They empowered Wright and Licuria to form a small sub committee to find the next coach of the Collingwood Football Club. The process was again so unlike anything that the McGuire years produced. There were no leaks, no bold statements and no head hunting. The process was through, exhaustive and painstaking. The bakers were left to bake the bread without interference.
When the dust settled, the club appointed Craig McRae – a coaching professional who had done a ten year apprenticeship in the AFL coaching landscape. McRae’s appointment spoke of a new direction – one that was not big, bold and chest beating, but one that wanted to be the best it could possibly be.
The subsequent press conference was almost comical. Korda’s opening remarks were so devoid of hoopla, pizzazz and Eddie speak that he was likened to an undertaker. Wright and McRae spoke brilliantly. Inevitably Korda was asked some questions about the looming board challenge. He dead batted them. Korda’s reluctance to pitch for his job could have been perceived in two ways. A) He didn’t want to distract from what was McRae’s parade or B) He didn’t care enough about the Presidency.
His supporters chose option A. Browne’s supporters in the media particularly were sure it was option B.
Competing agendas and ambitions
In the ensuing weeks there have been multiple storylines running. Nothing makes a whole lot of sense. Media analysts are falling over themselves making contradictory claims about board maneuverings, double crosses and the “inevitability” of Browne takeover.
The board has largely maintained a dignified silence.
Korda issued a press statement indicating that he would be stepping down at the end of 2022 as he saw his role as being a transitional President.
There were a raft of leaks to journalists who either had connections to Jeff Browne, Eddie McGuire or were renowned Collingwood antagonists. These leaks proclaimed in the space of a week that Murphy and Licuria were ow supporting Browne and then that Murphy was going to takeover as President and doublecross Browne and the Browne camp would be calling an Extraordinary General Meeting.
What was going on?
Peter Murphy came out and denied wanting to be President. His interview with Michael Gleeson in the Age was clear, decisive and crucially identified a key player that he believed was intent on destabilising the club.
Murphy went for the jugular.
” The club is managing and running very well but for some reason Francis Galbally particularly wants to destabilise Collingwood. I don’t know why.”Peter Murphy
The Galballys are a famous name at Collingwood. They’ve been involved at board level in one way or another for as long as I can remember. Rightly or wrongly I associate the Galbally name with factional disputes. I’ve been critical of McGuire for his autocratic style, but one thing McGuire did was basically neutralise factions within Collingwood. He hasn’t been gone twelve months and a current board member has pointed the finger at Francis Galbally for destabilising the club. If you stand back and think about it, it’s hardly surprising.
There are some people who believe that they should be involved at board level. They’re rich, powerful, successful and pretty shrewd operators in their chosen fields. Unfortunately most of them leave their brains in neutral when they get involved with what is undoubtedly an emotive passion.
Football Clubs Reduce Grown Men to Little Boys
Every character I’ve mentioned in this saga loves the Collingwood Football Club in their own way. McGuire, Korda, Murphy, Browne, Licuria and Galbally all love the club. They all want to be involved and I suspect they all want their name associated with a Collingwood Premiership.
There’s something about boyhood dreams, passion, emotion and romance that clouds judgements, boosts egos and disturbingly facilitates knee jerk reactions.
I don’t think that its just coincidence that Richmond Football Club came out of thirty years of mediocre performance when Peggy Mclean took over the Presidency. She brought a sharp clear eyed focus to that club which was not hindered by closet dreams of winning games off her own boot.
Collingwood are at the cross roads right now. I’ve seen this movie before. It was called the New Magpies. The new broom meant well. Within four years the club was at the point of bankruptcy. I hope wiser cooler heads prevail.
The club has made a series of positive steps in the football department. McRae needs all the support he can get. Korda, largely through the agency of Graeme Wright and Paul Licuria is facilitating that as best he can but Korda carries too much baggage and he has set his own use by date.
Browne is viewed by a growing number of supporters with some suspicion. It is a mess.
It’s time for Browne and the existing board to put their egos aside and sort this out without outside interference from McGuire, Galbally or anyone else with an axe to grind.
Maybe it’s time for a third option to emerge. Licuria has been mentioned. He might be a good choice. Maybe there is another left field solution. Possibly she sits on the board already. Her name is Jodie Sizer. She is strong, articulate, performs admirably in front of the media and will probably let the bakers bake.
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