It's not often you put the word "schadenfreude" in the first line of a sports story. But today we break that rule.
Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. And that's exactly what's happening in the AFL world today as the Collingwood Magpies' season crumbles -- and the club's leadership threatens to do likewise.
This all started getting serious on the weekend when Collingwood lost to arch-rivals Carlton, who despite stringing together three straight wins, are far from competition heavyweights.
Full time. Collingwood 12.12 (84) def. by Carlton 15.9 (99). It hurts. A lot.— Collingwood FC (@CollingwoodFC) May 7, 2016
Yeah, no kidding. Ouch indeed.
Collingwood has injury woes. But so too do Hawthorn and the Western Bulldogs, both of whom are five wins and two losses for the season. Collingwood sank to two and five after the Carlton loss. And didn't the Blues fans love it.
Murmurs over coach Nathan Buckley's tenure as coach have turned into a full-scale attack. "Bucks" is a club legend and Brownlow Medalist. He became assistant Collingwood coach in 2010, the year the 'Pies won the flag. He held the job in 2011 as Collingwood lost the grand final, extending their record number of runner-up finishes to a remarkable 26.
The following year, Buckley finally got the keys to the family car as Mick Malthouse departed. He took the team to within a game of the grand final but the side has slipped ever further down the ladder in the three-and-a-bit seasons since.
There's an unofficial rule in digital journalism that you can't write an AFL story without embedding a tweet from footy satirist Titus O'Reily. Who are we to break the rules?
Listening to Buckley on AFL 360 and I've no idea what he's talking about. I feel like a Collingwood player. #AFL360— Titus O'Reily (@TitusOReily) May 9, 2016
O'Reilly actually makes A'Really good point. Buckley was grilled by Gerard Whateley on the Fox Footy show AFL 360 and said the following, which may or may not have meant something.
"It is not something we are going to lean on. We will judge ourselves on what we believe our best is with that group of players. When we hit it, you will know about it. When we don't, you will know about it. Because we think we can win with the group that we take the field with regardless of age."
You're scraping a barrel that you found at the bottom of another barrel when you seek Wayne Carey's clarification on any issue. But Carey made an interesting point on Channel Seven's Talking Footy.
"People started saying OK, he's cleared out the rat pack and guys that had a personality and he's turned the side into 'his side'. but since it's been so-called 'his' team they've gone in only one direction," Carey said.
"Clearly the ones he let go all have footy brains, they all use the footy well and made good decisions. All of a sudden you've got a group of guys that are very robotic. They don't make good decisions, they don't use the footy well."
You've got to feel for Buckley in light of that analysis. He's damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. Bucks was well within his rights to part ways with players who hung out with bikie thugs. But has he made the club too vanilla? Or are they just suffering an inevitable downturn which Bucks is powerless to stop?
As ever, fans say the stuff no "expert" on a panel will ever dare utter. The very first reader comment on in this Herald Sun story made an excellent point:
"Few star players make good coaches (Malcolm Blight a possible exception). They are unable to understand why all players in their team don't or can't have the same desire or motivation for the game that they had. If you are unable to generate that hunger, or find a way to overcome, or work around their shortcomings, either you or the player should go. If there are too many players in that category, and your team is sliding down the ladder, and you have been unsuccessful over a number of years, the fault lies with the coach."
Meanwhile, Collingwood President Eddie McGuire is clearly protecting his man Buckley. Since last weekend, when speaking of his team's woes, McGuire has used the term "coaches", not "coach".
But he's also firing a shot or two that he knows Buckley will hear.
"I suppose that is the balance between what the coaches might be trying to do as far as just build a long-term plan that everyone adheres to and we get it right, and there's probably some young players in there at the moment who can't execute that plan, or whether we have to adjust our cloth."
"That will be the topic of very strong discussions this week amongst the coaching group
Collingwood's position is unenviable. Some of the younger players clearly aren't cutting it. But older guys like Travis Cloke are a constant frustration -- brilliant one game, invisible the next. Cloke currently languishes in the VFL.
A telling stat is that Collingwood has given 36 players a game so far this season. The top clubs on the ladder have all used fewer than 30.
McGuire pondered on radio this week whether he could "take this any more". It was his first self-doubting moment in his 18 super-successful years at the helm of Australia's most popular sports club. Was it as scripted as the tension on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? Likely.
Here's what Caroline Wilson wrote in The Age.
"Yet again, McGuire has made himself the centre of the story and whether his motivation was to shield Buckley or to deviate attention from the unhappiness at the Holden Centre it is clear that such melodramatic talk is just that. McGuire resign after a loss to Carlton? McGuire resign at all? Please."
We're with Caro. Eddie's not going anywhere. But Nathan Buckley might be if things don't improve, and soon. Meanwhile, the rest of Australia just enjoys the show.