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Eddie McGuire has run his course as president of Collingwood

26 March 2016 208 views No Comment

It’s been hailed an Easter Saturday homecoming for the Sydney Swans. Tonight they take on my beloved Collingwood Magpies at the Sydney Cricket Ground in a venue change that has infuriated Pies president Eddie McGuire. But there could be far more to McGuire’s latest outrage than meets the eye.

When, just over three weeks ago, the Swans announced the relocation of three home games, including tonight’s clash, from ANZ Stadium at Homebush to the SCG, McGuire was furious that he found out through a news release. The Magpies president lambasted the AFL for being “rude by not keeping him informed, while Collingwood chief executive Gary Pert launched a scathing attack, calling the move “disrespectful and unprofessional.

It seemed a lot of hot air about a venue change, so one wonders if McGuire and the Pies are concerned about more than a 19km journey down Parramatta Road.

The reality is that numbers don’t lie and the stats stack up extremely well for Collingwood at ANZ Stadium. The Swans haven’t beaten the Pies in a home-and-away match at that venue in more than 10 years. Indeed the Swans’ only win against Collingwood occurred in the 2012 preliminary final. It’s also worth noting that when the Pies played Sydney last season at the SCG, it was the Swans who walked away 11-point winners.

Could it be that the Pies’ fury was more about jitters than a journey?

The public war of words between the two clubs certainly provided some old-fashioned football banter. McGuire complained about the cost of rebooking hotel accommodation in “expensive Sydney, which no doubt prompted many a wry chuckle from those frustrated at his crusade against Sydney’s cost of living allowance. The fact is that McGuire was the loudest voice calling for Sydney’s COLA to be scrapped. So his complaints about the cost of accommodation in Sydney seem more than somewhat hypocritical. Meanwhile Swans chairman Andrew Pridham poked the bear by proffering McGuire a set of keys to his house — so that the Pies president could stay in his spare room for the game, gratis.

While the media stoush between Sydney and Collingwood offered some pre-season fodder for journalists, it also offered a revealing insight into the way McGuire still views his club. There seems to be an expectation on our president’s part that Collingwood’s needs are more important than those of the competition as a whole.

For instance, McGuire’s call for Etihad Stadium to be scrapped in favour of a 60,000-seat stadium near the MCG speaks volumes of his tunnel vision. There’s no doubt the new “Eddie-had Stadium would certainly serve the Pies well, handing us another venue a mere stone’s throw from our training facility. But Etihad Stadium tenants such as North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs would not only have further to travel but would also find themselves struggling to fill an even larger venue. Too bad — for Eddie, it’s all about the Pies.

Similarly, McGuire’s anti-academy stance is out of touch with the needs of the wider competition. For McGuire to suggest interstate academies will “destroy the game is utter ignorance. New South Wales and Queensland don’t have anywhere near the same volume of young players engaged in AFL that traditional football states like Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia enjoy. To build a strong national competition means growing the game from the grassroots up and that means having academies to foster young talent. Heaven forbid that the Swans develop the game in NSW or — an even greater catastrophe — that they can recruit talent from their own backyard.

There is no question that as the AFL’s most powerful media voice, over the years McGuire has made a marvellous contribution to our great game. Under his watch Collingwood has thrived to go from cellar dwellers to making the finals series 10 times and winning the 2010 premiership. It’s an impressive record for a passionate leader. But his reign has run its course.

Put simply, McGuire wants the world to revolve around Collingwood. Even dyed in the wool Magpie supporters like myself find this embarrassing. Many of us are fed up. We need fresh ideas and a new approach — both for Aussie rules in general and for the black and white army who support our team through thick and thin.

It is important to remember that it was McGuire who got rid of our highly successful coach Mick Malthouse — replacing him with Nathan Buckley. For the record, it was Malthouse who coached Collingwood to a win in the 2010 Grand Final replay, leading the Magpies to our first premiership victory since 1990.

Though he was one of our finest players, the reality is that, as coach of the Pies, Nathan Buckley has been a failure — with the Pies last season finishing a dismal 12th on the AFL ladder. Perhaps the Collingwood board is at last starting to realise this by giving Buckley a contract extension of just one year. Such a decision hardly screams of a clear commitment to our present coach.

As well as the above, McGuire’s desire to be the headline isn’t helping the Pies and it isn’t helping Australian rules football. It’s our great national game in all its glory that should be headlined. It’s the feats of Lance Franklin, Scott Pendlebury, Isaac Heeney, Jamie Elliott and Travis Cloke that should be featured. Indeed, thinking of Cloke, a key to tonight’s game against the Swans is whether our hugely talented, but extremely inaccurate, full forward kicks a bag of goals. If Cloke does this, it’s my opinion that the Mighty Magpies are highly likely to be the victors.

What AFL fans want is entertaining football. We want exciting games in front of huge, roaring crowds. To that end, even if it reduces the odds of a Magpie win, the Swans’ move back to the SCG is good for football — it’s what the fans want and it’s what the game needs. When both teams cross the white line tonight they will be running out to the sounds of a packed SCG, carrying the hopes of a new season onto a historic oval loved by fans and players alike.

Isn’t that better for Aussie rules football than an echo as tumbleweeds drift through a half-empty ANZ Stadium? Embrace this one for all football fans, Eddie — and then embrace a new Pies president as you pass the baton for the good of our club and for the game.

A lifelong Collingwood supporter, Professor Ross Fitzgerald AM is the author of 39 books, most recently “Heartfelt Moments in Australian Rules Football, published by Connor Court.

The Weekend Australian, March 26-27, 2016, Inquirer p 22.

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