How Magpies fixed a broken club
PART two of the remarkable Collingwood turnaround began on the Gold Coast.
As far as summer training camps go, this was another sweaty, gruelling affair, as the Magpies began bedding down their new game plan with intensive sessions over six days at the Southport Football Club.
But it was after dark, when the board and card games and even a few beers came out, that perhaps some of the most meaningful change began to take place.
"It was brilliant," high-flyer Jeremy Howe said this week.
"Obviously we worked our backsides off (in training). But on that camp is when we really nutted out what we wanted to stand for, where we wanted to go, and how we wanted to do it this year."
Collingwood was a football club balancing precariously on a knife's edge last season, as players fretted, and stepped over eggshells on a weekly basis, about the coaching future of Nathan Buckley and his assistants.
"I think every player was worried every week because you just didn't know (what would happen)," captain Scott Pendlebury reflected in April.
It was hardly a happy place, Collingwood HQ.
The players backed-in the senior coach in the all-important Collingwood review run by Geoff Walsh and business guru Peter Murphy, but the structure around Buckley needed a rejig.
In all, about 38 staffing changes were made, as a more relaxed and united atmosphere swept the club as it surged up the AFL ladder this season.
Howe said Buckley took more of a back seat in the day-to-day coaching operations, and instilled more trust in his assistants, including new faces Justin Longmuir, Garry Hocking and Matthew Boyd.
"I'm not going to say it has lightened his (Buckley's) workload, because he is always going to be switched-on 24-7. It's just the way he is wired," Howe said.
"But he is a little bit more relaxed and trusted blokes to get it done, not for him to do it all by himself, and that's been noticeable."
More than anything, Buckley wanted to create an environment where players were happy and confident to be themselves. To show their true personalities.
To let their "self" shine.
"That's what we really promote and encourage," Howe said.
"Just to be themselves.
"And I think that's a reason why we don't really have any gaps in input across the team, especially with the younger guys who have come in.
"They have been able to come in and play games - I think we had seven debutants - and that I think that helps give them that confidence to be themselves around the club."
And it all began 1700km away on the Gold Coast in mid-January.
That's where new cultural and leadership manager and premiership skipper Nick Maxwell put his stamp on things, with a series of day and night-time team bonding and leadership sessions.
That's where the card games, team challenges and activities came into it.
But there was also some serious discussion, where the players decided on their trademarks and values for 2018, and ultimately, how every player's role would be judged and rated in-game.
It was about setting standards and determining expectations. The platform was set.
It was an invigorating, and enjoyable week, Howe said, turning the tables on a minefield of a year in 2017.
"We clearly picked our leadership group there on the camp, and 'Maxy' organised the whole thing," Howe said.
"I haven't known him obviously for as long as many of the other guys, but he (Maxwell) is one of the most impressive humans I have ever met.
"We had to come up with some games over a few days and have a bit of fun.
"But there was great balance to it all.
"And everyone got together after it (the training) and had a good time and a good night with a few beers at the end of it."
In another pivotal move, Maxwell designed a plan to reconnect the club on all levels.
As part of that, players would group with staff members and make weekly presentations on inspirational life stories, or aspects of Collingwood's famed football history, such as "The Machine" four-time premiership team, or club great Peter Daicos.
Pendlebury said: "It's shaping the side this year. Players have to bring people in or tell stories about certain things that have shaped this football club."
Howe said it was one of the highlights of their weeks.
"It's something everyone loves being a part of because it's really interactive and you learn a lot and that's great for the younger guys when people are talking about the club's history," Howe said.
"We had 'Joffa' (from the cheer squad) come in the last one and he just spoke about his life.
"It's a really good story. Clearly he didn't have a real smooth transition, especially early, and you probably don't see that when you just see him from the outside.
"You just see him as a real passionate crazy fan, maybe a bit rough around the edges, but the way that he presented to the group was very touching and emotional and impressive."
A past player was also invited into the inner sanctum of the football department in the day before every home game.
They could sit in pre-game meetings and the coach's box on match day.
Maxwell also scheduled once-a-month "One Club" functions, where players, staff and coaches could all mingle for a few drinks if they wanted.
Now, everything is more tight-knit at Olympic Park.
There's less tension in the gym and hallways, and more harmony, togetherness and enjoyment.
It's no longer a broken football club.
"We all get together and have a few beers and enjoy each others' company and that's been one of the great things, that everyone feels comfortable, everyone knows each other," Howe said.
"So, now, if you pass someone in the corridor I think you don't just say g'day and keep walking, you stop and have a chat about how they're genuinely going.
"It's a real one-club mentality.
"I don't want to say we were a negative bunch last year.
"But there is a lot more positivity about the place this year, definitely.
"And that togetherness has been a massive part in that and that all started at the start of the year."