Josh Smith living AFL dream, despite Magpie woes
JOSH Smith can't speak highly enough of his embattled coach, Nathan Buckley.
'Bucks' was first on the phone when Collingwood had taken a punt on the then 21-year-old Queenslander by selecting him with pick 25 in last year's rookie draft.
"I was pretty speechless, being in awe of him," Smith recalled to Australian Regional Media ahead of a return visit to his home state to play Brisbane at the Gabba tonight.
After being upgraded to the senior list to fill the big shoes of the injured Dane Swan, the unassuming midfielder has become one of the few shining lights in a Magpies team struggling at 2-5.
Buckley has been feeling most of the heat, with speculation he had "lost" the players; that his message just wasn't getting through.
"He's copping a lot of the flak at the moment, but it's up to the players and how we're performing," Smith says.
"Personally, I feel I've got a really good relationship with him - he's got a really good relationship with all of us - (I'm) constantly getting feedback and constantly engaging with him during the week.
"I wouldn't want anyone else at the helm at the moment.
"He's just a really good guy to have around the club, someone I'm learning a lot off."
Born and raised in rugby league territory in Toowoomba, Melbourne has been a world away for Smith, especially when you're part of the most popular albeit heavily scrutinised AFL team in the country.
"I personally don't read or hear too much of the stuff that's said externally, and I don't think too many of the other boys take an interest in it," he said.
"All we care about is what the coaches and the players are thinking about our performance and we know it's not up to scratch at the moment, (but) we'll work through it together."
And besides while the Magpies' start to the season might be a nightmare for some, Smith is "living the dream" after being two Darling Downs products recruited from NEAFL side Redland, the other being Wylie Buzza at Geelong.
"I don't think I ever thought that was it, but at the start of 2015 I realised I was 21 and had already been overlooked in four drafts by then," he explained.
"Not that I gave up on the dream, but I thought I've got to have a wider perspective on life, just do other things as well as footy.
"It's funny how things happen and I think my footy went up another level last year just on the back of playing for the love of the game, and not worrying about getting drafted."
From an unexpected drafting came an unexpected debut - on Anzac Day against Essendon in round five at the MCG, attended by 85,000 people.
It was a far cry from a top of about 500 he had played in front of in the NEAFL.
"That's what a couple of the guys said, 'if you want to get a debut out of the way you may as well just do it on the biggest home and away fixture going around'.
"I don't think I'll hear a louder roar for a while, that's for sure - it was an amazing experience and one I won't forget anytime soon."
American teammate Mason Cox had stolen most of the limelight, but Smith made an instant impression, gathering 23 disposals and enjoying a victory first-up.
Though the Magpies have suffered successive losses since, Smith has backed up with 29 touches against West Coast and 19 against Carlton last week.
"All my friends message me asking 'what it's like getting pulled up on the street', but I'm yet to experience any of that yet thankfully," he says.
"I don't think many of our supporters care too much about a three-game rookie."
Smith has formed a close relationship with fellow new arrival, though a touch more higher-profile, Adam Treloar.
"Not sure if he's taken me under his wing - he's only a couple of months older than me - but we do a fair bit together," he said.
"Our journeys are completely different but we get along really well."