Welcome to the final part in the seven-part series of 120 Years of Collingwood. Here we meet our top five players who are all champions in their own right. Any one of them could have been justified in being number one, but there can only be one, so here are my choices, starting at number five:
5. Syd Coventry (1922-1934) 227 Games, 62 Goals [4 Premierships, 2 B&F, 1 Brownlow, 8 Yr Captain]
Syd Coventry is one of those rare players who was lucky enough to captain a club to four premierships, while winning a couple of best and fairest and a Brownlow in the meantime.
In 1921, Syd Coventry was playing in Tasmania before St. Kilda agreed to sign the tough ruckman. However once he reached the mainland, brother Gordon convinced him to join the Pies, and what a telling decision that was.
Syd took over the role of captain in 1927 from Charlie Tyson with much uproar as Tyson had been a much loved captain at the club. Coventry soon had the side functioning well and won the 1927 Brownlow medal and his first Copeland Trophy.
He featured in all four of the Pies’ premierships during the ‘Machine’ era, playing in the ruck and in defence, despite only standing 180cm tall. He captained them right up until his retirement in 1934 where the Magpies allowed him to coach Footscray for two seasons, until he came back as an administrator. While he missed out on the back-to-back premierships in the 1930s, Syd Coventry will go down in history as the man who led the ‘Machine’.
4. Len Thompson (1965-1978) 268 Games, 217 Goals [5 B&F, 1 Brownlow, 1 Yr Captain]
Len Thompson is remembered as the bullocking ruckman who was a star player during the unlucky Collingwood years. He played over 250 games and kicked over 200 goals. In that time he won five Copeland Trophies, a record until Nathan Buckley came around, and also won a Brownlow.
In 1970 both he and Tuddenham complained about the unfair pay. Tuddenham left the club to return a few years later, but Thompson stayed but lost his role as vice-captain. In 1972 he won his third Copeland Trophy and the Brownlow Medal.
He won his fourth in 1973 and fifth in 1977 before being rewarded with the captaincy in 1978. Thompson retired in 1978 only to join South Melbourne in 1979 and then Fitzroy in 1980, without much success.
He was named as ruck in the Team of the Century and is a part of the AFL Hall of Fame which he was inducted into in 1998.
3. Harry Collier (1926-1940) 253 Games, 299 Goals [6 Premierships, 2 B&F, 1 Brownlow, 5 Yr Captain]
Harry Collier was a tough on-baller who like his brother Albert, was lucky enough to play in six premierships. Collier was arguably the best small of the ‘Machine’ era, winning Copeland Trophies in 1928 and 1930, in which the latter, he also collected the Brownlow Medal.
When Syd Coventry retired in 1934, Harry Collier took the reins, captaining the club to back-to-back premierships in his first two years. He captained until 1939 and retired in 1940 after only playing one game that season.
Collier was famously known as the key man behind Gordon Coventry’s 1299 goals, feeding it down his throat time and time again. Over his career, Collier managed 12 games with Victoria and became a Collingwood Team of the Century member.
An interesting aside was the 1930 Brownlow Medal in which he tied with two other players, but didn’t receive it until 1989 due to there being no procedure in place for tied Brownlow Medal counts. Adding to the drama, one game listed a Brownlow vote as “Collier” and with both Harry and Albert playing that day, it was unknown which player they were referring to and therefore what could have been the winning vote, wasn’t counted.
2. Nathan Buckley (1994-2007) 260 Games, 263 Goals [6 B&F, 1 Brownlow, 9 Yr Captain]
Nathan Buckley is a familiar name for all current footy followers. After beginning his career with Brisbane in 1993 and winning the Rising Star Award, Buckley controversially crossed to the Pies, a deal which had been all but done 12 months earlier.
It was clear from the start of his career Buckley was going to be an elite player. In 1996, despite only playing three seasons with the Pies, he was named in Collingwood’s Team of the Century on the half back flank.
Over the years he developed into an elite midfielder and player who could go forward and cause havoc for any defence. Buckley won a record six Copeland Trophies, overtaking Len Thompson’s previous record.
After so many near misses on Brownlow night, Buckley finally claimed a Brownlow Medal in 2003, tying with Adam Goodes and Mark Ricciuto. While having the affectionate name of ‘FIGJAM’, Buckley was seen as an unrelenting customer who always got the best out of himself and others.
After a bout of injuries over the last few years of his career, including a hamstring tear in his final game (a Preliminary final), he retired in 2007. After taking up a media role for a few years, he joined the Pies’ coaching panel, as an assistant coach to Mick Malthouse, eventually taking over the role for the 2012 season.
Buckley was a champion player who along with James Hird and Michael Voss, was one of the best for his era.
1. Gordon Coventry (1920-1937) 306 Games, 1299 Goals [5 Premierships, 6 Colemans*]
Gordon Coventry is my number one pick for Collingwood’s top player over the 120 Years of Collingwood.
While you could have raffled any one of the top eight players, Coventry gets the nod for sheer statistics in front of goal. In his day when goals were scarce and rules were thrown out the window, Coventry managed to snare 1299 goals over an 18-year career which netted him five premierships and saw him top the league goal kicking six times.
After joining the Pies in 1920, he became the team’s full forward, booting a bag of goals on a regular basis. He became the first player to kick 100 goals in a season, first player to 300 games and the first to kick 1000 goals.
He also led Collingwood’s goal kicking every year from 1922-1937, another record at the club. Throw in the 13 consecutive seasons of 50 goals or more and he is the complete full forward.
During the ‘Machine’ era, he became feared from opposition teams, destroying them week in, week out. Even when the weather was shocking such as the 1927 Grand Final when only three goals were kicked, he booted two of them.
A year later he broke and currently holds the record, with Gary Ablett Snr. for the most goals in a Grand Final, when he booted nine goals against Richmond.
1929 saw Coventry boot 124 goals, the first time a player had done so, booting five goals or more on twelve occasions, including a bout of 16 goals against Hawthorn.
Coventry backed up in 1930 with a casual 118 goals, with another five or more goals on twelve occasions, which included 17 goals against Fitzroy, and seven goals in the Grand Final against Geelong.
His career continued until 1927 when he was reported for retaliating to Richmond’s full back Joe Murdoch after he continued to target a bunch of painful boils on the back of Coventry’s neck.
Despite playing 280 games without a blemish, Coventry was suspended for the rest of the season, eight matches and duly retired. Despite the way his career ended, Coventry will still be known as the greatest goal kicker in Collingwood’s history.