CAITLIN BASSETT: Collingwood’s Scott Pendlebury invaluable for his leadership, something the Roos sorely lack

Caitlin Bassett
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Scott Pendle has the experience North Melbourne are lacking.
Scott Pendle has the experience North Melbourne are lacking. Credit: Getty Images

It’s pretty easy to get lost on a sporting field.

In Aussie rules football there are 36-players on a massive paddock, it can be hard to hear one another and even harder to communicate effectively.

Now imagine you are an 18-year-old doing it for the first time. You’re the centre of attention in a sold-out stadium but at the same time you can feel as alone as you ever will.

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This is where the role of a senior player becomes vital.

As Scott Pendlebury nears his 400th game, and prepares to head to Perth this weekend, discussion has ramped up about him being Collingwood’s greatest player.

Coming from Nathan Buckley, who could himself be in the same conversation, the claim holds even more weight.

At 36 years of age, the midfielder is garnering praise not for his physical capabilities, but the work he does off the ball that is often not appreciated.

Buckley believes he may even be the smartest player who has played the game.

I started at West Coast Fever as a 16-year-old trying to get my head around life as a professional athlete.

In my first few years the learning curve was ridiculously steep and at times overwhelming, but I was guided through by the senior players in the team.

One of the most influential people at the start of my career was a Victorian recruit named Ingrid Dick who took me under her wing.

As a young shooter I was often targeted by the opposition defence, who tried everything to put me off my game.

When I was getting pummelled inside the circle Ingrid would set up plays designed to protect me and used her experience to exploit my strength on court.

She was the conductor of our attacking line and while I received the glory for shooting the goals she was the unsung hero who set up every shot.

As I got older I found myself transitioning into a similar role and like those that helped me I found the greatest satisfaction from setting up others to shine.

We’ve seen it at Waalitj Marawar (West Coast) this year with Harley Reid.

Their young crop of players — including the likes of Reuben Ginbey, Campbell Chesser and Ryan Maric — are the focus of their rebuild but the call to retain veterans like Jeremy McGovern and Elliot Yeo and Tom Barrass means the Eagles win-loss record isn’t entirely dependent on how their youngsters perform.

Reid put on a show on Sunday again, but as coach Adam Simpson tells us every week, its great when he does, but if he doesn’t that’s OK too.

In the past few years North Melbourne have dropped the axe on experienced players at the expense of fresh faces.

This season has seen them winless, a long way back from the pack and now they’re in the market for senior guys like Ollie Wines and Luke Parker to bring wise heads back to the club.

Decision-making is one of the most highly-prized qualities in sport. Unfortunately, it is also one of the least tangible — it’s a learnt skill that comes from years of situational experience.

It’s the reason that a player like Elliot Yeo’s value has exploded, he has shown in recent weeks how important a senior body and a cool head is around developing players.

As for Pendlebury, Nick Daicos was incredible on grand final day, but in the crucial moments it was he and Steele Sidebottom who lead the way to get the job done.

Daicos tells the stirring story of asking Pendlebury if he should leave the centre-bounce that led to Collingwood’s winning goal. The vastly experienced former skipper insisted Daicos’ explosiveness was needed at that stoppage — and so it proved.

The Reids and the Daicos’ of this world are extraordinary players, but without experienced players doing heavily lifted around them, their talent wouldn’t fully be on show.

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