As is often the case in these best debates, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Are we each judging on their absolute best, or should the whole work take on more importance? Buckley, with a Brownlow and Norm Smith Medal and more Australian and Best and Fairest selections, has the most individual accolades, but what weight does he place on the prize he cherishes most – a premiership elusive minister? How important is aesthetics? And the management?
At their absolute best, Shaw ranks the most powerful duo of Buckley and Swan ahead in that order, but for longevity, Pendlebury tops.
On Saturday, Pendlebury will become just the 20th player to reach the 350 game mark. He broke Shaw’s 2020 club game record, which stood for 26 years. The Pendlebury brand will also stand the test of time.
In his completed 16 seasons, he finished in the Copeland Trophy top-three 13 times. As the AFL pointed out this week in a press release outlining some of Pendlebury’s records, only Gary Dempsey (15 at Footscray, North Melbourne) and Kevin Murray (14 at Fitzroy) have bettered that – although neither have played in such strong times for their clubs. . No Collingwood player has earned more Brownlow votes.
“I still think Buckley of his day would be more devastating, but damn it, you’re ripping straws somewhere,” Shaw said. “Swanny can sometimes be ballistic and Bucks the same, but it’s not always about who might have it the best day.
“In terms of longevity and level of performance, it would have [Pendlebury] has to be the best I guess.
Nick Maxwell, the Pies’ last premiership captain, is impressed with Pendlebury’s consistency at the top.
“That’s what pushes its nose past its two competitors,” Maxwell said. “If you take advantage of the total consistency over this whole period, to be in the top every year – it’s in teams that haven’t played finals and teams that have won premierships and played in grand finales, it’s just amazing that anyone can do that.
Collingwood’s three great modern midfielders have played the position in different ways. Buckley, with his sweater tucked in and his socks up, was the classic footballer – strong and powerful with the ability to lace up passes from 60 yards. Swan may not have looked the part with his shuffling gait and unsightly kicking, but he certainly got the part. He had the courage to find the ball.
NUMBERS GAME: MODERN DAYS PIES
Scott Pendlebury 349
Nathan Buckley 280
Danish Swan 258
THE BEST AND THE BEST
Nathan Buckley 6
Scott Pendlebury 5
Danish Swan 3
Nathan Buckley 7
Scott Pendlebury 6
Danish Swan 5
Nathan Buckley 1
Danish Swan 1
Scott Pendlebury 0
NORM SMITH MEDALS
Nathan Buckley 1
Scott Pendlebury 1
Danish Swan 0
Danish Swan 1
Scott Pendlebury 1
Nathan Buckley 0
Pendlebury is the artist who has the gift of stopping time. His well-documented basketball experience has undoubtedly developed his spatial awareness, allowing him to hit most targets by hand or foot.
“He spoke very early about the influence of [former St Kilda coach] Alan Richardson,” Maxwell said. “He [Richardson] taught him to simulate handball when assessing what is in front of him.
“It bought you an extra second, half the attention would go where they thought you would in handball. Everyone would move around him and he would almost stand still.
Although Buckley and Swan were more penetrating kickers, Pendlebury’s footwork is deft, allowing him to find teammates in pockets of space others can’t see.
“Scott is more creative to see space that way,” Maxwell said. “If you talk about cricket, Bucks is the Glenn Maxwell who can blast it, Pendles is like Michael Bevan, who can blast it in space, take the two or three rather than trying to hit a six.”
All were big game players. Swan dominated the field on Anzac Day, Pendlebury and Buckley excelled in the Grand Finals.
As leaders, both Pendlebury and Buckley have grown with age. Buckley acknowledged that he changed his approach once he realized his confrontational style clashed with his teammates. Pendlebury, appointed assistant vice-captain at the age of 20, was reluctant to impose his views on older players. His leadership grew once he realized the effect he could have on others, Maxwell said.
“At first he was a bit more the best player he could be, then he realized the influence he could have by dragging people along with him,” Maxwell said. “He’s been doing it for so long, he’s someone I’m really proud of the way he’s grown in this role and become a better leader every year he’s played, in my opinion.”
Just as a parent can’t choose a favorite among their children, McGuire won’t rank the Great Pies, but he had this to say about Pendlebury: “I was told Jock McHale told Bob Rose he was the best player he had seen,” McGuire said. “And Bob Rose said Bucks was the best player he’s seen, and I think if they’ve seen Scott Pendlebury’s career, they’ve got another one to stick there.”
GREAT SCOTT: PENDLEBURY’S CAREER IN NUMBERS
- 3 rankings among the first three at the Copeland Trophy. Only Gary Dempsey (15 at Footscray, North Melbourne) and Kevin Murray (14 at Fitzroy) have had more podium finishes.
- All-Australian team 11 times, second only to Lance Franklin (12 in Hawthorn, Sydney).
- Six-time all-Australian team.
- 835 votes from the AFL Coaches Association throughout his career. Only Gary Ablett jnr (1009 in Geelong, Gold Coast) probed more.
- 111 coaching associations vote against Essendon. He is the only player to collect 100 votes against a single team.
- Second most-watched player in VFL-AFL history. 17.8 million fans attended Pendelbury’s 349 games, second only to Dustin Fletcher (Essendon) with 19.2 million from 400 games.
- Only player to have played in over 100 games with crowds of at least 60,000. Pendlebury have played 119 games, with Dustin Fletcher and Dane Swan second with 93.
- One of four players in VFL-AFL history to record over 9,000 career assignments. He joins Robert Harvey (St Kilda), Brent Harvey (North Melbourne) and Kevin Bartlett (Richmond).
- Only player in VFL-AFL history to record more than 600 assignments in eight different seasons.
- Played 218 games at the MCG – the most by any VFL-AFL player at any location. Only player to have over 5000 kills on a pitch, recording 5686 at the MCG.
- The 20th player to reach 350 VFL-AFL games.
- Missed 33 games since debut. The most consecutive games he missed was six following a broken finger in 2017.
- Source: AFL