Life after Eddie: The battle for the Collingwood presidency
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A still-grieving Eddie McGuire invoked the image of the old boyfriend attending the wedding when he announced on Wednesday night that he would not be haunting Collingwood in the manner of a modern-day John Wren-style powerbroker.
He said he wouldn’t attend every Magpies’ game this year but was planning to watch Collingwood’s season debut on Friday night in a private box at Marvel Stadium with another recently departed club president, Peter Gordon.
Eddie McGuire standing down as Collingwood president in February.Credit:Joe Armao
He has reportedly taken a private box of his own for 2021 at the MCG in partnership with yet another former club chairman – Essendon’s David Evans. The suggestion is that he wants to give the Magpies some “clean air” after his reign of almost a quarter of a century, and he will avoid official club or AFL functions in the short term.
Emerging after some initial reluctance on Channel Nine’s Footy Classified this week – the program he hosts and that his company produces – McGuire continued to insist that his dramatic resignation was his decision alone, despite the fact he had lost the support of several board members and key club factions he had so expertly united and controlled for the majority of his presidency.
At the very least he must have realised over that fateful final weekend in February – after insisting days earlier he would not be standing down – that he no longer had the support of a board over which he had once exerted full control. Ultimately the damage inflicted on the club not only by the damning report but also by McGuire’s misjudged response robbed him of his final season.
Coming to terms with that would prove a major challenge for anyone, and it will haunt McGuire. But just how it haunts the divided board he has left behind remains one of the more intriguing questions of the 2021 AFL season.
McGuire insisted this week he would never “rat” on Collingwood but he also ominously declared himself an independent reporter again for the first time since 1998.
Peter Murphy is one of two Collingwood interim co-presidents.Credit:Getty Images
While McGuire supporters might even agree his time was nearing an end, they believe he was betrayed by a number of directors past and present and that it was the movement against him that forced his early departure. Long-term relationships and friendships – at least for now – appear to be fractured. Even coach Nathan Buckley and McGuire have been publicly lukewarm about each other.
Certainly McGuire feels let down by Peter Murphy, the businessman the club brought in to review its operation in 2017 and whose findings led to the removal of Gary Pert and the renewed commitment to Buckley. Described on the Collingwood website as “an entrepreneur and philanthropist passionate about empowering individuals to chase their dreams and change the world”, Murphy joined the Magpies board in 2019 after briefly acting as the club’s interim CEO in 2017.
The McGuire camp believes Murphy, one candidate for the presidency and favoured by the rank and file at Collingwood, turned against the long-time president along with fellow director and former player Paul Licuria. There were some harsh conversational recriminations over the summer even after McGuire had announced he would depart at the end of 2021 as the ramifications of the not-yet-released Do Better report simmered.
In a nod to the current leadership indecision, Collingwood have taken the unusual step of entering season 2021 – the last of Buckley’s contract – with two presidents in the short term. Long-time aspirant and McGuire’s vice-president Mark Korda is sharing that role with Murphy and appears aligned with director Jodie Sizer, who sat alongside McGuire when he made his ill-fated “proud day” statement in response to the Do Better reoport. Korda’s relationship with McGuire also suffered towards the end.
Veteran AFL observers liken the situation facing Collingwood to that which confronted Essendon when Kevin Sheedy departed after 26 years as coach.Credit:Brendan Esposito
Sydney-based Magpies director Christine Holgate, who resigned amid controversy as Australia Post chief executive last November, is the board member running the executive search for a new director to replace McGuire. That replacement potentially could take over the presidency with the board’s support. Holgate does not appear strongly aligned to either Murphy nor Korda. Tellingly, there is also a push for constitutional change at board level to introduce term limits for directors – something suggested in the 2017 review but never implemented.
As the club prepares to reshape itself beyond its autocratic leader, who took the Magpies from Victoria Park to the Holden Centre, it has professionally engaged the executive search firm InterSearch Australia to find his board replacement. Some high-profile candidates such as John Brumby, Sally Capp, John Wylie, Jeff Browne and Craig Kelly have ruled themselves out at least in the short term. So Holgate and InterSearch partner Peter Waite, who also led the recruitment of CEO Mark Anderson, continue to sift through a long list of aspirants.
Replacing their generational president remains a major challenge for Collingwood. Veteran AFL observers liken the situation facing the Magpies to that which confronted Essendon when Kevin Sheedy departed after 26 years as coach. McGuire might have been an autocrat but for the majority of his tenure Collingwood remained united, with the factional divisions that punctuated the decades precededing him rarely surfacing.
McGuire has told friends he had been trying for some years to find a successor without result. Whether he planned to play a role in choosing his replacement during 2021, which had been forecast as his final season, remains unclear but ultimately he left the club abruptly and without a succession plan.
Life after McGuire was always going to prove a seismic shift at the Collingwood Football Club. Even as he stays away, his shadow inevitably remains. And as the man himself comes to terms with the aftershock, the Magpies stand at the crossroads as they deal with the fallout.
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