The Magpies faced many trials in Buckley's first season in charge.
There were severe injuries, fans protesting Buckley's appointment, season-long conjecture over Travis Cloke's future, then the biggest hit of all - the shock death of ex-teammate John McCarthy.
The way the club weathered those setbacks is a source of pride.
"I think the club handled itself particularly well," Buckley told AAP.
But he believes there could have been greater hunger to succeed, not just survive.
The Magpies were never really in the hunt in their two finals losses - to Hawthorn and Sydney - and both opponents had more than 30 scoring shots.
For Buckley, that defensive vulnerability was the clearest sign that the manic desperation that marks a premiership side was missing.
"There's that intangible that people call buy-in or investment, hunger, drive, desire and it reflects in intensity or energy on the football field," he said.
"If you had to rate us last year against other sides, potentially we were just that one or two per cent off."
Behind the scenes, he says coaches and players cut the odd corner in their preparation or off-field behaviour.
"If you want to be truly successful you're 100 per cent committed to what you're doing," he said.
"The question was asked and answered with our performances in many ways.
"Did we do that? No."
The Magpies should improve in more tangible ways.
Last year's injury toll forced young players into key roles, which hurt then but should help now.
The recruitment of experienced quartet Quinten Lynch, Ben Hudson, Clinton Young and Jordan Russell adds depth, although Chris Tarrant, Chris Dawes and Sharrod Wellingham are gone.
Lynch is expected to be a better attacking foil for Cloke and pinch-hitting ruckman than Dawes.
While Lynch was often one of four tall targets in a West Coast side that also boasted two star ruckmen, Buckley points to his 2006 season, when he kicked 65 goals in a premiership side, as evidence of his capabilities.
Tarrant will be missed, but Buckley feels the Magpies were often top-heavy in defence last year anyway and wants more rebound, which Russell could add.
Increased ruck depth could be even more crucial.
The since-delisted Cameron Wood's failure to provide meaningful support to Darren Jolly left the club unhealthily reliant on the 31-year-old last year.
"We probably had all our eggs in one basket - with a fair bit to lose if Darren went down," Buckley admits.
Hudson adds insurance.
And 20-year-old 208cm Jarrod Witts provides excitement.
He's yet to make his AFL debut and his ruckwork needs fine-tuning but his rare mix of size, mobility and aggression is tantalising.
"He could be anything," Buckley said.
The return from serious knee injuries of Luke Ball, Andrew Krakouer, Brent Macaffer and Lachy Keeffe will help enormously.
Ball's return in particular excites Buckley, not just for his fearless ball-winning.
Ball laid a whopping 166 tackles in 2011. In his absence last year, Scott Pendlebury topped Collingwood's count with 51 fewer.
"You cant underestimate the value of that," Buckley said.
It exemplifies the desperate approach that could hold the key to a premiership.