THE COACHING CAPER……..

Our girls were excited last week. Word came through that we had a new footy coach in the family.

Their mother was a touch more matter-of-fact about the announcement : “Poor Donna ! ”

Moira speaks with the voice of experience on this subject, having spent the first two years of our married life as a coach’s wife.

She got an inkling of what she was in for, she tells the kids , when she discovered two books in our honeymoon luggage – ‘Fingleton on Cricket’ and ‘The Australian National Football League Coaching Manual’.

Moi was amused at first, but soon became accustomed, to my Saturday morning ritual – steak and eggs for ‘brunch’, then a lengthy sit on the ‘throne’ whilst rehearsing the pre-game speech and ‘visualising’ the day ahead.

It must have been uncomfortable for her, being five months pregnant, to have to perch on the console of the red Monaro, so that we could accomodate the car-load of footballers we were transporting to each match. There was no doubt that she was prepared to make sacrifices for the cause.

Just as she did on those freezing mid-winter nights as she waited in the car, outside the Moyhu pub. I’d be inside licking my wounds and consoling the players after yet another loss. The fact that Moi now had the company of our first-born, Simone, only accentuated the inconvenience.

She endured late-night interruptions, like the Friday night ‘phone call from the dad of one of our few star players. The young bloke had ‘pranged’ his  car, been locked up and was a scratching from tomorrow’s game.

And the call she took from an irate wife, who gave her a severe dressing-down. Her husband had just arrived home from the trip-away in less than pristine condition and she laid the blame squarely at the feet of the coach ( who was by now dead-asleep)…………..

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Coaching has become deeply analytical in the 40 or so years since those ‘halcyon’ days.

Now it’s about structure, tempo, the press, inside-50’s, mids, talls, stoppages, the spread, squeeze, the corridor, man-on-man and shut-down players………

But is there still room for the Hot Gospeller – the fellow who jumps onto a bench and, with his team staring defeat in the face, launches into a tirade of vitriol, so intense that it could peel paint off the walls ?

Sometimes it works; often the blunt, honest message, delivered in plain-speak, is more effective.

I saw it on Saturday, as the Tarrawingee players trudged into the rooms at half-time, after being out-muscled by Bonnie Doon. They were obviously wondering how the hell they could get back into the contest.

They had no sooner sat down and grabbed a drink when their coach, Trevor Edwards got to work, letting them know that they’d played over-cautiously and were probably worrying too much about their own game.

“Take a risk or two; don’t just bang the ball onto your boot; work hard for your team-mate.”trev

Simple words…..but the match changed. They did start to look out for each other, regained control and went on to win a thriller. It helped, of course, that the coach, who had been sterling in defence, found himself deep enough in attack a couple of times, to kick two of their six goals.

At Corowa on Sunday, Yarrawonga had dominated a dour battle for three quarters. Wodonga Raiders coach Darryn Cresswell pulled his group in tightly at lemon-time and implored them to attack.

He isolated his ‘gun’ forward Jydon Neagle close to goal – and the game came to life. The highly-talented Neagle, who had been well-restrained, booted two quick goals and looked ever-alert.

They had a chance to draw level in the dying seconds, when a flying Neagle shot was touched on the line. Alas, they fell 5 points short, but the coach had certainly pulled the right rein…………..

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Despite my spectacular failure, I’ve long been entranced by the magic of the coach’s message. It goes as far back as 1956, when I squeezed into the dressing-rooms under the old Grandstand at Benalla, to hear Bobby Rose’s first pre-match address.

There was a huge buzz in the Rovers camp and the antiquated rooms were chock-a-bloc. As Mr.Football began to speak, you could detect the look of wonderment on the faces of the players. The mere presence of possibly the biggest name in the game, revving up the previously downtrodden Hawks,  was enough to raise the excitement to high-octane levels.

The eloquence of his speech was, in most supporters’ minds, worth the cost of the admittance money. Unfortunately, he was out injured that day, but made his much-awaited debut in Brown and Gold at the Cricket Ground the following week.

laurieAnother persuasive Rovers coach, Laurie Burt, was never quite sure whether a few of his stars, like Robbie Hickmott, Neale McMonigle and Jason Gorman, were tuned in to his pre-match, or were contemplating the chances of the favourite in the third at Rosehill.

But ‘Gormo’ does remember him instructing them one day to close their eyes and dream……..”I want you to imagine you’re climbing an apple tree….and when you’ve clambered your way to the top, the prize is within reach…..and you pluck the cherry off the top….”

Inspirational oration was not the forte’ of Ron ‘Modest’ Murray when he coached at Moyhu and Tarrawingee.

‘Modest’ was more a man of on-field action, but he became notorious for the almost-weekly exhortation to his defenders: “…I want youse to stick like shit to a blanket, and if youse have seen shit stick to a blanket, that’s how I want youse to stick……”

Kevin ‘Grumpy’ Kenna was a legendary name in Goulburn Valley football circles and became famous for his motivational speeches. He had been a front-gunner on a fighter bomber during the Second World War and told chilling tales of firing at hordes of Japanese infantry.

“When we ran out of ammunition, I fed my rosary beads through the magazine”, he once said.

‘Grumpy’ coached Shepparton United to a string of premierships in the fifties. The story is told of the United runner coming to the bench during one game and giving him an update on his star rover, who had copped a heavy knock.

“He doesn’t know who he is or where he is.”

“Well, go back and tell him he’s Bobby Skilton and he’s starring on the Lakeside Oval,” was ‘Grumpy’s reply.

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One of my favourite footy yarns was recounted by former Fitzroy and Adelaide coach Robert Shaw, of his days as a youngster in Hobart. It goes like this:

“With South Australia leading Victoria at half-time in a Carnival game, I made my way to the sheds under the grandstand of North Hobart Oval.

There were only two windows, both glazed, to eliminate prying eyes. I lifted myself up and, through a slit, could see into the rooms.

The room was filled with big, strong Victorians….legends in big V jumpers. The powerful smell of raw liniment filled the air……the greatest smell in the world.

And there stood Alan Killigrew, a short man by stature, a huge man by presence and voice. I pressed my face against the slit in the window.

‘Killa’ was on one of the old rub-down tables, his navy blukillae tie loosened and hanging halfway down his white shirt.

He pointed to the V on his blazer and demanded: ‘You have to play for the jumper’.

A pivotal moment in my coaching career then took place. Here was my chance. I took a deep breath and called out through the misted louvres of North Hobart.

“YOU HAVE TO GO  IN HARDER “……… They all looked up in the direction of the window.

Killigrew didn’t miss a beat.

“See,” he said. “A young  kid tells you exactly what you have to do. Now go out and DO IT.”

I had delivered my first coaching address. The Vics got up for a win. All that practice in the backyard had borne fruit.”

That’s the magic of coaching…………..

 

 

rosey