How to win an AFL Premiership
Cameron Ling of the Cats leads the team from the fiels after a win in the AFL 2011 Toyota Grand Final match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Geelong Cats at the MCG, Melbourne. Slattery Images
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AFL premierships are hard to win. Just ask Ross Lyon and Nathan Buckley. But there are three critical steps football clubs must take in order to maximise their chances of achieving the ultimate glory.
1. Build culture. 2. Draft and develop talent. 3. Provide leadership.
Some football clubs do this better than others. A prime example is Geelong with Frank Costa and Mark “Bomber” Thompson.
Thompson joined Geelong in 2000 as senior coach after 18 years and four premierships (one as assistant coach) at Essendon. During 1999-2002 Geelong drafted Corey, Chapman, Ling, Enright, Bartel, Kelly, Steve Johnson, Ablett Jnr., Mackie and Lonergan.
Interviewed about the Gold Coast Suns progress this week, Ablett said “we (Geelong) had 22 leaders run out each week”.
Thompson’s coaching panel included both club greats and brilliant leaders in Brenton Sanderson, Ken Hinkley and Garry Hocking. Another of Thompson’s protégés Brendan McCartney is now considered to be the one of the best teachers in the game.
Business tycoon Costa and Thompson created a rock solid culture, developed their young talent and provided them with outstanding leadership.
Another good example is Hawthorn, Jeff Kennett and Alistair Clarkson. Clarkson joined the Hawks with a less glittered playing career than Thompson (134 games with North Melbourne and Melbourne), however he had senior coaching experience with stints in the VFL and SANFL, while also completing a Masters of Business Administration.
During 2004-06 Hawthorn drafted Roughead, Franklin, Lewis, Ellis, Birchall, Guerra, Gilham and Renouf (after acquiring Croad back from Fremantle, Hodge, Ladson, Mitchell and Williams during 2001-02). That’s 13 members of the 2008 premiership side, of which most have gone on to be outstanding leaders at the club.
While not big Hawthorn names, Clarko surrounded himself with some well credentialed lieutenants in Essendon premiership player Damien Hardwick, former Melbourne champion and fitness guru Todd Viney and John Barker. AFL legend David Parkin had a front office role and the extroverted Kennett masterminded the club’s resurgence as an on/off field powerhouse.
Unfortunately there are other clubs which are failing to implement these steps with the same degree of success.
North Melbourne signed former premiership player Brad Scott as coach and he has two club premiership players in Allison and Crocker as his lieutenants.
However the Kangaroos have been widely criticised for lacking strong leadership on and off the field, their draftees are struggling to live up to their hype and the club is heavily dependent on AFL handouts to survive financially.
Signs of fragility started appearing a couple of years ago when former captain Brent Harvey criticised two young players in a radio interview after a loss. This year, after a spate of minor off field incidents, rookie Majak Daw was unceremoniously hung out to dry in the media by Scott and the football department. Under Malthouse, Sheedy, Thompson or Pagan, it’s unlikely the club would have so publicly bungled these incidents.
The Melbourne Football Club recently signed Mark Neeld as coach (74 games for Geelong and Richmond) after a colourful coaching career with stints in the Bellarine Football League, TAC cup and a brief time at Collingwood under Malthouse.
His assistants while well credentialed are somewhat of a bunch of misfits in former Adelaide coach Neil Craig, Bulldogs player Brian Royal, Collingwood premiership player Leigh Brown and journey man Jade Rawlings.
Viney is the only “Melbourne person” on the panel and like North, their playing list with a number of high draft picks is failing to live up to expectation. On-field leadership is a significant weakness for the club. Sadly after helping save the Demons from financial ruin, Stynes is gone and Gary Lyon is contempt with his media commitments, so there are no genuinely revered figures inside the club.
Two emerging clubs to be admired are Richmond and Essendon.
The Tigers under astute businessman and current President Gary March, new CEO Brendan Gale and coach Hardwick are taking giant strides on and off the field. Five years ago the club was cash strapped and often criticised for its lack of professionalism in areas such as debt management and recruiting.
Hardwick’s coaching panel includes club champion Wayne Campbell and premiership players Justin Leppitsch and Brendan Gale. All four of these men are wonderful leaders and this is translating into on field success and the emergence of young leaders in Cotchin, Deledio and Riewoldt.
Without meaning to be disrespectful to Matthew Knights, Scott Camporeale, Ashley Prescott and Adrian Hickmott, they do not pull rank at Essendon like Thompson, Hird and Wellman do. Joined by Adelaide champion Simon Goodwin, Hawthorn premiership player Rick Ladson and former Geelong All-Australian Matthew Egan, they comprise one of the most respected coaching panels in the AFL.
Perhaps there could be leniency shown to teams in their infancy such as Gold Coast and GWS, but the likes of Graeme Allan, Kevin Sheedy, Mark Williams, Stephen Silvagni and Luke Power have all the credentials to develop GWS into a premiership club before you know it.