Mark Neeld must draw a line in the sand
Melbourne coach Mark Neeld announces co-captains (Slattery Images)
He’s not much of a public person and he’s far from revered. He lacks the public persona that demands attention when he walks into the room. That needs to change.
Some of the most iconic coaching statements made in the last decade have come from AFL coaches who show passion for their club. Passion for the game and passion for their players.
Coaching Melbourne right now seems to be the most dispassinate position in the AFL, but if Mark Neeld wants his players to play for him, his fans to believe in him and his administration to confide in him with a straight face, he needs to be the aggressor.
We’re hearing too much about the Melbourne Football Club from the likes of Don Mclardy and Garry Lyon. They can defend Neeld’s plans all they like but a senior coach in the modern landscape is much more than a back office job.
As the biggest influence over his 44 man playing group, respect is the hardcore fundamental of relationship success.
This can be applied to all forms of relationships, but when it comes to player-coach ties, the most successful coaches are the ones who have players ready to go to war for them.
In the AFL, all senior coaches except Western Bulldogs’ Brendan McCartney come into the league with a reputation based on their playing days.
Some maintain these hard edges like what we see in Damien Hardwick, Brad Scott, Chris Scott, Nathan Buckley and John Worsfold.
It’s reflected in their aggression towards the media when their coaching methods are questioned by those who last donned a pair of cleats around puberty.
Fans love and respect their coaches for it.
Others have won over their supporters with acute knowledge of the game and continued ability to outwit the most experienced reporters.
Mind games, charisma and deceptive quotes are all putrid vile to the art of black-and-white reporting, but many use their media duties as a cunning projection of wit.
Its one part coaching, one part confidence and two parts PR. Kevin Sheedy and Mick Malthouse have mastered this craft. Alastair Clarkson and Ross Lyon are not far behind.
Unfortunately for Melbourne fans, Neeld does not fall in either of the two aforementioned categories and is idling along.
His 74 game AFL career has been largely overlooked and he is held in the highest regard only at Collingwood where his role as senior assistant coach under Malthouse was integral to the Magpies 2010 premiership.
Even with the arrival of prodigal son Nathan Buckley to the Collingwood coaching box in 2010, Neeld remained the teams midfield coach.
It was the area of the game where Buckley won a Brownlow medal.
Buckley was relegated to the forward line.
From what we’ve seen from Neeld in front of the cameras, he is a sponge. He knows his team is grossly underperforming and admitting his disappointment like a bitter pill of self-failure.
It’s not what the team needs right now and its doing him little good.
When fronting up the the media, Hardwick and the Scott brothers take no issue in singling out players who underperform, lack effort or lack commitment to a contest.
It’s because it shows signs of weakness and they themselves would be embarrassed if they did the same in an AFL game.
One of the most defining moments of the Geelong dynasty occurred back in 2005.
“For some silly reason, you people want to assassinate him. It’s just rubbish. You people, all of you. All of you! Leave him alone!” Mark Thompson declared.
Delivered with a steely glaze in his eye, it was echoed with the staunchest of authorities where a follow up question would lead to a direct confrontation. A possible car park encounter even.
It won over the respect of Geelong’s playing list, Geelong’s fans and most importantly, Brad Ottens. It proved to be the turning point in Ottens’ career.
The Cats went on to make the preliminary final in 2005 before winning premierships in 2007, 2009 and 2011. Ottens featured heavily in all of these.
Upon arrival to Tigerland, Damien Hardwick had no problem telling a few players they will never play for Richmond again, and they were only on the list due to contractual errors from previous administrations.
It strengthened the Tigers at the core. If you weren’t with them, you were against them.
A very average player like Jake King has become a cult hero where Hardwick’s tenacity has fueled King’s aggression to overcome a lack of skill.
The Demons lack confidence. Mark Neeld lacks confidence.
The Melbourne faithful have been drained of all the confidence they had since making an appearance in the 2000 grand final when under the command of Neil Daniher.
Its been almost 50 years since the last Melbourne premiership.
It’s time for Mark Neeld to stand up and be the aggressor. Behind closed doors he may belt the living daylight out of his players, but in the public eye he’s a timid young coach fearful of evoking a response or asking the burning questions.
Guys like Jack Watts and Jack Trengove would love to see Neeld attack the media with vigour on their behalf.
They fight their own battles on the field but it all comes down to the confidence they are lacking. This extends well beyond the two Jacks as well.
The Melbourne hierarchy are setting Neeld up to be the PR patsy, much like what happened to Dean Bailey.
Towards the end of Bailey’s tenure, he went out swinging, but by then it was too late.
Neeld is contracted until the end of 2014 and Demons powerbrokers would be loathe to flip-flop on their coach after continued persistence for supporters to remain patient.
Garry Lyon’s prominent role in the media is doing Neeld no good because the coach is continually undermined with Lyon a preferred source of information.
It’s one of the reasons Eddie McGuire stepped aside from his role on The Footy Show. It also gave Mick Malthouse a lot more public authority.
Lyon will not coach the Demons. He does not have the credentials and he’s not stupid.
He was also one of Neeld’s biggest advocates when he joined the coach selection panel after Bailey’s departure.
If Mark Neeld wants to invigorate his players and supporters, he needs to stand up and command attention. It will require humility, admitting to poor recruiting decisions and quite frankly, dividing the football club.
Certain people won’t be happy. Most of them will be the dozen players who will spend the remainder of their careers in the VFL.
He’s a smart guy, and deep down he knows he will be supported and he knows that those who do not will be shown the door.
He has been given free reign to change the culture of the club and that means culling anyone who doesn’t share the passion of loyal fans.
Administrators and support staff should not be spared.
A line in the sand day will come, but Mark Neeld, and only Mark Neeld needs to make it happen, and fast.