If I were to ask you to describe Lachie Neale, you would probably tell me something like “He’s a ball magnet, who was very underrated at Fremantle because he was in Nat Fyfe’s shadow”.
If there’s one thing tougher than being an AFL coach, it’s being a first-year AFL coach.
Brenton Sanderson was the only one of the debutants to get the points in the opening round, with McCartney, Buckley, Neeld and Watters all yet to open their accounts.
Watters can perhaps be considered unlucky; the others were soundly beaten by their opposition.
But perhaps the toughest debut was that had by new Melbourne coach Mark Neeld.
Put to the sword by the Brisbane Lions, Neeld then had to suffer the ignominy of the rumour mill suggesting that he was racist. Upon being appointed the Demons new coach, he allegedly briefed Melbourne’s indigenous players en masse, but spoke one-on-one with the non-indigenous players.
When questioned about this on the outstanding Fox Footy program On The Couch Neeld performed brilliantly.
He categorically denied the rumours – and not in the beige-cardigan, club-media-unit, carefully-worded-solicitor-prepared-statement style either.
Neeld looked Mike Sheahan directly in the eye and refuted the allegations in plain, direct language.
Neeld told of the hurt these rumours had inflicted on his family and said that he would be directing the matter to the AFL for investigation.
It has since been disclosed that the source of the rumours was in fact the AFL’s Community Engagement Officer, Jason Mifsud.
Rightly, Mifsud offered his resignation.
Not content with the public humiliation and summary dismissal of former Adelaide Crows recruiter Matt Rendell, Mifsud then leaked the Melbourne story to his former St Kilda mentor, Grant Thomas.
This was opposed to staying within his brief, approaching Neeld directly and working through the issues as he had been briefed on them.
The fact that the AFL refused to accept his resignation is astounding.
To his credit, what could have been a disastrous week for Neeld has become a week in which his quality as a leader has been demonstrated.
He has displayed resolve, determination and a belief in what he’s trying to achieve.
He strikes me as the kind of guy you don’t want to cop a spray from; both barrels are perhaps just his warm-up.
Neeld’s post-match presser on Saturday afternoon demonstrated that he is prepared to go hard on his playing group and seemingly unafraid of tarnishing reputations or questioning his players’ commitment.
Neeld appears to be the kind of coach needed, not just at Melbourne, but at a number of clubs.
His motto seems to be ‘perform to instruction or face the consequences’, as opposed to coddling and trying to placate Gen players who question why they should, as opposed to why they will.
Mark Neeld is simply a class act. If, as has been suggested, he may be on his way to losing the playing group (which the club denies) then it says more about the lack of hunger of the current playing list than the coach’s methods.
Were I an AFL player, Mark Neeld is one coach I would certainly leave everything out on the ground for. I would relish the opportunity to journey to success with a man of his attitude.
And shame on Melbourne if they continue to underperform for Neeld in the coming weeks, as they did on Saturday.