4 September, 2013, NAB Rising Star Award
You don’t get too much time to watch TV when you’re a senior coach but there are two ads that are favourites of mine ... the Rhonda and Ketut serial that just goes on and on and on, there’s Trent Too Goods just arrived on the scene so it’s going to be interesting to see the way it turns out, and my other favourite ad is the NAB ad, where Joel Selwood is explaining the virtues of what happens when you don’t kick well for goal to an eagerly listening young boy.
And it took me back to 2007 and it mightn’t surprise you to learn that Joel Selwood won this award that year, and every Monday morning he’d be in to do his clips with me at about seven thirty quarter to eight, and then he would proceed to go about the rest of his week. And one day he played exceptionally well but he kicked one goal four. He actually made a mistake. Joel Selwood made some errors, and another coach heard us doing our clips and he wandered in. And this is maybe where the ad has come from, I can’t guarantee it, but he was explaining to Joel in his own unique way, he had an incredible capacity this coach, and he now coaches the Port Adelaide football club, to give direct feedback without offending anyone, he’s an amazing coach and an amazing football person, and he explained to Joel: ‘Joel, if you kick the ball between the little stick and the big stick, you get one point. But if you kick it between the big sticks, you get six points! Now if you’d kicked all those balls between the big sticks, we would have won by eleven goals four, and not seven goals ... whatever it was’ . So maybe that’s where it came from, but, it almost was like Joel talking to the little fella, and Kenny Hinkley talking to Joel.
We’re all here because we’ve been footified, i don’t know what they means, but I’m going to try to have a go at explaining it, what it’s done to me,. And it first hit me at the age of four, at the 1963 mid Murray grand final., between Niyah, and the all conquering Lalbert football cub, who hadn’t lost all year. The Niyah boys contained three McCartney brothers. The coach, my uncleBill, the gun centreman, Graham, my dad, and Uncle Doc, who was a famous senior sergeant in the west, who ended up becoming a great Western Bulldogs patron and member.
And he had a way with words, Doc. He once described himself as a cross between Buddy Franklin and Tony Lockett. A good mate of his, who was also a very good judge, refuted the above, but he said, there were a couple of correlations. Sure, Doc was a left footer, like Buddy. And just like Plugger, he had two arms and two legs. But he said that’s where the similarities ended. The person standing here talking that day was actually the mascot that day and I still have the photo to prove it.
In fact when it came time to run on the ground, I froze in a fit of panic and went no further. The sea of faces, I don’t know how many were there that day, certainly wasn’t an MCG crowd and the blue and gold streamers spooked me, and I stopped and I don’t remember much of the rest of the day. I was only four at the time. But what I learned over the journey, listening to my dad, and family and friends who came in and out of our house, was that to win that day, they’d have to play out of their skins, and they’d need a lot of luck. Because the team they were playing was all conquering, unbeaten, and they had a dead eye dick full forward who never, ever, missed.
Well legend has it that with two minutes to go, the dead eye dick got the ball twenty metres out from goal. You guessed the rest - he missed, and they hung on and won by a point.
Some forty years later, I was lucky enough to go back to that area, for their first grand final since the 1963 triumph. And help with training, and just give them a little bit of a talk about winning finals, and what it means to do your bit and play your role in a grand final, so your team and your club can get over the line. It’s funny where footy takes you. I grew up idolising those boys, who played in that premiership, and there’s no doubt about it, country towns are the world champs at pinning nicknames on people. In that team, Bluey, Tiger, Nifty, Happy, Lefty, Champ and my all time favourite, Chesty Coburn.
When you were born into our clan it wasn’t hard to be footified. Dad played at the highest level. Somewhere in our family exists the letter Footscray sent him to invite him to come down and train. That year was 1954. Pretty famous and symbolic in our club. The Rose brothers were family friends, Collingwood greats. And a Geelong player by the name of Bill Ryan was a great friend of dad’s. Bill Ryan was the Jeremy Howe of forty years ago. And for you young people in the room, YouTube him, number 26 at Geelong, it’s a lot of fun to watch.
As a way of life in our family, Sundays dominated the week. We went to church, and we only ever ate after the World of Sport panel. Only ever when the panel was finished. Sweets got fit around the mark of the day and the woodchop. Young ones in the room, you should youtube the World of Sport panel. It was orgnanised chaos, but some of the most amazing people came together and expoused the virtues of footy and who was going to win the flag. There was no 3.20 game there was nof.40 twilight game, so we got kicked outside to kick and scrap, and tackle and harass and wrestle for the rest of the day. And we did it as well as we could. It was fun being Jezza, Baldock, Hudson, Nicholls, again for the young people in the room I’ll translate the names, Cotchin, Murphy, Natanui and Hawkins. They were amazing players those boys in the old days, and I guess of the beauty of being able to be in the game for a long time is you see so many great people through the generations.
And don’t worry about the old boys, if a press was on, back in those days or if there was tagging, or an open forward line, or if they were packing up the stoppages, they all would have been fine.
It was a simple life, it was a good life, but it was a footy life. There’s six of us children in our clan, mum and dad are now gone, and they’ve all walked the footy journey with me in different ways and they all communicated in their own style. During any one season, one sister will text, ‘Bren are you okay?’ ‘Yes, I’m fine.’ Another will send, ‘hang in there, you’ll be fine’. Sister number three will text, ‘Brenno, they’re hating you on facebook mate’, or two weeks later, ‘geez, don’t Tim and Andy just love you’ .
My youngest brother is a civilian. I use the word ‘civilian’ to describe non AFL footy people. He;s forever optimistic and full of great ideas. He’s a great footy man. My other brother, well he doesn’t text, not sure if he doesn’t want to, or doesn’t know how to. The translation for him not communicating is ‘get on with it, quit your sooking, and harden up.’
For me though, it doesn’t really matter, just to know that they think enough is the important bit.
We’re a football family. Being footified can take you across a myriad of people, experiences and landscapes. It’s amazing the bonds, and memories and friendships it creates for you. I remember once on a cold wet day at North Geelong as a young and skinny kid, I was getting a lesson and it sort of went like this. A big burly opponent who I’d kicked a couple of goals on said, ‘son you get another kick, and I’m gonna belt you.’ Might surprise some people in the room, might not, I chirped back. My lights were about to go out when a guardian angel arrived. My coach Johnny Schofield arrived just in time and knocked him out. John Schofield, bless his soul, was Will Schofield’s dad. It’s a small world, footy.
A couple of years later on, an older boy, I was having my character challenged at half time by a really irate coach. Just a young man, making his way in a really competitive game of footy. I left the rooms at half time bereft of confidence, not really wanting to go back out there, we can all relate to that, with these words ringing in my ears - ‘if you don’t lift, you’re not going to get a game next week’. Right on cue, another guardian angel appeared. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘you follow me around for the next ten minutes, and I’ll make sure you get a kick.’ He then preceded to give me three goals, one after the other. That man’s name, John Scarlett, Matthew Scarlett’s dad. It’s a small world, this game.
In fact some events can leave an incredible impact on you. And you hope when you’re needed, you can be a guardian angel when it’s your turn, for the next generation. Isn’t that how it should be at a footy club, the older boys help the kids, and the leaders create the environment that is right.
The month of September is a great month anticipation and excitement, or in our case it’s a month of reflection. And you know for us, it’s the latter. It’s hard to switch off a footified football brain. You get asked your thoughts on who’s the best coach, who’s the best young player. And it got me thinking. I was looking at the coaches in our game. I stopped at Al Clarkson, a coach I respect incredibly, and I started to imagine Clarko as a contestant on The Block. He’d be a handful, wouldn’t he? Scotty Cam would know he was alive.
And I started to think about our young players, and I linked it up with the show Survivor. O’Meara, Crouch, Vlaustin, Wines, imagine those boys as contestants on a show like that. Competitive environment.
I look around the room and see the faces of young men, who are recognisable but not as recognisable as they will be in years to come. I also see the faces of people that I know well in the various clubs, who just work tirelessly to shape, mould and give their young boys the best opportunity.
But most of all I see the proud faces of the parents. It’s a proud badge, the parent of a young player who is better than most wears. It ‘s our national game, and every young boy wants to be the next star. So the parent of a young boy who is already recognisable in our talent pathways, they also become recognisable. There’s Brad Crouch’s dad. There’s Lachie Whitfield’s mum they say at the local footy, when in fact if you dig a bit deeper, they are no different to any other parent. In fact if you scratch below the surface, what you have seen is they’ve gone above and beyond - the travel expenses, the support mechanisms they put in place, they’re the crutch for the bad news, and they’re the leveller for the good news. Usually their brothers and sisters have been footified as well., generally the whole family.
When I close my eyes, I can still hear the words of Margot Ottens in 1997. She said, ‘he’s a quiet boy, a good boy. He won’t let you down.’ She was right about her boy Brad. I still hear the words of Rick Harley when his son became All-Australian. He rang and said, ‘we both knew he would do something special one day.’ There was a lot a lot more to come for Tom.
To share an after premiership beer with Ted Corey, Gary Enright, Cameron Ling’s dad, Andrew Mackie’s dad, wasn’t hard to guess where the decency, integrity, humility, and determination came from. To have Joe Giansiricusa spend game day on the road with us in Tasmania recently, and to hear him speak about it being one of the great days of his life, watching his boy Daniel prepare to play, to see the tension, feel the tension, embrace the unique smell of a footy change room, to witness the exhaustion and the fatigue of the boys after the game, he got to share that with his son.
I got the feeling that Joe was footified before that day, but even more so now. To the boys we draft to our club, my pledge to them always, and their parents, is that I’ll look after them, like they’re my own son. Responsibility is then mine to deliver on that pledge. It’s a responsibility I’m happy to accept, and something that has been building in me since that day in 1963.
One night recently - you do have some unique experiences with your boys - I was watching some vision, and I started to get frustrated at what I was seeing from this young man. So I messaged him, it went something like this: ‘I’m seeing some poor habits emerging in your game. Please come and see me tomorrow so we can work through them. ‘ Within thirty seconds came the reply, ‘Sweet m8. Can’t wait to c ya tomoz!’ It got me a little agitated, so I sent back, ‘this won’t be a social chat mate, we need to fix this up!’ Fifteen seconds later, ‘Sweet as, coach, can’t wait to get in there and get better! C ya tomoz!’ We worked through the vision the next morning, and as he walked out it got me thinking, about his future and this boy, the person the man that he’s going to be. His future is going to be brilliant. He’s a good listener, he works at his craft, and he can already deal with the tension, stress and scrutiny that this game throws at you. Young people with talent who have those life attributes, they are our next champions of the game, and I’m sure that there’s many in the room today.
And as this world changes, so quickly, the one thing that I don’t think we should forget is that the fundamental principles of life, they haven’t changed. Honesty, work ethic, respect, humility and commitment to doing what’s right. We’re all privileged to work in this industry. As tough as it gets, as brutal as it gets, we must all respect our clubs, respect the game, respect the governance of the game, and most of all, respect each other.
Thanks so much for listening.