A change of scenery…

Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs.

They have to be the second and third most talked about players this year in regards to on field performance don’t they?

I would of said first and second, but I’m just assuming that Jack Watts still unfortunately holds the number one title.

These two Carlton stars, one the captain, the other the reigning best and fairest winner. Both so clumsily lumped onto the virtual in season trade table a couple of weeks ago, during what was certainly not Carlton’s finest hour.

Caught up amidst the horrendous hullabaloo of the old “round two rebuild” announcement.

Now aren’t they just a sure fire way to ensure disaster at your footy club!

Who can forget StKilda, who also managed to go from “soon to be juggernaut” to “yeah-nah, it’s a rebuild” in what felt like a similar over promise under deliver by their new coach Scott Watters a couple of seasons ago.

What saddens me, is that some have conceded that these two probably do need a change of scenery given recent events, that their confidence has been well shattered, and that they would do well to reinvent themselves somewhere else other than in navy blue.

Well let me introduce a concept to you.

Forget the vacation, let’s talk about the stay-cation.

Remember when you were young and money may of been tight in the family finances, instead of conceding defeat, your parents would set up the tent or caravan in the backyard instead of actually going away? Come on, you must of at least known families that loved a good stay-cation? Toasting marshmallows around a fire, playing board games, it didn’t just have to be for when you actually changed postcode.

Is trading the only avenue to reinvention?

My respect for Carlton isn’t high at the moment, but they will arrest my attention if they can manage to completely rejuvenate their football club.

Someone posed a question to me today….

“Can Carlton enact an environmental change from top to bottom?”

Instead of feebly patching things up, attempting the quick fix that we’ve all come to expect from them, how about they have a go at actually fixing their issues properly? Winning back player trust, taking the club from those who have had it as their play thing for far too long, and gifting it back to the fans.

Sure, give Marc and Bryce a fresh start, I certainly agree they need one…but why can’t it be at Carlton?

Nick Riewoldt is a great example of someone currently enjoying a stay-cation.

The club is far removed from the toxic environment that saw Nick actually weigh things up for the first time at the end of the 2013 season. Yes, that crazy time under Scott Watters that even saw Eddie McGuire attempt to woo the beloved Saints captain to Collingwood after he’d heard whispers of unrest.

There was certainly a great divide at the club, not dissimilar to what has happened at the Blues. Coach and football club, worlds apart from each other is both vision and ideals. Ironically it ended the same way, Watters famously sacked after going rogue with a radio interview on SEN.

A positive was born out of a negative though.

The club ended up appointing a new coach, who quickly aligned himself with the new president and CEO. A good honest discussion was had about where they wanted to go, and the club is seemingly heading in the right trajectory now. The saints skipper is amongst those enjoying what are newly defined targets and goals, content with his change of scenery that didn’t actually require a new guernsey.

It’s so important for everyone at a footy club to be on the same page, Carlton certainly haven’t been, and Marc and Bryce, well they had their page literally ripped out of the novel.

Nothing that can’t be repaired though.

Malthouse said his papers were stamped the minute the new president and CEO came on board, perhaps, but thats ok isn’t it?

Carlton and its relatively new administration deserve time to enact this “environmental change” needed. They may very well secure a coach that is perfectly content to subscribe to their vision, and their vision may just prove to be sound.

If a change of scenery is needed for guys like Murph and Gibbs, well Carlton, I put it to you to reinvent the landscape.

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If the cap fits…..but what if it doesn’t?

Captaincy.

It’s quite the honour bestowed on an individual in team sport, yet you have to argue that on the flipside, it can also be somewhat of a burden. In this highly scrutinised industry that is modern football, there is no escaping the spotlight that comes with leading an AFL side.

Carry your side to succesive wins, and the praise is lavished upon you. The footy media love a gutsy performance by a captain, the footy public adores a hero.

Captain your side to successive losses, or through substantial form dips, and the criticism is swift and often cruel.

Trent Cotchin and Marc Murphy it’s probably fair to say, are this years shall we say, targets? Both are young, both are captaining sides who’s performance is well down on expectations, both are individually having quiet years by their lofty standards. It’s been wildly accepted that both the Tigers and Carlton struggle for natural leaders, but I do wonder if that’s as a result of others being a little too comfortable, and happy to let the pressure fall on another? It’s easy to shrink back into the shadows and let someone else take responsibility.

Grant Thomas back in the day had a rotation policy, and it bucked the trend in footy at the time. Each player he felt had potential on the list had a shot at captaining the side. It was more about what the captaincy could do for you, not so much what you could do as a captain. It was a revolutionary approach, he clearly utilised it as a tool to unlock leadership qualities and maturity out of a whole host of young players. You could easily argue that it was successful, and that Riewoldt, Hayes and Ball were all capable leaders in their own right and that any of the three could of remained captain for an extended period of time.

I asked Grant about it and he was happy to expand on it “if young men perform better with the captaincy, you could unlock the untapped potential much earlier” he said. “It’s not about the captaincy itself, the toss of the coin or choosing which end to kick to. It’s about driving outcomes, influencing situations and teammates”

The Swans too, they have had their own unique approach in recent years. They often find themselves in a position where co-captains are voted in, who share the responsibility of leading the club on and off the field. Interestingly, they have won their most recent flags when this has been the case.

What would the Blues have looked like this year if say Kade Simpson had tried his hand at leading? Or what if the Tigers had bravely but perhaps controversially let Jack Riewoldt have a turn? Someone who is often criticised poor on field demeanour, but perhaps with some responsibility, could curb the demonstrative passion and turn it into inspiring energy?

Maybe the fate of both teams would no different, but I also put it to you, what would Marc and Trent’s individual games look like this year without what has evidently become a burden?

It’s not going to suit every player, so why have such a rigid model?

Such as was the case of Ryan Griffen, who didn’t even want the captaincy yet had it foisted upon him and we all know how that ended.

I have been critical of Nick Riewoldt remaining captain, admittedly it’s an unpopular opinion. People who support teams with no stand out leaders probably think I’m nuts. Its pretty much perceived as treason amongst saints fans, because its assumed that it must be that you think that he is no longer doing a good job. I strongly resent that, because I think he is an incredible leader, and that he remains an inspiring character on and off the field.

Hear me out though…

I strongly feel his leadership would not diminish one iota if he didn’t have that little (c) next to his name that represents the captaincy. He would still be incredible, he would still inspire, he would still well….lead.

I am just intrigued what that little (c) next to ones name could do for another.

Just like that young raw Nick Riewoldt over a decade ago, who with the captaincy, blossomed into the leader and player he is now. I have wondered if someone currently living somewhat in his shadow at present, could similarly blossom?

Funnily enough, it brings me to my next point. While the club has continued with Nick as captain this year, St Kilda decided to have no official vice captain. This has led to David Armitage and Jarryn Geary both leading at times when Nick has been absent through injury. The inspired performances by these individuals have been telling and leadership has suited both players. Yet 12 months ago, after Goddard, Dal Santo and McEvoy were traded away, it was widely decreed that the Saints had no emerging leaders.

Would their leadership qualities have progressed so quickly had Nick not been injured? Or if say Leigh Montagna had predictably been vice?

It’s interesting to ponder.

Maybe Grant had a point when he argued its what the captaincy could potentially do for a player…

Bob Murphy anyone?

I wonder if a club will be brave enough to revisit this kind of rotational model ever again. Or even brave enough to vote in a leadership group that rotates on a monthly basis until they clearly establish those best suited to the role.

We are traditionalists at heart as football lovers, but I just can’t help but feel that mid table teams would do well to cultivate their leaders better, and that the traditional aspect in this case is doing more damage than good.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that rotating captains or co-captaincy is always the answer. There will always be standout leaders like Riewoldt, Hodge and Selwood. Guys that relish the role, and on whom the responsibly sits comfortably for an extended period of time.

What if you find yourself existing in a landscape however, where there are no clear emerging leaders?

Footy favours the brave, maybe it’s brave to buck the trend and do what is best for the individual footy club, instead of persisting with a one size fits all approach when it comes to captaincy.

That little (c) next to someones name is very powerful, so why not make sure you use its powers wisely.

The hungry caterpillar

Free agency.

I scoffed at it prior to its introduction, was in total denial about it ever becoming a thing in the AFL, and heartily whinged about it when to my shock it actually eventuated.

What were they doing to our game?

Why would they enable what I perceived at the time as gross player disloyalty?

I am not ashamed to admit I feared it, and what it would do to my footy club.

This is when I digress a little…

We have a veggie patch, now I’m the first to admit I’m not blessed with a particularly green thumb, nor do I even remotely know what I’m doing in the garden, I just love trying to grow vegetables.

Last year amongst other things, we grew our own broccoli.

One particular evening we all ventured down the garden, there was a decent amount of broccoli and it was ripe for the picking, so I planned to pick it fresh the following morning and use it for dinner that night.

Pasta with copious amount of olive oil, garlic, bacon and parmasean cheese….and broccoli.

Yum right?

So, the next morning as planned, I went out to pick it….

To my shock and disappointment, it was gone.

All of it. Every last bit.

I kid you not, zero broccoli florets left on the plants.

To add insult to injury, in it’s place were big fat bright green caterpillars. Smug caterpillars they were too. Lying there, relishing the feast they’d enjoyed, no regard for the meal I’d planned and was already tasting.

You could almost hear them mocking me.

So what’s my broccoli, or lack of it in this case, got to do with Free Agency?

At St Kilda, the club is at a stage when all the hard ground work is being done, its all about nurturing young guys, and investing time into making sure every player reaches their potential.

Development development development…

Here’s the thing, create a “patch” by all means, but don’t be similarly naive and think that others won’t want to enjoy the spoils.

Who can forget Chris Scott accompanied by Joel Selwood and Jimmy Bartel waltzing into Adelaide in an attempt to woo Travis Boak to the Cats? An event that took place early days of this new free agency landscape, and one that led to Keith Thomas famously declaring “Subtle conversations are one thing, but arriving with shiny buttons and a brass band is quite a different matter” about this attempted raid of Port talent.

The good clubs though, they build something intangible, an environment of total player buy in. An enthused coach convicts their players into believing their message, into believing that as a group they capable of achieving something special if they stay the course. Travis subsequently stayed at Port Adelaide, and you’d have to assume he is entirely comfortable with that decision.

The path taken by guys like Kurt Tippett and Brendon Goddard that year were admittedly different, but not everyone is going to share the same ideologies as their teammates and be around for the long haul.

After a shaky start, I now understand that sometimes clubs are willing and open to a bit of a prune if it brings with it new growth.

It’s all about being prepared, caterpillars only eat what you leave there for the taking after all.

So should we as supporters be scared of Free Agency, and what will become of the competitions young stars in the coming years?

Alan Richardson of the Saints reportedly asked his players at half time on the weekend vs the Bulldogs, when looking at a potentially ugly scoreline, something along the lines of “show me what playing for this club means to you”

It clearly meant something to his young tribe, an awful lot in fact.

Does that mean the club will be immune to the pulls of other clubs trying to woo young emerging stars away? Of course not, that’s a naive view. Do I believe the club is preparing itself best it can to provide its players with an environment that will make the wooing less attractive?

Of that I’m very confident.

If your club is a vibrant, yet well drilled professional bunch from the coach right down to the last guy on the list never fear. If the noises out of your club indicate a close knit bond between the core senior group that take the field each week and also the guys running around in the twos, this is also so important to players feeling a part of something. If your club has one eye on the now and another on the future, making sure that competing isn’t just a phase, but a constant….

Well your patch is in good hands.

If none of this rings true…

Beware the hungry caterpillar.

Footy’s First Lady…

Footy’s First Lady…

Who is she you may ask?

There are plenty of women in significant football roles these days.

Peta Searle a development coach at the St Kilda football club, Peggy O’Neal the president of the Richmond football club, Caroline Wilson chief football writer at The Age newspaper.

All honourable mentions, but no, this lady I speak of is none of the above.

A few more clues then…

She is both courageous and dignified, very well respected, thankfully she is also a bit of an attention seeker, oh and her favourite colour is pink.

Curious?

This identity that I speak of, is the Breast Cancer Network of Australia’s Pink Lady.

The hugely symbolic silhouette, that is now so wonderfully an intrinsic part of the annual football calendar.

It’s one of, if not my very favourite game of the year. Slowly and surely, this opportunity to combine breast cancer awareness and football morphed naturally into the very special annual occasion that its become. Where football takes a back seat for the night, and to its credit, it is totally OK with it.

The pre-game coverage that includes intimate stories of loss, survival and struggle is always compelling viewing. The forming of the pink lady figure on the MCG, made up of both survivors and loved ones honouring their dearly departed, what a hugely powerful image.

“Women in football” so clumsily do we hear this phrase bandied about, as footy often tries to manufacture some kind of tie between the two. Yet here they are, nothing contrived about it, existing cohesively. Footy playing its part by bringing the focus to women, women entirely comfortable allowing football to cast its glow on this worthy cause, and to a foundation that supports the 42 women a day diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia.

I am SO happy to hear they scrapped what used to be referred to as “women’s round” this year.

There, I said it…

We’ve finally moved past the novelty factor, and it’s about time.

Women are involved in footy in all sorts of ways nowadays, they watch it, play it, umpire it, some even administrate over it. Women and footy, it simply is, no need for a song and dance about it.

It’s not just the tokenism of it, which if you can’t already tell, irritated me a little. Its more that I can’t comprehend that we’ve potentially fallen so far as a society that we need our thoughts and behaviours led by a sporting code? I mean, come on now. I just feel like footy tries to be too much these days, but sorry I digress, that’s a story for another day.

If this annual football game and its subsequent spotlight, causes even a handful of women (or men) to be more mindful and aware of the symptoms of this hideous disease, or even inspires them to make a doctors appointment, well surely the AFL has greatly accomplished any intention it ever had of honouring women?

Raising awareness is so crucial, and the money raised by this foundation is so important to ensuring all women are provided with information, support, treatment and care.

I certainly cannot think of a better way the AFL can pay tribute to women than they already do in this upcoming rd 6 game between Melbourne & Sydney.

A special shout out as well to Shane Crawford, who saw early days that he could use football as a light and shine it towards this cause.

Footy has allowed itself to be led for once, significant given that in the past it has become so used to do doing the leading….

The result?

Wonderful.

Women’s round, it’s really not necessary…

We have her.

 

BCNA.org.au

The Rebuild Rollercoaster

Rebuilding, that is the diagnosis of where my Saints sit at the moment.

Yeah I know it’s a bit of a footy buzz word, but it is true that no team can remain at the top for ever. The ever shifting cycle of this game waits for no one, if lucky your side may get a few shots at a flag and even pinch one. However the end will come, and sometimes quickly.

Hence the need for some sides to rebuild.

This season has already seen some teams clearly emerging strongly from the midst of one, like the Bulldogs. Some sides are battling in the infancy of one like St Kilda, some are in denial and bullishly denying they even need one…

One thing is for sure, rebuilds do require certain supporter behaviours.

As we enter the third year of our rebuild, allow me to share some wisdom I’ve learned along the way. Those emerging from one will nod their heads knowingly, those about to commence one will do well to listen.

Be honest with yourself
Admit to yourself that it’s a rebuild, and let go of the recent years of competitiveness. Time for your side to blood the kids and get games under their belts, and the sooner the better. That 35 year old veteran struggling to get his body right isn’t going to come back from injury and miraculously restore your sides rightful place in the eight. Stop day dreaming that if only Alistair Clarkson could be wooed over from Hawthorn, that he would be able to magically change the reality of a list. It’s over…

Little moments
There is going to be weeks, even months when the side is generally uncompetitive. Your club has moved on very good players to make way for kids, and even traded away some of your absolute favourites. It’s easy to get despondent. Familiarise yourself with the evolving list, clubs are great at providing content on newly drafted players. I strongly suggest keeping an eye on the kids progress in the twos as they make a name for themselves. Look for the little wins during this time. A good passage of play, a repeat effort, someone getting on top of their direct opponent. These will slowly build and evolve from only moments to sustained periods of good footballs own enough.

Tempering expectation
Don’t get your hopes up when there is a good win early, as there will be weeks when you get a decent side on a bad day. Everything happens to click and your young brigade can look like world beaters. You can find yourself if not careful, getting lost in the jubilation. Declaring your side good things to take down the competitions stronghold while indulging in footy talk at the office water cooler or morning smoko, not your best move. This is not the time to get too excited, try and stay even in your temperament and avoid getting ahead of where things truly sit.

Overeacting
So, you didn’t listen? Your side got thrashed when you foolishly declared them good things to all that would listen? Worse thing you can do is lose hope. Declaring a bunch of young players list cloggers IS overreacting. Ringing footy talk back and threatening to microwave your membership, well yes its just a tad overboard. Try to listen to the coaches after game summation, understand where your side is at, and show a little patience.

Give them time
You may find yourself announcing that a player with less games than you have fingers and toes, the best player in modern footy after starring in one admittedly brilliant game. Temper your expectations, they will have good weeks and bad, and this kind of hype amongst supporter groups can do more damage than good. Encourage good performances, but don’t expect Brownlows and Colemans.

Preserve the next generation
Now that you’ve likely got your head around where your side is at, its time to explain to the younger supporters in your household that a win is not always on the cards. Losing all the time can be tough on the younger fans, make sure they are engaged. If there is open training at the club, pack the kids in the car and head on down so they feel connected through the tough times. You’d be surprised what saying hi to a footy player can do to boost moral after a few tough weeks. Billy from school will have less chance of wooing your little Johnny to support an opposition side if they get up close and personal with the players every now and then.

….and finally

Buckle in and enjoy the ride
Enjoy it. It’s not often you get to enjoy a phase with little to no expectation. You’ll be back to watching games where you’ll bite off all your fingernails and get a few more grey hairs soon enough. So enjoy this little patch of development. There can be pleasure in watching kids learning their craft, and a satisfaction in witnessing the journey from the beginning.