And so it came to pass, that Guy McKenna was all alone.
Not just in the AFL ranks, as he’s been the only winless coach for a number of weeks, and it seems that they’ll again need the words to the song written up on cue cards should they break the drought in 2012.
After I wrote recently that I was feeling very Mark Neeld 9 games into my junior football coaching career (at which point Neeld broke ranks for a win over the Dons), the drought has finally broken.
No longer am I a winless, pathetic, useless excuse for a novice coach.
Last Sunday, in truly arctic conditions, under extreme pressure and short in numbers, my Under 12 Gold side finally broke an 11 game losing start to the season to salute by 19 points.
And as a couple of kind Almanackers predicated when I shared my awful start to 2012 a few weeks, back, didn’t the song sound good.
Three weeks after failing to score a goal for the first time in our 3 years together, we kicked 8 on a day when goals were precious.
I feel for McKenna (from my lofty position of 1 and 11 looking down on him), as I was seriously beginning to doubt I knew what the hell I was doing.
Magnetic whiteboards do not make a coach, and having inherited a side who won the division 2 flag last year, I thought we would challenge in the top division, Richmond like (you know, honourable losses, odd upset, flatter to deceive in mid-season, late run when it is still mathematically possible and fall agonisingly but predictably short)
But at no stage did I predict the old nasty knock knock heading my way:
0 and 11
My son and starting centre half back told me two weeks ago not to belt myself up about it and that it wasn’t my fault. However, he wasn’t aware of the phone call I got from the club president a few days before, in which he wanted to say what a great job I was doing, keep it up and they’ll be better for it in the long run.
Oh no. I had the full support of the club!! A death knell for any coach. Ratts, if Sticks or the real power broker at the club, Jeannie calls, I can help you through the chat.
Yesterday was a day to be savoured. It loomed as a winnable game and we had been playing well, despite the scoreboard. Every opposition coach had, not just out of sympathy, said we played really well, but we couldn’t convert and would get hammered on the board in a few 5 minute bursts.
However, the signs weren’t good. School holidays meant we had 7 of the 24 away, and we lost two more to illness the morning of the game. We had registered two new fill-in and one-off players the previous day, on the league deadline, one being a player from our U11 winning flag willing to make a one game return, and the other a school friend of some of the boys who had been guided away from the evils of Auskick football for the safety of soccer goalkeeping by an anxious mother a few years previous.
So we had just the 17, on a large ground, in truly terrible conditions. It poured, with the windchill making the actual temp of 8 degrees more like 4; and no bench.
But, just as you fear the wounded batsmen, funny things happen in these situations.
I pulled out a Malthouse line pre game, saying all we could worry about was who we had, not who was missing. Whoever runs down the race is our best side. I said it would be tough and tiring, but you just never know.
No bench meant no rotations and few positional changes during the game, just the odd tweak in the ruck and midfield, and a stunning decoy Full Forward plan along with the two gun forwards at CHF and on the flank. The boys would mostly stay in their positions all game, rather than the rotations we have to do to give each player at least three quarters each in a usual game.
What resulted was a 3 goal opening stanza, where goals were at a premium due to the conditions.
Momentum remained for the second quarter and we went into the sheds in unfamiliar territory at 3 goals up.
The half time chat was more about keeping this group of 12 year olds in short sleeve jumpers warm, with parents taking off their own 4 or 5 layers and rugging up their young ones. One younger sibling happily munched on a pie in the corner and I thought two of our backmen were going to eat him (not just the pie), for daring to consume hot food while they froze.
We matched them in the third and held what should be a safe lead at the last break. The final address was held under numerous umbrellas as players tried to warm their hands, and I said that I can teach you skills, I can teach you tactics (both lies I should add based on results up until Round 12) but I can’t teach or coach effort and heart. That’s up to you. I need 15 more minutes, kick long, take your time when we take a mark or gain a free and it can be yours.
Our Inspector Gadget-like ruckman moved back to full forward and was to kick two for the quarter after telling goal square marks. Backmen reached in for brilliant spoils, players played like it was dry and on AstroTurf, handling the Sherrin with ease, and the high fives were everywhere.
Two late goals to the opposition flattered the scoresheet before a final minute goal line mark to Gadget meant we ran out 19 point winners.
I wish I had burger vouchers for all of them, as it would have been a day for 17 players of the day and B&F votes for all.
The song (“we’re a happy team at Hawthorn…”) was simply amazing, louder and with bigger grins than after the GF in 2012.
Post match summary I wanted to go with Henry V, (we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, players not here will hold their manhood cheap sort of stuff) but the priority was to get them into warm cars and home to hot showers as soon as possible.
I was drenched and muddy, and happy for them in so many ways. I now get coaching, and see that it is only through failure that you experience joy, grasshopper.
I topped off the day, Litza style, by running out for the first time in 12 months with my old hockey team, and in the rain, we knocked-off the top team 2-1.
17 players, 9 away, two last minute ring-ins, an opponent with finals aspirations, shocking weather, away game, no bench and a coach with no winning record.
If we were a racehorse, they’d be after a sample immediately.
Next round we play the reigning premiers. Who knows, stranger things have happened.