In the Sheds: Noble Park surprise by sacking Ezard as coach

By Paul Daffey

ESSENDON premiership rover Alan Ezard had no idea of what was about to happen when he took a call from Kevin Wright, the president of Eastern Football League club Noble Park, at 9 o’clock last Thursday morning.

Noble Park was sixth of the 12 teams on the division-one ladder, behind Vermont and Blackburn on percentage. Ezard, the Noble Park coach, was looking forward to Saturday’s match at East Burwood. After a slow start to a season in which little was expected from Noble Park, he believed that if the Bulls could beat East Burwood, they’d be on track to gain a double chance by finishing in the top three. It wasn’t to be. Wright spoke for a few minutes on Thursday before announcing that the board had sacked him. The president gave little explanation other than the players had complained about a lack of communication. Ezard yesterday was still unsure why he’d been stood down with less than a season completed in his two-year contract. “I knew there were a couple of players who were unhappy, but I thought I had the support of the committee,” he said.

SINCE ending his 184-game career with Essendon in 1993, Ezard has coached North Ballarat and Coburg (VFL), St Alban’s (Western Region league), Mt Evelyn (Yarra Valley Mountain District league) and Pascoe Vale (Essendon District league). In recent years, he’s been keen to coach in the Eastern league because he regards it as Melbourne’s premier suburban competition. Noble Park put several candidates through a searching selection procedure before appointing Ezard late last October. The Bulls have rarely been out of the top three since entering the Eastern league a decade ago. They pride themselves on their professionalism. The club’s past three coaches, Dennis Knight, Shane Burgmann and Kris Barlow, enhanced this reputation, but Ezard was considered less organised than his predecessors. The players organised their first crisis meeting before Christmas.

NOBLE Park lost seven or eight senior players in the off-season, most of whom had played in the 2003 and ’04 premierships under Knight. Kevin Wright admitted in a conversation with this column before the season that the Bulls would do well to make the five. The policy was to develop young players, a policy that Ezard said played to his strengths. But by mid-season, with the Bulls just out of the five, the rumblings that began in the pre-season were stronger. Opposition clubs noted the disquiet among Noble Park officials. Ezard knew his straight-talking style was not for everyone. “I’m a pretty honest sort of bloke,” he said. He knew that some players were upset by his criticism if necessary in the match reports that he pinned on the clubroom walls. “That’s footy.” But he really believed that he had the club on the right path before his beheading. “I thought I was going all right. Unfortunately, there’s a couple of people there who need to take a good hard look at themselves.”

EZARD’S belief that the Bulls would continue their upward trajectory was validated on Saturday when the caretaker coach, Jason “Stumpy” Fennell, guided the Bulls to an 11-goal defeat over East Burwood. Not that Ezard was there to see it. He lives in Greenvale in the north-west suburbs (about an hour from Noble Park). On Saturday he watched Greenvale, which is undefeated in the Essendon District league, host Doutta Stars. The Stars had the chance to draw the match when Dean Douglas took a mark on the final siren 35 metres out directly in front. He sprayed his kick out on the full, leaving Greenvale the victor by six points. Ezard said Eastern league matches are more skilful and flowing than Essendon District matches, which tend to be tough and tight. He wants to resume coaching in one of the suburban competitions next season.

NOBLE Park was not the only club in the Eastern league’s division one to have a change of coach at the weekend. Lilydale coach Simon Rourke left the match-day duties to his assistant Greg Stafford (no relation to the former Sydney and Richmond ruckman) while he sat in a Devonport motel room waiting for his son Tom to play for Vic Metro in that evening’s Australian under-16 basketball championships final. Rourke took 10-minute updates on Lilydale’s progress throughout the afternoon while he watched a Tasmanian state league game on the television. He was alarmed when Lilydale began with eight straight behinds, but he was satisfied enough when they moved out to a 46-point victory, 14.23 (107) to 9.7 (61). The win kept Lilydale in third position. “I’ll be back this week,” Rourke said.

BESIDES the Ezard exit, the biggest story in the Eastern league’s first division in recent weeks has been the re-emergence of Vermont. The Eagles have rarely been out of the top three for three decades, but after five rounds this season they had one win and were 11th on the ladder. The departure of senior players, injuries and the indifferent form of star forwards Ash Froud and Matt Greig had conspired against them. Things began to turn when coach David Banfield conducted a review of all footy operations, including his own performance. Respected former fitness advisor Anthony “Pants” Panou was lured back to the club, young player showed the fruits of being thrown into the deep end, and senior players returned from injury. “Bit by bit it changed,” said Vermont general manager Lee Bidstrup.

THE Eagles’ turning point on the field came during the first game after the long weekend in June, when the Eagles fought hard for an 11-point win at Lilydale. Since then they’ve defeated Knox (20 goals), East Burwood (15 goals), Noble Park (12 goals) and East Ringwood (seven goals). On Saturday they beat second team Croydon by seven goals, with full-back Grant McCarthy keeping leading goalkicker Brad Kelleher goal-less. Few now would be surprised if the ladder at the end of the season had Balwyn, Vermont and Noble Park in the top three positions, as they were last year.

Comments

  1. Damian Watson says:

    Wow, this was unexpected!
    I remember viewing the Balwyn v Noble Park game about a month ago and they certainly gave the top of the table Tigers a run for their money.
    Even listening to your radio program Paul, Ezard was certainly upbeat and excited about the prospect of his side becoming real finals contenders.

    In regards to Vermont,I thought it was only a matter of time before they peaked up again considering the success they have had over recent years. My club the Knox Falcons aren’t faring too well sitting second last on the table but maybe with a bit of rejuvination they can jump back up to seventh.

    By the way is Daniel Harford back playing for Balwyn? Because I thought he would only hold the status of Senior Coach this season yet I heard he is back on the field.

  2. Damo,

    I had the same reaction on hearing about Ezard’s sacking. He sounded so upbeat when he came on SEN a few weeks ago. I spoke to him on Tuesday and he was still very confident that he had the club on the right track.

    Vermont are quietly confident about steaming home for another premiership. I think they actually beat Balwyn early in the season and they play them again in the final round, on 22 August. Should be a big crowd at Balwyn that day. Might even go myself.

    Daniel Harford did make his comeback. Apparently his shorts are like sails.

    I hope for your sake that Knox can rise up the ladder. They seem to on the right track with developing young players.

  3. uncle tony says:

    My inside the club contacts tell me it was player led.Citique of player performance and probaby some home truthes none to subtlly communiated.

  4. Tony,

    You’re right. It was the players who were upset about Ezard. A couple of board members were very reluctant to make the sacking call, but in the end they wanted to give the club the best chance of recruiting another half-dozen or so from Casey Scorpions in the off-season. The Scorpions players reportedly had had said they wouldn’t come if Ezard was coaching. The current Noble Park players had told their friends at the Scorpions of their disgruntlement.

    It raises the question of the tail wagging the dog. How much say should the players have? It’s one of those eternally difficult questions.

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