In the Sheds: PM rewards multi-talented Mifsud

By Paul Daffey

JASON Mifsud is a footballer who’s well known at all levels of the game, having achieved success as a playing-coach at Koroit in the Hampden Football League before becoming an assistant coach at St Kilda under Grant Thomas and the Western Bulldogs under Rodney Eade. In recent years Mifsud has worked with the AFL, first with indigenous youth and recently as the chief executive of the AFL Foundation, a body that encourages multiculturalism in footy. Mifsud, whose father is Maltese and mother Aboriginal, has always impressed as a leader. In 1994, when he was 21, he began working with the Warrnambool indigenous community at the same time as he began his coaching career, with a club just out of Warrnambool called Caramut. After 15 years of combining coaching and youth work, his efforts last week were recognised when Kevin Rudd presented him with an award in Canberra for being voted one of Australia’s top 10 emerging leaders. The 10 were chosen by a panel of business leaders, community leaders and politicians.

TO ROUND off a big week, Mifsud made his return to the field for Beaumaris, the club he coaches in C-section of the VAFA. The 36-year-old was doing well in a playmaking role across half-back before tackling Caulfield Grammarians midfielder Ben Carboni with a clenched fist in the third quarter. He was reported and sent off the ground for 15 minutes. Caulfield, which is coached by former Brisbane and St Kilda midfielder Steve Lawrence, took advantage of Mifsud’s absence to consolidate its lead and go on to a 43-point victory, confirming its position on top of the ladder. Beaumaris slipped down to fourth, behind Melbourne High School Old Boys and Ajax. Mifsud’s tribunal case was to be heard last night.

THE story of how Mifsud got to Beaumaris, like many coaching stories, was 20 years in the making. Mifsud made his senior-footy debut at Hampden league club Warrnambool when he was 15. His coach at Warrnambool was Grant Thomas. After every training session, Mifsud would write down every drill. It was a habit he maintained during playing stints at Mortlake, a rival Hampden league club where he played under current North Ballarat boss Gerard Fitzgerald, and St Kilda, where he played on a wing in the seconds. In early 2008, by when Grant Thomas was a former St Kilda coach, Beaumaris approached the Bayside identity to see whether he cared to resume his coaching career. Thomas declined, but pointed the club towards Mifsud, who was living in Cheltenham. Mifsud coached Beaumaris from the sidelines in 2008. He made his comeback in this season’s opening round and a fortnight later he picked up 36 possessions. The next week he tore his calf muscle. Before his playing return at Beaumaris’s Banksia Reserve on Saturday, Mifsud left the dressing-room to duck into the pre-match lunch. After answering questions about his meeting with the PM, he was asked whether he had a political career in mind for himself. He said he was yet to make a decision.

WHILE Mifsud was happy to accommodate a photo request by The Age before Saturday’s game, his counterpart was unwilling to appear in a picture with him. Caulfield Grammarians president Matthew Scholten said yesterday that Steve Lawrence had a strict pre-match routine that was reluctant to break for anyone. When The Age approached Lawrence at quarter-time for a picture on his own, the 33-year-old was again reluctant before agreeing to a quick snap. Lawrence is not playing at Caulfield so he can concentrate on his first season as a senior coach. Scholten said the club was impressed by Lawrence’s knowledge of the game and his rapport with young players. “He’s got them playing for him,” he said. Opposition contacts said Caulfield Grammarians were well-organised under Lawrence.

WHEN Scholten was asked whether Lawrence would consider a comeback, he said Lawrence was not even registered to play. To become registered, he would have to put in the paperwork by the June 30 deadline. Fraser Gehrig, Lawrence’s old mate from St Kilda, has helped out at training a couple of times but he must also register if he wants to play. “Something may eventuate,” Scholten said. “But at this stage there’s nothing.”

AMID all the attention on Mifsud and Lawrence, it’s worth pointing out that there’s at least one other VAFA C-section coach with an impeccable pedigree. Bernie Sheehy coached his first premiership team in 1975, when De La Salle won the VAFA B-section flag. He also coached Essendon reserves, Fitzroy reserves and Springvale seniors before hanging up his clipboard in 1994. Sheehy is considered to have one of the best footy brains in Melbourne but for a dozen years he’s spent every Saturday as a spectator, watching De La Salle with old mates. The passivity finally got to him and before this season he decided he wanted one last chance to coach. He spoke to St Bernard’s, a likely option given his history at fellow Catholic VAFA clubs North Old Boys and De La Salle, and Ajax, an unlikely option considering that all Ajax players are Jewish and Sheehy’s name is as Irish as Paddy’s pigs. Sheehy said yesterday he took the Ajax job because he wanted a challenge beyond his usual environment. “It was something different,” he said.

SHEEHY, who is a criminal barrister, yesterday was vague when asked about the incident in 1990 when he shocked Springvale officials by turning up for his coaching interview wearing thongs. “Those stories take up a life of their own,” he said. Ajax secretary Peter Kagan yesterday reported that Sheehy turned up for his Jackas interview wearing runners, as well as tracksuit pants and his best polo shirt, but more to the point he impressed with his footy knowledge and his knowledge of the club. On Saturday Sheehy guided the Jackas to a rare win at Parkdale, by 44 points, in between exchanging words with an opposition supporter. “Why don’t you shut up,” the spectator said. “You shut up,” Sheehy roared back. The coach is enjoying his Ajax challenge, but he admits to facing unfamiliar problems. “There’s a lot of study,” he said. “And a lot of travel.”

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