I’m still standing

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:

Knock Knock

Who’s there?


Owen who?

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.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Sean, hearty congratulations on your first win. Having seen your boys a couple of times this year, there’s no way you were an 0-11 side. But U12 Gold in the Yarra Junior Footy League is about as tough as it gets this year. If I was an AFL scout I’d be paying attention.
    MOC (aka President, Fitzroy Junior FC, currently second bottom in U12 Gold)

  2. pamela sherpa says

    Fantastic Sean.

  3. Brilliant Sean. Greatly please for you and your boys

    Loved the read.

  4. You, an your team, rock. Great story, great effort.


  5. Now the AFL Players association will be hanging out for ‘Burger Vouchers’ in all their contracts Sean.

  6. No rotations; everyone stays in their position; kick long. Who’d have thought?? I think they were the instructions that Ron Zilm gave us before Yorketown’s 1970 Senior Colts Premiership win over Minlaton in the Southern Yorke Peninsula League.
    Ron had played under the legendary Foster Williams (Choco’s Dad) at Port Adelaide, so he knew a thing or two about footy.
    You have found the Lost Ark of the Coaching Covenant, Sean. Stay bloody out of it. Encouragement, fear and hot soup seem to be the most important qualities.
    Now we just have to convince the 18 AFL dopes.
    Well done to you and the Sensational Seventeen. Great yarn.

  7. Keiran Deck says

    I can remember a similar ratio when I was playing in U12s, Sean. Actually, I can’t, but I can remember all the losing. The other thing I remember, though, is my coach’s passion rolling in joy rather than anger he usually dished out when we beat the second worst team in the comp. It was a big day for the aptly named Cubs. Congrats on the win and thanks for the read.

  8. Love it Yvette. Really admire your attitude to life. Your range of talents and passions is wonderful.
    Gwilt’s hair – and lair and flair. Wonder if they all go together.

  9. Great yarn, Sean and congrats on both wins.

  10. Thanks all.

    The win was a lot less about coaching and positional moves than motivation and guts, something I agree Peter B is often lost in the over complicated world of today’s footy.

    It wasn’t quite ‘kick it long to Snake’ or ‘don’t think, DO!’ but it was more about appealing to their heart, not necessarily their footy skills.

    MOC, thanks for the support. Our low point was against your mighty Roys 3 games back (and it is still wonderful to see that jumper being worn in games) when we were held goalless, so happy to have bounced back. Looking forward to the final round clash, drop by and say hi if you are there.

    Hmm, the Sensational 17? I think I can see a limited edition signed and authenticated photo of the team and scorebard and signatures on sale with WWOS for $995 plus P&H over summer. Limited edition to just 500, collectors edition…


  11. Surely not a limited edition, Sean. The run of wins leading up to the finals (you will sneak in on %) surely takes away the scarcity value.

  12. Bill Lawry says

    Sensational seventeen sounds sensational. You should hook up with my mate Tony G . He moves memorabillia like a mofo

  13. Jules Collins says

    Great stuff coach! I need your advice for my Year 8 Scotch Team, we return to the season with not a win to our name. The mercy rule becomes a game plan that we rely on nearly every week.

  14. John Harms says

    Love the yarn Sean.

    Jules, what you need is a Team Reporter, to file a few match reports for The Junior Almanac page. That may act as motivation. Would love to hear a yarn from your crew.

  15. Great stuff coach. Now we just have to have all “the boys” write about how they have rolled the dice and fought the fight to win in the end. Keep it coming Sean and best of luck to the team this weekend.

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