Mentoring Dennis Armfield (Carlton FC)

Having agreed to mentor Dennis Armfield, it was appropriate to conduct some research.

Easy enough to know has played 125 games and 57 goals, runs like the wind and won the Jim Stynes Community Service Award.

Wanted some independent information and comment.

Approached Falks, a passionate Carlton supporter with the task to write a SWOT analysis for Dennis’ prospects in 2016.

Expected a detailed report with supporting material, statistics, the odd graph, comment and a well reasoned conclusion.

The result however was a little different. His SWOT analysis is reproduced in full:

Strengths – Off field
Weaknesses – On field
Opportunities – Limited
Threats – Anyone on the rookie list

Unhelpful but instructive.

Suggests much work is required and altering perceptions of Dennis may be at the top of the list.

Fortunately others have a greater degree of confidence, although all would concede Dennis is no walk up start. At 29 years with a one year contract only, at a club with a new coach and which admits to rebuilding, the prospect of meaningful game time is by no means certain.

The key is not Dennis, but the new coach.

Have largely ignored anything to do with Dennis. Brendon Bolton has became the predominant focus, to the point of obsession. Spend evenings scouring the internet for records of everything he has said publicly about the Blues.

File notes of Brendon Bolton comments include:

– Press the rest button. The Carlton Football club is starting again.

– Players need to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. In other words players need to put themselves into positions where they have never been before

– Respect is earned. There is no such thing as entitlement

– Need to have an appropriate culture. Personnel with the right principles and with the right people to drive that culture. It will be player driven and have made no decisions on the leadership group.

– What has happened in your life defines you. Be authentic.

– It is a brutal industry. It’s a tough sport. It requires belief, sacrifice, commitment and the ability to work things out yourself. We will provide a first class learning environment. But coaches teach, and players do. The best players perform when it matters most and they take responsibility. These are the players we require at the club.

In a nutshell, those are the views which encapsulate the Bolton football philosophy. Little about football skills and more about character and attitude. It means Dennis has a chance – as for Dennis, it has only ever been the football side of things that has let him down.

The immediate task for Dennis was obvious.

The da mcdonnell (dam) mentoring text to Dennis stated:

Immediately send Brendon Bolton a Christmas card

Don’t waste time on seasons greetings.

Make mention of the following
o In all my time at Carlton we have never trained so hard. Feel like I am channeling Sam Mitchell. Love the tackling drills. Am learning so much.

o The new recruits are sensational, but will need time. Feel it is part of my role to work with them.

o The Odyssey House experiences leading to the Jim Stynes award has changed me as a person. There is no doubt my best football is ahead of me, and

o Disappointingly, some of the boys are taking off Christmas day. Are you free for a 20k run? (Suggest up Mt Dandenong at 6.00am).

Sign it “Bound by Blue” #27

That should put Dennis upper most in the coaches mind. The risk of course is that Bolton will actually take up the invitation for the run. Perhaps don’t send the card until the 23rd, so it won’t actually occur.

The second consideration came from the Chris Judd biography. A biography in which he makes no reference to Dennis. Will save that up for when Dennis writes his biography at the conclusion of his career.

The Judd point. Your greatest competitors come from within.

Forget Fyfe, Ablett and Pendlebury. The first aim is to get a game. Who stands in the way. The fringe flankers, taggers and defenders at the club. Whilst feigning camaraderie with the group, treat them as …………… perhaps, lesser club mates. Don’t like the term enemy. Don’t like the terms “white anting” undermining, “no friends in love & war”, “look after number one” etc – but apparently such quotes exists. In quiet moments these thoughts may run through Dennis’ mind. At least they may if reminded of them (frequently).

The second dam mentoring email to Dennis read:

Your aim in January through to March is as follows:

o Pair up with Ed Curnow for the long runs. The longer the better. Go hard early (and don’t forget the Serena taxi option),

o Make Zac Tuohy your sprint partner. Insist on 25m sprints, no more – that is your best distance. Don’t be afraid to anticipate the starters command – there are no appeals or replays at training. When he complains, talk of his disappointing lack of self discipline and team spirit.

o Choose David Ellard or Kristian Jaksch in tackle drills – you can manage them. Drive their noses into the turf, then apologise profusely as though you cannot fathom how that occurred. Then do it again next day.

o Avoid Sam Docherty in skills drills. If you are paired off, publicly give him advice so when he kicks 9 from 10 in set shots for goal – you take the credit and tell the coach how you feel you are influencing the group.

o Should any of those named above drive out of the car park using a hand held mobile device (as they all do) send photos to the Herald Sun as additions to the Bill Shorten photo club. Remind the leadership group of the need to set an example.

o Tell Kreuzer you are sole buddies having been taken in the same daft. That you will look out for him ……………… (with Kreuzer may have to spell out his reciprocal obligation)

o Befriend Andrew McKay whose official title is Head of Football, but the real title should read “powerbroker”. Remember a social function is an opportunity to confidentially confide to McKay of your concerns as to how Curnow, Tuohy et al are progressing and that selection is an opportunity to send a subtle message. He will appreciate that sort of feedback from a player.

Regards da mcdonell


If the actions proposed in the two emails are adopted (and confident will be so), will position Dennis nicely. Starting to feel much more confident as to his prospects.

The Dennis Armfield story is worth repeating.

Taken at no 46 in the 2007 National Draft. As stated, being the same draft as Matthew Kreuzer. Who has played more games? Correct – Dennis.

Born in ACT but grew up in Western Australia where his sport of choice was rugby. He came to Australian Rules late, playing seriously at age 17 years which explains why he was a somewhat mature recruit at almost 21 years of age.

He is fast. He has good kicking skills. He tackles ferociously. It must be said however, he does have some trouble getting his hands on the ball.

This year Dennis won the Jim Stynes Community Service Award for volunteer work with Odyssey House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. He also does work for the Carlton networking and mentoring scheme which will endear him to Brendon Bolton. There is no doubt he is a decent and popular individual at the Carlton Football club.

The reality is that in 2016 Dennis will compete with other players for the last few positions in the team. He is no certainty. It is critical Dennis communicates with the coaching staff to determine his expected role with the club. Whether it is to be a half back “run and carry” player, a tagger or to play up front to score goals. Perhaps all of the above.

For Dennis it is eye, eye, eye. Impress, inform, impose.

Impress – train hard and set standard to be part of the team in round one.
Informed – be aware as to expectations and the expected role.
Impose – Influence the game. Don’t spectate, contribute and make a difference.

Having adopted Dennis, am now passionately interested in his prospects and progress in 2016. You are welcome to follow the journey.

Regards da mcdonell (dam)

About da mcdonell

Established "dam Sports Crisis Managment" to salvage & reinvigorate flagging careers of elite athletes. In practice mentoring rather than coaching or managing in the traditional sense. In the Almanac, we focus on the AFL players of the "dam AFL sports team"


  1. Brin Paulsen says

    To borrow a turn of phrase from Ricky Ponting, these columns are right in my wheelhouse.

    Very enjoyable dam, looking forward to seeing how the season plays out for the blokes under your tutelage.

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