On The Bench

During the semi-finals stage of the National Diversity Cup held here in Cairns over the past week, the Queensland Kickstart team allowed me to sit with them on the coaching bench to watch and hear what goes on “behind the scenes”. It was a rewarding experience, and it went something like this…


“One…Two…three…” The players are sitting stretching their hammies, quads, calves and counting the hold. You can see in their eyes this drill is the start. It is serious now. They are about to run out for what might be their last match together. A loss and their championships are finished. A win and they live to fight on to the preliminaries.


They stand and the warm up continues. Clean hands. Close handpasses. Shouting, screaming, encouraging…getting pumped.


Eddie Sansbury calls them into line groups – forward, mids, defenders. He tells the forwards to push up field. They are not tall, so get up and get the ball. Make it happen.


He moves to the defenders. A reminder to get arms across chests. Know where their man is at all times. Make sure they hit targets. That’s their job. Keep possession, then get the ball out of there.


Coach, Rhan Hooper, gets the lads together. Quiet voice. Calm. He asks them to recite the words on the back of the whiteboard. “Pride”, “Hard at the Ball”, “Committed”. The mantra for their time together at these championships.


Rhan reminds them it’s possibly their last game together and throws out a question – “Do you want that?” A resounding “NO!”


Now it’s time. The players leave the change rooms and gather in the race. They stay close…run out as a team. There is a palpable feeling of excitement as the players run through a guard of honour made by their All Nations team mates and onto Cazaly’s Stadium.


The coaches move to the bench. Rhan remains the epitomy of calmness. He knows it’s up to them now. The boys know it is raining and instinctively play to the conditions. Some set plays work…others fall down in the wet, so they improvise.  Some great lead up work sees the team kick a valuable goal into the wind.


The bench becomes vocal. “Keep working”, they yell – a reminder that a passage of play is done, but the game isn’t.  Eddie sees things. So does Rhan. Sometimes they discuss, other times the assistant coach/runner just knows to get the message out quickly. His coach has faith in him.


The New South Wales/ACT team has taken the lead. No need to panic. Just stick with the pre-game plan. Defenders get tight.  The siren goes. Half the match is done.


At the half-time huddle, the players again head to their line groups. Rhan and Eddie move between each with messages, but the players are encouraged to self talk. Self assess. They talk each other up.


The messages follow from coaches. One half to go.

“Play to your strengths.”

”Find a man.”

“Kick through the corridor with the wind, if not, use your 45’s and head to boundary.”

“Push up. Follow ball.”


Again, the message: “Is this our last half of footy?”


The second half starts. Everything is recognised. “Good work. Good work” becomes the catch cry. Along with “Keep working. Keep working.”


The coaches keep looking at the whiteboard. Moves are made. Eddie heads out again with messages. Moves.


The boys attack, but New South Wales pushes wide to boundary. But great reward for effort sees the Queensland boys get a goal. The boys needed that and the coaches can see it. Belief trickles back. The wind is strong, but the conditions are wet. It negates the wind, so the message continues. “Keep working. Keep working.”


New South Wales/ACT return fire. Two and a half minutes to go now and Queeensland are 14 points down. “Keep working. Keep working.”


But other than the mantra, the bench is quiet now. Nothing can be done from here. It is up to the players to run it out from here. Their own pride is their last chance, so they maintain their pressure to the end. The coaches know that and can see it. The old saying coming to life – “You ran it out to the end.”


Siren. Job done. Rhan, Eddie and coaches move to a huddle – final messages, thoughts. Time now to ponder.


Rhan brings the group in tight in the middle. Game is over but the team isn’t. Gives the message to keep heads up high. Be proud. Reminds the team they were down in numbers. No interchange due to injuries, but all players kept fighting. Yep, be VERY proud.


He reminds the players that the pride extends to the entire trip. All of their time together. Keep chasing their goals. “Head down, bum up.”


He reminds the boys that the scoreboard doesn’t matter. It was a great game to watch and they all did the team proud. That is the note to finish on…PRIDE!


Eddie and Rhan tell the boys their job isn’t done. From here they have to rally behind their state All Nations team which is very much a chance to win the title.


The coaches let the boys leave and head to the refreshing showers. They move but stop. The team leaders rally the players around and give heartfelt thanks to the coaches for their efforts since the first day the squad came together months ago. It is touching – and deserved.


The whole team moves to the grandstand. Some photos along the way and pats on the back, then down the race to the rooms.


This look at the mechanics of a match coaching session could not have happened without the kind and appreciated co-operation of Rhan Hooper and his coaching team: Eddie Sansbury, Dwayne Weetra and Travis Gulliver.  Similarly, the permission of Narelle Long, Kashif Bouns and Keith Shangere from the AFL Diversity departments in Melbourne and Brisbane got me onto the field.


It was a unique look at how an elite junior squad is prepared and managed during a match – the art of coaching.



For the record, the final score saw New South Wales/ACT win 5  2  32 to Queensland 3  0  18.


But their All Nations team-mates went on to create history and win their first ever title at this carnival. They are all part of the team – Queensland. They all deserve to be proud. 

About Wesley Hull

Passionate lover of Australian Rules football. Have played and coached the game and now spend my time writing about the game I love and introducing young people to the game through school coaching. Will try and give back to the game what it has given me for more that 40 years.

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