The Simpson


Yes the Bucks story is a ripper … but

The Simpson story is equally compelling and enthralling. In its way, maybe more so. It is just a different, less fashionable genre.

Maybe because he’s a decent guy, what Yanks would call a clean-cut kid, there is no real story to get excited over. A one club player, with 300 plus games under his belt and only the third player at North to hit that impressive milestone. Playing alongside greats like Carey and Archer a guy like Simpson might just get forgotten. He captained the Roos all the way to a Prelim.

Bucks and Simpson’s long run up to this big clash wasn’t dissimilar. Both played through the 90s and 2000s, with Bucks retiring in 2007 and Simpson in 2009. Both are accomplished footballers. Bucks has more individual honours through his esteemed career but Simpson has two Premierships as a player to his name.

Both moved directly into coaching following their footy playing career.  In this they have experienced highs and more than their fair share of lows.

Simpson did his coaching apprenticeship under Clarko, considered one of the remarkable thinkers and innovators of our great code. However, I reckon Simpson’s concept of coaching was developed under another great innovator in his old Roos coach Denis Pagan. The Age reported that following the Grand Final Pagan said, “He had been hard on Simpson as a player, suggesting that the fact a bond remained between the pair said a lot about Simpson’s character”.

In 2013 Simpson took on the coaching role at West Coast. To digest what this could mean to Simpson if things went wrong you really have to appreciate the West’s antipathy to the East. Bucks’ segue from Assistant to Senior Coach at Collingwood was predestined (even if the actual process played out like a dog’s breakfast). Simpson is only the second non West Australian to take the reins in 30 years. His appointment was met with howls of protest as one of the Eagles Hall of Famers (Sumich) was ignored. Simpson took on the job after another Eagles hero, Worsfold (Captain for two Premierships, coach for another) stepped down after a disastrous season in 2012. That’s right, Simpson, knowingly accepted he might well be walking into his worst nightmare.

Two years later he had that team in a Grand Final. They lost (got smacked) and with their tail between their legs, they licked their wounds all the way through the next two seasons as their stocks continued to fall. At the start of 2018 many footy pundits had the Eagles outside the Top Eight. One Premiership expert even giving them wooden spoon status. This is Simpson’s story. And still it had more bad news to come.

Nic-Nat, Gaff, Sheppard are just three of the key outs the Eagles suffered through the second half of this ultra-competitive season. In any AFL team they would be in your Top 10 players. Each of their exits for the year could have generated a pessimism that even a seasoned coach would find difficult to quell. But Simpson continued to massage the message while maintaining training at a level to match and surpass the competition.

A fascinating yet understandable narrative developed during the finals series as the number of Premiership contenders slowly pared down to two. The Pies and Bucks story. This consumed the footy public, especially in Victoria. Meanwhile, the Eagles did what they did (like beat the Pies in the Qualifying final and then smashed the Dees dream to smithereens) and there was hardly a glance westward to, you know, a really big story building. Such is the power of myth (think Dogs in 2016, Tiges 2017). Then there is that elephant in the room in which Victorians think the AFL is an iteration of the VFL. People “wanted” a particular campfire story. But this is a competition and the winner gets to tell the story.

The 2018 Premiership was as much down to the coaching as it was the game. Simpson was simply superb. Without taking anything away from Bucks, it was Adam Simpson’s cool, calm, collected, calculated, cunning and clever coaching that swung the game bit by bit, back in the Eagles favour after the Pies first 25 minutes stunned the shit out of, well, everybody.

The first goal in the Second was kicked after 20 minutes of hard, desperate, pressured footy. Some of the best footy played for the year. Without a goal being kicked. It was a battle of backlines and the Eagles were better. By half time, the Eagles had clawed a 29 point deficit back to 12 points. Simpson’s Eagles knew, this is doable. Midway through the Third the Eagles hit the front. The lead would keep changing until that Sheed goal. The game, down to the wire, was a matter of nerves, skill and strategy.

Simpson’s directives especially regarding Sidebottom and Cox (and maybe De Goey) was the wafer thin difference in a comparison of coaching moves. These directives, effectively shutting down the best player of the finals and the player who might just have lifted the crowd, were both pragmatic and metaphoric. They were both story arcs and story connotations. Simpson knows this lark called footy as well as anybody ever has and in this Grand Final he showed he knows the story of the game better than most who get paid to tell it.


Read more Grand Final reports and articles HERE

About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin', out on the job Work like the devil for my pay But that lucky old sun has nothin' to do But roll around Heaven all day


  1. Very nice work Trucker. Why does everyone in the West think we ignore them and hate them, over here in Victoria? We love our Western Australian cousins. After all we’ve been financially supporting them all for 120 years!

  2. Matt Quartermaine says

    Spot on Ricky, it’s a national competetion and there’s more than one narrative on Grand Final day. Completed with an appalling joke by Dips.The GIF going arund showing Simpson at the final siren is very moving.

  3. Brilliant Rick. Despite his 300 games and being one of eighteen senior coaches, he doesn’t attract much attention probably as there’s no confected narrative. To come back from five goals down in a low scoring game, at the MCG, has to be one of the all time great coaching performances.

    I also like your references to myth, arc and stories. These are fundamental to our game.

    I missed 2005 (asleep in England) and 2006 (butchering a golf course) so this, for me, is one of the great finals, leaving aside the draw.

    Thanks Rick.

  4. Thanks for this, Trucker.

    I have not forgotten Adam Simpson and the service he gave to North Melbourne. In fact, I want him to come back and coach the Kangaroos. Now!

  5. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Spot on Slim,
    Simpson should be coach of the year as should have Clarko in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015.
    What a ridiculously misplaced award. Why can’t they wait until after the GF to award it? Bucks has been wonderful but Simpson won the day with his moves to thwart Grundy and Sidebottom.

  6. Simpson superb on gf day the quelling of Grundy playing him nearly man on man just so vital along with
    Hutchings incredible job on Sidebottom the coaches nailed that well and truly.I will admit I was pissed off with him re the Nic Nat obvious suspension early in the year he wasted a chance to educate the footy public bizarre and ridiculous to claim he did nothing wrong yet be practicing trying to change,Nic Nats tackling technique the very next morning and for mine re Gaff I was and still are re the angle he owed WC but hey he won a flag in a epic

  7. Well said Trucker. Tactically astute goes without saying. But getting a group of young men to love him and themselves and want to play for each other is a remarkable achievement. So much behind the scenes we will never know.
    Much has deservedly been made of the Clarko legacy and coaching family tree. Without doubt the most tactically/strategically astute coach of all time – and WCE has benefited in that through Simpson and Mitchell (your next coach?). But the Pagan legacy as a man management/motivator coach has been undersold. Clarko/Longmire/Simpson and Hardwick (under 19’s) all felt his tough love. Wonderful symmetry to see Pagan presenting the Jock McHale (ouch) Medal.
    Still living the dream. I will see if we can get the visa restrictions lifted so you can come home and share the love sometime soon.

  8. Simon Quartermaine says

    As a West Australian and Eagles member well done Trucker a great insight to the Coach of our Year and from a Melbourne City point of view we don’t care we have the Cup again. Is Dips short for Dipstick?

  9. Hey Simon. With you 100% on the Eagles and SImmo. Just letting you know us long term Almanackers have a fine line in ‘tongue in cheek’ poking bears in cages with sticks – banter. Us WA and SA Knackers have been giving it to them (see my and Dips is just giving as good as he got – returning fire.
    I know its an acquired taste – but hold fire on the judgements for a while. We have the Cup and they have the regrets. Dips (Damian) is the lifeblood of keeping the Almanac alive and does countless voluntary hours. For a Geelong supporter he is quite a decent human being.

  10. Simon Quartermaine says

    Hey Peter_B all you need is a sense of humour we have it here.

  11. Thank you for your kind words.

    Dips, I reckon it’s closer to 190 years.

    Matt, this piece was triggered by the first Ch 7 shot after the siren. They went to Bucks not Simpson. I shook my head in disbelief.

    Yes, MR, the bit by bit claw back, where we hardly saw a panic move really impressed me.

    True Smokie, the Roos need someone as good as the Simpson.

    LB, not sure that the Premiership coach should automatically be awarded coach of the year but in 2018 it is hard to fathom how he missed out.

    RB, yes the Grundy trap was the other big one. Simpson hit the ruck work, the midfield, the big man and the goal sneak and then let his game plan like gas take over.

    PB, my piece is a mere observation compared with the brilliant and moving piece, Father’s Day by John Gordon. His examples of Simpson and individual players and care and empathy really helped me see Adam Simpson more clearly.

    Hi Simon, your team won, you get to ride the gravy train for the next year!

    Onya one and all. Cheers

  12. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    I’m coming to these GF pieces very late after some heavy deadlines. But I’m actually loving what the distance is giving them.

    I have to say, Rick, I too have enormous admiration for the ‘bit by bit’ and you’re right to point it out. It’s a quality or rhythm which gets sped over a great deal these days.

    That is a ripper of a final paragraph!

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