News Store
Important notice to all NewStore users. The NewsStore service is now free! Please click here for more information. Help

Sunday Age

Playing in Mick country

Author: Adam McNicol
Date: 12/09/2004
Words: 1754
Source: SAG
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: Sport
Page: 16
Mick McGuane, a player to remember, has become a coach they'll never forget, writes Adam McNicol.

A week ago, something extraordinary happened in the coaching career of Mick McGuane.

His team lost.

Since he led Northern Tasmanian league club Burnie to an undefeated premiership in 2001, the champion Collingwood ruck-rover has put together an almost unrivalled coaching resume.

In the past four seasons, his teams have lost only four matches, the most recent of which came in very dramatic circumstances, when Gisborne was beaten in extra-time by Sandhurst in the Bendigo league second semi-final.

Aiming for their third successive flag, the Bulldogs had gone into the match with confidence but were outplayed by a youthful and desperate Dragons outfit.

While the loss has hurt Gisborne's chances of a hat-trick, and set back McGuane's quest for four premierships in a row, it is just a small hiccup in the journey of a man desperate to make it back to the highest level.

McGuane grew up in Sebastopol and stood out while playing junior football for the Kookaburras in the Ballarat league.

In 1985, as just a skinny teenager, he was promoted to the senior side and played in Sebastopol's grand final loss to North Ballarat.

"The sour taste that was left in my mouth I never want to revisit," said McGuane, who has since been involved in five grand finals as a player or coach and won them all.

Ignored by St Kilda, which had the Ballarat region as part of its recruiting zone, he quickly caught the eye of Collingwood scouts and joined the Magpies for the 1986 season. He played in the under-19s premiership, the team toppling Denis Pagan's all-powerful North Melbourne side in the grand final.

McGuane made his senior debut in 1987 and over the next decade wrote himself into Magpie folklore. During his playing stint at Victoria Park, he was a key member of the drought-breaking 1990 premiership team and won two Copeland Trophies.

After an ill-fated year at Carlton in 1997, McGuane retired and returned to Collingwood, where he worked in the marketing department.

In 2000, McGuane accepted his first coaching appointment at Burnie. He also took on the position of general manager.

It took a year for his philosophies of discipline and fitness to rub off on the players but the side gelled so well in 2001, it went through the season undefeated.

The team had an average age of 21, proving McGuane's abilities to nurture young players. Among his charges was a 15-year-old Luke Shackleton, who later progressed to the Tassie Mariners before being drafted by Collingwood. He made his senior debut this season.

On returning to Victoria, McGuane landed the coaching job at Gisborne, a club based 50 kilometres north-west of Melbourne that had dominated the Riddell District league in the late 1990s. Seeking stronger competition, it transferred to the Bendigo league in 2000 but struggled initially.

McGuane took charge of a team that had won only three games in 2001. He immediately asserted his authority by demanding players train three nights a week, not just during pre-season but right through winter as well.

Videotaping of games was introduced, along with in-depth statistical analysis of each match and of the other Bendigo league teams.

"I pride myself on doing a lot of analysis on our opposition," McGuane said. "Being a country bloke with a lot of friends, I have a fair network to call on."

The results were stunning. Gisborne lost just one game in 2002 on its way to defeating Golden Square in the grand final, before going back-to-back last year with a 47-point win over Eaglehawk.

Followers of the eight other Bendigo league clubs hoped the Gisborne players might finally lose their hunger for success this season. It hasn't happened, the Bulldogs again finishing on top of the ladder, having lost just one home-and-away match.

McGuane said he used a simple formula to keep his team at the top.

"Footballers become creatures of habit," he said. "We just basically revolve our training around doing the right things over and over again. We really try to teach and educate our players the right habits through the training weeks and from that we get a pretty good, consistent starting point.

"I think there are some basic fundamentals that haven't changed over the 100 years of footy. I think a lot of science goes into the game but there's still realistically only three phases: we've got it, they've got it or it's in dispute. Why complicate it when that's basically the fundamentals of the game?"

Last weekend, the Bulldogs began their finals campaign when they took on Sandhurst - a club that makes the finals almost every year but hasn't won a premiership since 1983 - in the second semi-final at Bendigo's Queen Elizabeth Oval.

Although Gisborne's only loss for the season had been against the Dragons, McGuane's team went into the match as hot favourites, its chances of a big win boosted by the return of giant full-forward Steven Reaper from a knee injury.

All looked to be going to plan at quarter-time, when the Bulldogs, fresh after a week's rest, led by a goal.

Rover Simon Elsum, who played his early football at Kyneton but has since spent time at Kangaroo Flat and Yarrawonga, had constantly driven Gisborne forward, where Reaper looked dangerous, although not terribly fit.

The Bulldogs had efficiently combined relentless running with long, direct kicking, a style of play McGuane learnt while playing under Leigh Matthews at Collingwood.

"In terms of logic and realism, he taught me a lot about the game and also how to handle things," McGuane said. "I regard him highly as a mentor of mine and I often talk to him over the phone if there's an issue I haven't got an answer to."

However, the Dragons just wouldn't go away, only Sandhurst's terrible kicking for goal keeping Gisborne in the match through the second and third quarters.

Rather than watch the match from one of the QEO's coaches' boxes, located high in the historic grandstand, McGuane, dressed in a tracksuit and a pair of well-worn runners, patrolled the boundary line, his eyes scanning the field through a pair of dark glasses.

At the last change, Sandhurst led by a goal, yet there was no panic from McGuane. So quiet was his address that supporters standing barely five metres away from the huddle could not hear a word.

In a gripping last quarter, Gisborne came from 12 points down to snatch a draw when spring-heeled forward Jordan Barham, who in recent years spent time at both Port Adelaide and St Kilda, kicked a goal with just seconds left on the clock.

The only time McGuane lost his ice-cool look was deep in the second period of extra-time, when a controversial umpiring decision close to the Bulldogs' bench triggered an outburst of frustration.

It is not the first time the Bendigo league's umpires have raised his ire. In one Gisborne match earlier this season, the men in white had players, coaches and supporters tearing their hair out when they dished out an extraordinary 72 free kicks. "The umpires need to get up to speed with modern interpretations," McGuane said.

Eventually, a goal from Dragons veteran Matt Sexton put Gisborne down by four points.

Bulldogs president Roger Toll was left to sum up the feeling of disappointment, while McGuane kept his players locked in a lengthy team meeting after the game. "We had a couple of soft games coming in and I don't think the week off did us any good," Toll said.

Yesterday, the Bulldogs recovered to defeat Eaglehawk and set up a grand final rematch against Sandhurst. It will be an eagerly awaited clash and should draw a huge crowd.

Many Bendigo league followers are predicting Gisborne will capitulate when McGuane leaves but he points to how Burnie has fared since his departure.

"The boys over there have gone on to win the next three since I left," he said. "So it just goes to show we left the joint in pretty good shape."

In the coming week, McGuane will mix preparations for the big game with his continuing search for a role in the AFL.

By writing for Inside Football and doing special comments on the National Indigenous Radio Service's broadcasts of Friday night matches, he has stayed in touch with developments at the highest level.

But he admits that after seven years out of the system, he is not ready to be a senior AFL coach. Last week, he had an informal discussion with new Richmond coach Terry Wallace and remains in the running for a position at the club.

He is confident his reputation for enjoying a drink and a bet will not hurt his prospects.

"I think people in footy know how hard it is to win a game of footy, let alone to win three premierships in succession, going for my fourth," McGuane said. "People know I'm doing something right. You just can't manufacture victories. You'd like to. But if you could, there would be a lot more good coaches."

Much has been made of the Brisbane Lions' attempt to win four premierships in a row. Next Saturday in Bendigo, Mick McGuane is a big chance to beat them to the feat.

GISBORNE FOOTBALL CLUB

MICK McGUANE

VFL-AFL career: Collingwood 1987-96, Carlton 1997

Games: 155

Goals: 129

Individual honours:

Collingwood best and fairest (Copeland Trophy) 1992-93, All-Australian 1992

GISBORNE FOOTBALL CLUB

Founded: about 1879

Competition: Bendigo Football League

Home Ground: Gardiner Reserve

Guernsey: Royal blue with red and white horizontal stripes

Nickname: The Bulldogs

Premierships: 11? 1934, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1978-79, 1997-99 (Riddell District FL),

2002-03 (Bendigo FL)

BENDIGO FL LADDER AFTER

HOME-AND-AWAY MATCHES

Gisborne 68 217.5

Sandhurst 64 161.4

Eaglehawk 48 152.1

Castlemaine 48 105.8

Maryborough 40 104.4

Golden Square 36 90.3

South Bendigo 32 85.6

Kyneton 12 55.7

Kangaroo Flat 12 42.9

RECENT BENDIGO FL

PREMIERS

2003 Gisborne

2002 Gisborne

2001 Golden Square

2000 Castlemaine

1999 Maryborough

1998 Maryborough

1997 Kyneton

1996 Kangaroo Flat

1995 Kyneton

1994 South Bendigo

VFL-AFL PLAYERS FROM GISBORNE

BRENT REILLY

AFL club: Adelaide

AFL debut: 2002

Games: 21

Goals: 5

A quick midfielder, Reilly was recruited by Adelaide in the 2001 AFL national draft. He played only seven games in his first two seasons but this year showed his enormous talent while playing 14 matches for the Crows. Reilly was the round-16 nomination for the AFL?s Rising Star award after collecting 22 possessions against Fremantle.

ALEX GARDINER SNR

VFL club: Footscray 1925-26

Games: 23

Goals: 0

ALEX GARDINER JNR

VFL club: Footscray 1955-62

Games: 91

Goals: 18

A clever and elusive wingman like his father, Gardiner played in the Bulldogs' 1961 grand final loss to Hawthorn. He later returned to Gisborne and played alongside his brothers Peter and Eddie, who both ran out for the Bulldogs more than 300 times. The Gisborne football ground is named after the Gardiner family.

 
Back  Back to Search Results
 

Advertise with Us | Fairfax Digital Privacy Policy | Conditions of Use | Member Agreement
© 2014 Fairfax Digital Australia & New Zealand Ltd.