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Sunday Age

McGuane is Balwyn's big prize

Author: Adam McNicol
Date: 22/04/2007
Words: 1096
Source: SAG
          Publication: The Sunday Age
Section: Sport
Page: 14
Balwyn's hiring of Mick McGuane as coach has attracted former AFL players to the ambitious club, Adam McNicol writes

LOCAL football, in the country and city, is awash with ex-AFL players. Many clubs are pinning their hopes for the 2007 season on one or more drawcards from the big league.

Among the most notable signings in the Victorian Country Football League is former St Kilda backman Justin Peckett, who has returned to Karingal on the Mornington Peninsula, and fellow ex-Saint Troy Schwarze, who is coaching Sorrento.

But it is in suburban Melbourne that the most audacious recruiting spree has taken place. Balwyn Football Club is heading into its historic first season in the Eastern Football League with a list that has put its new rivals, including the powerful trio of Vermont, Noble Park and East Ringwood, on notice.

The Tigers have snared former Hawthorn and Carlton midfielder Daniel Harford, fellow ex-Hawks Nick Ries and Marcus Baldwin, and one-time St Kilda forward Allan Murray. Also on board are former Richmond and Collingwood ruckman Brad Smith and Adam Morgan, who spent three seasons with the Western Bulldogs.

But that impressive list doesn't include the man Balwyn's board members regard as their biggest prize: new coach Mick McGuane.

The one-time dashing wingman, who went from Sebastopol to become a champion at Collingwood, has established a record in the past decade as one of the nation's premier local coaches. He has won multiple premierships with Burnie in Tasmania and Gisborne in the Bendigo league.

In 2005, the 39-year-old finally got the chance to test his renowned football knowledge in the AFL. He was appointed a part-time scout by new Richmond coach Terry Wallace. Last year, he secured a full-time job on St Kilda's coaching staff, under Grant Thomas. But Thomas' departure led to McGuane resigning after only one season.

"I haven't walked away from the AFL for one moment," McGuane said. "But it was about a decision I had to make because I didn't know if the new St Kilda coach was going to put a broom through the joint. And obviously they did. I felt I was hanging out to dry waiting to get shot between the eyes and I wasn't prepared to wait around like that."

The Saints' loss was Balwyn's gain. Club president Richard Wilson knew the Tigers needed a big-name coach if they were to make a success of their move from the Southern Football League, where they finished third last year, to the Eastern league, regarded as the best local competition in Australia.

"I reckon he would have to be the best community coach in Australia," Wilson said. "He's got a footy mind that's at an AFL level."

Wilson is no stranger to dealing with elite players and coaches. A successful businessman, he was one of the founding fathers of the Melbourne Victory A-League club.

Having just taken on the job as co-host of the breakfast show on radio Sport 927, McGuane jumped at the chance to be a senior coach again. He immediately set about building a squad to compete against the poker machine-backed giants of football in Melbourne's east.

"He's attracted the players to us," Wilson said. "You don't get Allan Murray or Adam Morgan or Nick Ries without a drawcard. They've all got the option of going back to their private school old boys' teams or elsewhere, but they're thinking, 'I can come to Balwyn and play Eastern (division) one and play under Mick McGuane.' That's a big deal for them."

But the addition of the ex-AFL talent has not alienated Balwyn's loyal servants. "I've learnt as much in the last four or five months as I have in the last five years," said defender and 2006 captain Jarrad Dooley. "You look at the game in a whole new light.

"He's managed to keep the existing players happy. He says if you're good enough, train hard and step up and you'll get a game. He's made sure the boys don't think just because the AFL blokes are here they're not going to get a game."

The Tigers make their drought-delayed Eastern league debut next Saturday, when they host Lilydale. "Rather than playing Vermont or Noble Park straight up, Lilydale's probably not a bad benchmark to see where we're at," Wilson said.

"We would expect with our list and our depth that if we didn't make the five, there would be something horribly wrong. That's probably beyond what we thought we'd be able to do, but people have come from everywhere to jump on and join up. Our sponsorships have trebled."

The match will be a huge milestone for Wilson and his fellow board members, who regard the hard-won move east as the first step in making Balwyn Football Club a community focal point.

Despite winning four premierships from 1997-2000, Wilson said Balwyn struggled to gain support because the locals had no connection with Melbourne's southern suburbs. "There were mergers of leagues through the '50s and '70s and eventually Balwyn found itself in the Southern league," he said. "It was the wrong league for this club to be in. On-field, we were really successful but player list-wise, we were as broke as the next club. Suburban footy's pretty tough. If you're not playing in a league that gives you some opportunity to grow with your community and business community, you're dead."

This season, Balwyn will field an under-18 team for the first time. It's all part of Wilson's grand plan to make the Tigers the dominant sporting club in the affluent City of Boroondara. And although it might not seem initially obvious, he says there are many similarities with his work at Melbourne Victory.

"Here you have got one club in the Eastern Football League in Boroondara. It's a unique community proposition. We've got one big team in one community. As opposed to relying on gaming, our model is to bring businesses in and have people power."

EASTERN FOOTBALL LEAGUE 2007

BALWYN FOOTBALL CLUB

FOUNDED 1922

COMPETITION

Eastern Football League

NICKNAME The Tigers

GUERNSEY

Black with white and yellow stripes and a stylised tiger

HOME GROUND

Balwyn Park

PREMIERSHIPS: 9

1927 (VFL Sub-District)

1933 (Eastern Suburban FL)

1989 (S. East Suburban FL)

1997-2000, 2003, 2005 (Southern FL)

WEBSITE

www.balwyntigers.com.au

BALWYN'S EX-AFL PLAYERS

- DANIEL HARFORD

Clubs: Hawthorn, Carlton

- NICK RIES

Club: Hawthorn

- MARCUS BALDWIN

Club: Hawthorn

- ALLAN MURRAY

Clubs: Port Adelaide, St Kilda

- BRETT MOYLE

Club: St Kilda

- SAM CRANAGE

Club: St Kilda, Carlton

- ADAM MORGAN

Clubs: Port Adelaide, Western Bulldogs

- BRAD SMITH

Clubs: Richmond, Collingwood

LAST 10 DIVISION ONE PREMIERS

1997 Vermont

1998 Vermont

1999 East Burwood

2000 East Burwood

2001 Vermont

2002 East Ringwood

2003 Noble Park

2004 Noble Park

2005 Vermont

2006 Vermont

 
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