KOROIT favourite son Chris McLaren says the Saints wouldn’t be in Saturday’s grand final if he was still coach.
McLaren, a three-time premiership player and dual premiership captain, says coach Adam Dowie has transformed the Saints in his first year at the helm.
McLaren announced before last year’s finals series that he would be stepping down after two years as coach. He took Koroit to within one point of a grand final berth in a heartbreaking 2011 preliminary final before leading the club to an elimination final exit last season.
The key defender is lining up for his sixth grand final appearance with the club on Saturday, vindicated by his decision to stand aside and let the club inject new blood into the coaching ranks.
“Not for one minute do I think I could be coaching in a grand final this week,” McLaren said yesterday.
“I don’t think we would be there if I was coaching. I would much rather be playing in one than coaching and bombing out in the elimination final (like last year).”
McLaren said he had known for some time both he and the club had made right decisions.
“I certainly knew it was the right move long before we made the grand final, even before we won 10 straight at the start,” he said.
“Even before that, when he (Dowie) came in and Tempy (Isaac Templeton) came straight home and Jayden Brennan, Seamus Blake and Eli Barker came on board, that was it for me. There was a real buzz around the place.
“I didn’t regret it the minute the momentum started to turn and the buzz around the place started. I’ve always tried to do what’s best for the club.”
McLaren said the club, which had a history of internal coaching appointments for 19 seasons, while successful, had limited its recruiting base.
He had wondered before he took on the job if the club needed to look outside and during his final year he knew it.
“The job was mine if I had wanted it,” he said.
He suggested the club look at “a bloke in Warrnambool who doesn’t have a job yet and I don’t even know if he will be interested”.
That person was Dowie — the first outsider since Noel Mugavin in 1994, to coach the Saints.
McLaren said Dowie’s arrival had sharpened up the club. “It was just little things that crept in, from guys in the reserves to committee members and helpers, they were just in cruise mode. ‘We are going OK, we’ve got no dramas, everything is OK’.
“But to keep up with Warrnambool and Cobden and you can see the direction North Warrnambool Eagles are going, we had to keep getting better.”
McLaren said the Saints were on the edge of a cliff — they could either go up or down.
Dowie’s appointment meant they were going up.
He said players like Maskell Medal-winner Ben Goodall had summed up the impetus Dowie created when he revealed in his acceptance speech on Sunday that he felt he had to impress the new leader.
McLaren was swept up in the buzz of the new coach. He did a considerable amount of training before the pre-season.
The 33-year-old has shown the benefits this season by turning defence into attack with searching runs off half-back, highlighted late in the second semi-final with a shot at a goal.
McLaren said regardless of Saturday’s result, 2013 had been one of the most enjoyable of his long and distinguished career.
But a fourth premiership medal on Saturday would make it even sweeter.