Mat, in November last year you were appointed the senior coach of South Warrnambool for the 2019 season. How has the preseason been for the Roosters in the countdown to this season, which kicks off on April 6?
It’s been very good. We started preseason training in November and worked solidly right up to Christmas.
We had all of January off, but the players all had training programs to do during that month. We resumed training in the first week of February.
We trained three nights in the week during February. Monday and Wednesday were coach's sessions while Friday nights were player-driven sessions. We’re doing the same in March.
I’ve been very impressed with the number of players we’ve had at training.
I think the least amount of players we’ve had on the training track has been 35. We understand as a club we’ve got to improve on our past performances.
I haven’t seen a lot of Hampden footy over the years because I’ve been out of the local area, so I’m still learning from other members of the coaching staff about other clubs and players from those clubs.
Koroit is the benchmark side in the competition. They have done an outstanding job for a small country town for years.
Sides like North Warrnambool and Warrnambool look like being big improvers this season, and undoubtedly as the season progresses other sides will put their hands up as they chase a berth in the finals.
It’s going to be an interesting season and I think it will be very even.
We’ve got some very good, young, talented players who are ready to take the next step. Our under 18s won the flag last year and the reserves just failed.
The long-term plan of the club is to develop from within, and that is something the coaching staff are encouraging.
I think it’s going to be an exciting time for players and supporters at South Warrnambool in the various grades.
Mat, what practice games have you got planned for the Roosters in the lead up to the 2019 season?
We play Leopold on March 16 and Geelong West St Peters on March 23.
We’ll use the practice games to ensure we’ve got our structures in place for the opening game of the season.
Both practice games will be a learning curve for the coaching group and the players. Fans will see we’ll have a different brand of footy when we take the field for the opening game.
It may take us a few games to get everything sorted out, but we’ll be patient with our plans going forward for the season.
I note you were born in Terang. Did your parents have a farm?
Yes, they had a dairy farm. It was at Ecklin. I played some under 10 footy at Allansford because I had a cousin living there, before playing in the junior grades at Terang.
I was fortunate enough to play in two under 16 premierships and an under 18 flag with Terang.
David Ryan was the senior coach with the club. He was a great coach.
The club has had some wonderful players over the years. Blokes like Paddy Heffernan and Matt Irving were playing for the club when I was in the seniors.
Terang has always had a strong breeding ground for good young footballers from around the local district.
I’ve always found that good, quality people attract good, quality people and that’s what has happened at Terang over the years.
Mat, when did you retire from playing footy?
I was 28 years old. I was involved in an accident on my bike and sustained a bad back injury.
I was told that I should not play any more contact sport, so that was the end of my playing career.
I had a passion for coaching when I was young and that was encouraged by John Northey when he was coaching Ballarat.
John was a top VFL-AFL player, playing in two premiership sides with Richmond in 1967 and 1969 before being an AFL coach for four clubs.
John really triggered my passion to take up coaching. He taught me a lot about people management and investing in your players.
I’ve held various roles in coaching before taking up the job with South Warrnambool including coaching Lake Wendouree for four seasons. We won the flag in 2010. I filled coaching roles and assisted with Victoria Country in the under 16s and 18s before taking over as the head coach of the under 18s.
I decided to step away from that job because it was a massive commitment and it was based in Melbourne.
There was going to be a lot of travel involved in the job.
I’m passionate about coaching but I felt I could not commit the time to the head job, so when the job came up at South Warrnambool I was interested.
My family is really happy about living in Warrnambool. It’s been really good to come back to the local area.
Your sporting highlight is an interesting one. Coaching some top young players including Sam Walsh, Jye Caldwell and Hunter Clark. It must be very rewarding to see young players like them now playing on the big stage?
It's rewarding. It’s wonderful to see them develop not only their skills as footballers but also as fine young men. I’ve been lucky to have coached or been involved in the coaching of some top young players.
I can’t wait to see them to showcase their skills for the next 10 years on the footy field.
Let’s talk about Sam Walsh for a moment. He’s caught the imagination of Carlton fans and supporters from other clubs with his performances in the practice games. Did you think he would be a good player in the big league?
Yes. I think long term Sam will be a superstar.
He is a natural footballer who has a strong work ethic, and to top it off he’s a great young man.