Coaches confront immediate challenge of improving club's ladder position
Last season was a good time to be an interim coach. Brett Ratten, Rhyce Shaw and David Teague used the opportunity as an audition and were duly rewarded with the top jobs at their clubs.
When clubs sack their coach and appoint a caretaker mid-season, there is often a revival in their fortunes. But the key question remains: is the short-term improvement genuinely sustainable or a mirage?
On the back of encouraging displays in the second half of the season from North Melbourne and Carlton and in the final six games of 2019 from St Kilda, the three clubs believed they had appointed the right men to take them forward.
The decisions may prove correct in the long-term, but Ratten, Shaw and Teague face immediate challenges as they seek to improve their clubs' positions.
Ratten is the most experienced of the trio, having been given his second senior role by St Kilda after being sacked by Carlton in 2012 and then doing an impressive job as an assistant to Alastair Clarkson in Hawthorn's premiership triumphs between 2013-15. At St Kilda, Ratten has implemented an attractive, hard-running style of play.
One of footy's nice guys, he has one of the most astute minds in the game and his enthusiasm and passion have rubbed off. But the Saints have lost three of their past four games, the last two by a total of five points in the absence of injured key playmaker Jade Gresham, to leave them sitting precariously in seventh spot with tough games against West Coast and GWS Giants to close the season.
The affable Teague, the country lad renowned for his excellent people management skills, served a long apprenticeship as an assistant at several clubs before being appointed to the role at Carlton last year. Despite demonstrating little emotion in the coaches' box, he has an unshakeable belief in his structures and methods, showing faith in the Blues' ability to implement his attacking brand.
Undoubtedly, Carlton has improved under Teague this season. But the disappointing loss to arch-rival Collingwood last weekend underlined the Blues' inconsistency and frailties and they have to win their remaining four games and rely on other favourable results to secure an unlikely finals berth.
Influenced heavily by his former coaches Mick Malthouse and John Longmire, Shaw's game style has revolved heavily around consistent effort and being physical at the contest.
After winning seven of 12 games under Shaw last season and the first two matches this year, the Kangaroos have lost 11 of their past 12 games, being hampered by a long injury list.
The Roos' only victory came in round nine against bottom side Adelaide.
Coaches are paid well, but it is a tough job, particularly when you're not winning.
Social media pitfalls
If players are disturbed by what is said about them on various social media platforms there is an easy solution - delete the apps.
With many of these keyboard warriors starved of live football particularly in Victoria, they have become emboldened to commit cowardly attacks on several players this year.
Two of the more publicised cases recently have involved dual Richmond premiership defender Dylan Grimes and GWS Giants veteran Callan Ward.
Grimes was incensed by the distressing, threatening post-game comments, taking the matter to Victoria Police resulting in criminal charges being laid against two men.
It is not only players who have been affected - their wives, girlfriends and partners are not immune.
Brooke Cotchin, wife of Richmond captain Trent, was subjected to vile abuse and online bullying after breaking COVID-19 protocols while visiting a day spa outside the Tigers' Queensland hub. But at the same time, she occasionally uses social media to promote herself and the products she endorses.
Governments, police and the legal system also have a part to play and these cowards should be held to account for their comments in a similar way to journalists and commentators.
Social media has become such an important component in the lives of most people and it is a double-edged sword for the AFL and clubs, who encourage players to use various platforms to communicate with their fans yet are most concerned when they have to deal with abuse and bullying. I'm cautious in the way I use social media, usually to promote this column and other work-related projects. If that's considered boring, I'm happy to wear that criticism.
Question of the week
John from Daylesford, Victoria, asks: Who are your three favourite Indigenous AFL/VFL players?
John, I'm old enough to go back to the 1960s and '70s and had the privilege of watching Graham 'Polly' Farmer, Barry Cable and Syd Jackson at their best. I'd rank them in that order as my favourites, although I have enjoyed many others who have followed in their footsteps.
I'd like to see more games during Sir Doug Nicholls Round played in Darwin and Alice Springs in the future, strengthening ties with indigenous communities.
While the Dreamtime game between Richmond and Essendon was a huge success this season, economic realities will dictate that it returns to the MCG.
- This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.