The coach isn’t happy

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LAWRENCE MONEY follows the cameras into the coach’s box and finds there are more moves than on the whiteboard:

WHAT SADIST came up with the idea of positioning TV cameras outside the AFL coaches’ box? Did anyone ask the coaches first or did the cameras just appear one day, exposing every eyebrow twitch, lip curl and eye bulge from then on?

Suddenly, permanently, footy coaches were like spot-lit rabbits. Sometimes it is near-unbearable, watching the losing coach of the day trying to bottle up his surging fury, fully aware that a hammered fist or scream of frustration will be immediately conveyed to a national TV audience.

AFL coaches have become near-paranoid about those TV cameras – and who wouldn’t be? How would you like your entire working day covered on Skype? Coaches regularly glance up at the monitor, checking to see if they are “live”, only to duck the head again, pretending they weren’t.

This merciless televisual eye into the coaching box sure has unveiled some dreadful anguish. Poor Damien Hardwick. With his Richmond Tigers fluctuating between premiership footy and headless chookery, he sometimes looks as if his cranium will explode. Meanwhile, with the Pies repeatedly faltering, it has been tragic to watch Bucks stare, hollow-eyed, out the window, his former fire and brimstone seemingly extinguished.

Some coaches come to the task with obvious resolve about their new role as involuntary TV props. The late Dean Bailey arrived at Melbourne with an apparent determination never to show a flicker, his face invariably like stone as his Demons charges ran around in circles stuffing up his game plan. Demon fans often bore the same expression.

However, in recent years it has been fascinating to watch the way the coaches have developed strategies to thwart this intrusion. Paul Roos, for instance, introduced the dangling phone – for the entire 120 minutes he would have a phone over his mouth, thwarting any attempt by opposition lip-readers to nut out what he was planning.  Blues coach Brendon Bolton and Swans coach John “Horse” Longmire have taken this further, each using one hand to cover his mouth during the more demanding phases of a match.

At first, I thought the boys were doing this while clearing their throats, dinner-party-style, but, having noticed simultaneous body convulsions and facial tics, I began to suspect there was more to it. Bolton seemed to be gnawing at his own hand while the Horse looked as if he had swallowed a Four’n’Twenty the wrong way and, as the great Jack Dyer would say, was in urgent need of the Himmler manoeuvre.

It became obvious that this was no coincidence and after each of these episodes, when the Longmire mouth becomes visible, I often wonder what he is saying to his faithful sidekick, John Blakey.

This year, with the once-invincible Hawks becoming mere fallible mortals, Alastair Clarkson has given the appearance of a lost Labrador, eyes so sad it would break your heart. But he is ever the innovator, is Clarko. In a recent game against Horse’s boys, Clarko again showed his coaching genius. This time there was no hand covering the mouth, no storming out of the box. No, Clarko just turned the light off.

Horse “clears his throat”, Clarkson hits the switch
Blues coach Bolton and the four fingers

 

  • Sandy Roberts (2017): “Ohhh, the big fly. Dusty Martin takes the mark 35 out, directly in front. Is there nothing this man can do this year?”
  • Matthew Richardson (2017): “It was a free kick, the umpire got it right, just the wrong call.”
  • Sam Newman, to Paul Salmon (World of Sport, 1984): “Six feet nine inches. Have you always been that tall?”
  • Peter McKenna, giving amateur footy results on World of Sport (1984): “The Old Caesarians defeated De La Salle.”
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Author: Lawrence Money

Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria’s best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age — and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines — before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.

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