IF there’s one thing tougher than being an AFL coach, it’s being a first year AFL coach.
Brenton Sanderson was the only one of the debutantes to get the points in the opening round; McCartney, Buckley and Watters all yet to open their accounts. Watters can perhaps be considered unlucky, the others soundly beaten by their opposition.
But perhaps the toughest debut was had by new Melbourne coach Mark Neeld.
Put to the sword by the Brisbane Lions, Neeld then had to suffer the ignominy of the rumour mill suggesting that he was racist, in that upon being appointed the Demons new coach, he briefed Melbourne’s indigenous players en-masse, but spoke one-on-one with the non-indigenous players.
When questioned about this on the outstanding Fox Footy program ‘On The Couch’, Neeld performed brilliantly.
He categorically denied the rumours – and not in the beige-cardigan, club-media-unit-carefully-worded-solicitor-prepared-statement either; Neeld looked Mike Sheahan directly in the eye and refuted the allegations in plain, direct language.
Neeld told of the hurt these rumours had inflicted on his family and that he would be directing the matter to the AFL for investigation.
It has since been disclosed that the source of the rumours was in fact the AFL’s Community Engagement Officer, Jason Mifsud.
Rightly, Mifsud offered his resignation. Not content with the public humiliation and summary dismissal of former Adelaide Crows recruiter Matt Rendell, Mifsud then leaked the Melbourne story to his former St Kilda mentor, Grant Thomas.
Mifsud failed dismally in his role. As opposed to staying within his brief, approaching Neeld directly and working through the issues as he had been briefed on them behind closed doors Mifsud again took the name and shame option – the easy way out – only this time to catastrophic effect.
The fact that the AFL refused to accept his resignation is astounding.
To his credit, what could have been a disastrous week for Mark Neeld has become a week that has demonstrated the quality of the man now in charge of the Dees. He has displayed resolve, determination, belief in himself and what he’s trying to achieve.
He strikes me as the kind of guy you don’t want to cop a spray from; both barrels is perhaps just his warm-up. His post-match presser on Saturday afternoon demonstrated that Neeld is prepared to go hard on his playing group and seemingly unafraid of tarnishing reputations or questioning his players’ commitment.
Neeld appears to be the kind of coach needed, not just at Melbourne, but at a number of clubs yearning for success. His motto seems to be ‘perform to instruction or face the consequences’ as opposed to coddling and trying to placate ‘Gen Y’ers’ who question ‘why they should’ as opposed to ‘why they will’.
Mark Neeld is simply a class act. If, as has been suggested, he may be on his way to losing the playing group (which the club denies) then it says more about the hunger for success of the current playing list than the coach’s methods.
Were I an AFL player, Mark Neeld is one coach I would certainly leave nothing on the ground for. I would relish the opportunity to journey to success with a man of his attitude.
And shame on Melbourne if they continue to underperform for Neeld in coming weeks as they did on Saturday.