During his long drive from the Central Coast to Olympic Park this week, Mark McVeigh has had time. The drives home have been a different story. But at 4.45am, the sun isn’t up and the phone isn’t ringing. He’s been able to think, plan and arrive at work with a very clear mind.
“The mornings are great, because no-one’s going to ring. On the way home it doesn’t stop, which is fine, but yeah, on the way in there’s been that time to contemplate what we should do, what we want to do and what we also need to do to get the players playing in the right manner and the right style to get us going again and feeling good about ourselves,” said McVeigh.
“I feel pretty lucky. The great thing about the role I’ve got is that I’m not picking up the pieces of a club that is broken. Because we’re not. A lot of great systems are in place. There needs to be some change in certain areas and that’s going to come with having a new coach and a new voice and different ideas, but a lot of great things have been put in place over a long period of time by our former coach that we can expand on and sharpen up and take where we want them to go.
“I feel very fortunate for that, and for knowing that the playing group is up for that and looking to take that on. But there’s a lot of thinking that goes on. You become very aware very quickly of what a senior coach goes through and the conversations that happen on a daily basis. Obviously there’s some changes we want to put in place really quickly and I have my ideas on how to do that, but I want everyone else’s ideas as well, right across the footy department.
“It’s got to look different and it’s got to feel different. Our language has got to be a bit different, things just need to change. But fundamentally, the club is in a good spot. I’m very lucky that I’m at a strong club with a lot of really good things in place that I get to add my spin to for the next 13 games.”
That part is key. There aren’t four or five more games to get through and survive, there is more than half the season to go, and McVeigh has put as many of his ideas as possible into action this week, so that he, the other coaches and the players can make and take as much as they possibly can from the remaining games.
In a practical sense there have been changes to the training schedule and the typical Monday-Friday routine, with more time on the track and a few other changes. McVeigh has made two new, part-time additions to the coaching team: James Hird and Dean Solomon, two of his old Essendon teammates. And when he spoke to the players for the first time as interim coach on Tuesday, he told them there would be an emphasis on encouraging the things they’re good at, and opportunities for all of them to play a part during the run home.
With so many games to go McVeigh wants to balance giving opportunities to young players and those doing well at VFL level with leaning on the senior group and working with them to find their best form and help him ensure that whenever the 2022 season ends, the team is playing better footy, that players of all ages have developed and the club is in a stronger spot.
“The main message to the players has been: this won’t look the same. The week won’t look like it’s looked in the past. Some areas that have slipped won’t be allowed to slip anymore and that means there’s opportunities for everyone, so we’re asking you to jump on board and embrace this,” he said.
“We respect the past and the things that have held us in good stead, we acknowledge that, but we need to go in a new direction because we have to, we have to change.
“The basis of our game for a long period of time has been that contested game, and we’ll continue to go there with the team because that’s what we do well. So we acknowledge that, but we also acknowledge our ball movement has gone in a direction we probably didn’t want it to, and that’s not through a call by any coach, I think we’ve just stagnated and need to rejuvenate how it looks. So we’re doing that and looking at that very closely. We’ll see what we can do in the first seven days, and then we’ll keep building from there.
“I think the fans can get excited about the opportunity to see some players who are playing some really good football at VFL level get acknowledged, whether they’re in their first year, second year, third year, whether or not they have some deficiencies. I’ll be making sure with our coaches that we look at their strengths first and foremost, and help them work on their deficiencies.
“I most definitely won’t be throwing out any older guys, in fact I’m going to be going to them even harder because I need them. We’ll be working with those younger players to upskill them so that their strengths stand out and the weaknesses catch up, but the older players are players I have known for a long time and trust. I trust the feedback we give each other, the conversations we have and I trust their ability to play the game and I need to go to them and get them playing the footy I know they can play. And our older players are not old players; even guys like Lachie Keeffe, Matt de Boer, Phil Davis, Callan Ward, they have massive value and I need them.
“They’re as big a part of the plan as anyone and as I said to the playing group, it’s a clean, blank canvas where we can – smartly - look around, hold each other to high standards, make some big changes, make some subtle changes and do everything we can to get a spark. Everyone has a role to play in that and as coaches, staff and players, everyone has jumped on board with that and we have to make sure that it gets done now.”
Getting Solomon and Hird on board will help. McVeigh was conscious of the experience, wisdom and man hours that left the club when Leon Cameron did, and wanted to make sure he, the other coaches and the players had some more support around them to make up for that. It didn’t take long to get either of his old teammates – who will travel to and from Sydney for bits of each week – on board.
“I’ve been asked why, and the reason is, my most trusted coaches are our current line coaches. They’re there every day doing the hard yards. But what I felt was, we lost a coach who had 30 years’ experience in football, coached finals, coached us to a grand final. So I looked at it and thought, how can I support our players and how can I support our coaches?” McVeigh said.
“Who can I get in that I know has a great footy brain, is well respected and when I stand and present on the first day, they’re standing there behind me and it’s like ‘OK, this is different, this is new.’ And without going too much into it, I suppose that’s just testament to the teammates I had back in the day and how close we’ve stayed, that it only took one phone call.
“All I want from them is to come in when they can and bolster us, give us some new ideas, challenge our ideas but mostly support our line coaches, because they are my most trusted. It’s a collective thing we’re doing and that means coaches, players and staff, because we’re one club and that’s why I feel so fortunate about the way everyone has embraced this.”
McVeigh loves to coach and loves the GIANTS; the opportunity to be interim coach was not one he wanted to be taking on at this time – everyone at the club intended for the season to start off much better than it has – but it’s one he is treating as a chance to get the club back on stronger footing, whether he gets the job full-time or someone else does.
He has one other, important thing to think about while doing so: his first child with partner Meegan is due in about two weeks, a sibling for his two daughters, Ariana and Alandra.
“I’m very excited. We both are, obviously,” McVeigh said. “It’s just happened to come along when I’ve taken on this role, but as everyone knows you can’t plan these things. And Leon canvassed a lot of this stuff with me before his decision. He said you need to consider some things, I need you talk to Meegan, talk to your family and decide whether this is something you can do if it happens. He gave us the opportunity to thrash it all out, which just shows the person that he is. It wasn’t like I just went home and said ‘guess what,’ Leon gave us that chance to discuss it and she was ‘all good, all good, we’ve got it.’ Which is a credit to her.
“This is an opportunity and a really good opportunity, but I haven’t let myself think further than that yet. I love coaching first and foremost; I really enjoy it. I’ve coached all different facets of the club now, whether it’s Academy, NEAFL, team defence, the lines, you make your way up and I feel I have a well-rounded CV after 10 years’ experience to have a go at this.
“My job right now is to guide us through and get us in a position where, whatever happens at the end of the year with our club, it gets handed over in a good spot if that’s what they choose to do. And I would support that. It’s just a unique opportunity that I have to take with both hands, make some decisions, work with the coaches, implement some new things and make sure we move forward.
“The decisions from there will take place and we’ll all support them, but for now I want us to get to the end of the year and be able to say ‘you know what, we tried some things, we changed things up, we did a really good job and this club is in a really good spot, a really strong position.’ That’s the one thing I want.”
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