By Brendan McCartney
BRENDAN McCartney is the longest-serving assistant coach at Geelong with 2009 his 10th year on the match committee. Before joining the Cats he spent two seasons as reserves coach at Richmond, following a stint in charge at Ocean Grove. Before coaching he played 87 senior games with Newtown in the Geelong and District and the Geelong Football Leagues.Is there a coaching technique you see being used in other sports that you think could work in AFL?We’ve been overseas a little bit – and I’m sure all the AFL clubs have – to have a look at what international codes are doing.We’ve been to soccer clubs in Europe and England, we’ve been to the NFL and a host of sources. I went to the Baltimore Ravens a couple of years ago and was staggered by how much information they give their players on what the opposition do, how in-depth they go at breaking the game down and preparing their players to play a certain opposition on a given day.The other thing that I was able to glean was just how structured their week is and how many resources they put around the players, from the foods they eat to the staff that are allocated to them. In the NFL, sometimes it’s one coach to four or five players because it’s so position-specific. There are almost 16 coaches on their roster for about 50 players so it’s incredibly well-resourced and catered for.We’re not at that level and probably don’t need to be because our game is not so position-specific. But it just showed me what great length you have to go to, to get a competitive edge at times.How do you approach the weekend’s seven other games? How many do you try to get to or watch replays of?We work very strongly at getting to as many live games as we can. Being in Geelong and Melbourne is a big advantage because you generally get to see opponents live whereas it’s a lot harder for interstate clubs. I would see one or two other matches a weekend, plus another three or four on the computer during the week where you might watch a half, three quarters or the whole thing.We probably hone in a couple of weeks out in terms of going to watch live. You would spend maybe 12 to 16 hours a week scanning on the computer what other clubs have done in the last month.If you’re the midfield coach like I am, you’d be looking at who’s been in their midfield and how they’ve been playing. You get a real feel for their form and an understanding of where they attract the ball and what match-ups have given them problems, whether they’ve been given a free run to attack or been of a more defensive attitude. Are they the players that kick-start the opposition or do they just join in when things are going really well?When you scout a game you need to be able to pull apart what you need. You don’t actually watch the game or where the ball’s going, you quite often find yourself looking away from the ball to see where they’re positioning and what they’re trying to set up as a team.Do you see any value in at times just telling the players to go out and play instinctive football? Can structure in games inhibit the natural flair of players? – R and S DungeyIt no doubt can do that (inhibit natural flair of players), some more than others.You’d like to think that as they become more experienced players they just need some guidance and reassurance, a little bit of readjustment at times.The younger players do need a lot of structure and a hell of a lot of coaching because you can’t be slow-witted and play this game at this level anymore. You actually have to think your way through problems and the better players have an ability to solve problems out on the ground and work through things.There’s a scope for playing instinctive footy, [but] there is a need for players to follow team pattern and structure. Good coaching panels find that balance between letting them play and giving them some direction. But the good players make good decisions and have really good fundamentals. The great players generally just repeat the basics, day-in, day-out, week-in, week-out and they rarely move away from them.EMAIL YOUR QUESTIONSDo you have something you’ve always wanted to ask a coach? Drop the coaches an email at email@example.com. Each week, one assistant coach from an AFL club will dip into the mailbag and answer a handful of the best questions.