Demonised coach shrugs off trial by fire
IT'S hard to remember an AFL coach who had a tougher initiation than Mark Neeld.
Every week, there is another drama to confront. And if there is no drama, someone might just manufacture one for him.
This week's is his two-captains-on-the-bench stance against Geelong last weekend, a policy that Neeld insists just ''fell that way''. A ''speechless'' Paul Roos went in hard, and yesterday it was analyst Mark Maclure's ''he's lost the senior players'' comment on Fox Footy, and suggestions that senior players Brent Moloney and Mark Jamar are testing the free agency water.
Melbourne coach Mark Neeld. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Before that, it was Liam Jurrah. Then the Aaron Davey affair. And Leigh Matthews' criticism of Neeld's handling of the media. Melbourne keeps losing and has nothing to deflect the blowtorch on the club and its new coach. Yesterday was no different.
''I don't think these press conferences should be 100 per cent about responding to everything that's said in the media, because it's so vast,'' Neeld said. ''But people such as Paul Roos and Leigh Matthews, yeah you take that on board. It's part of the feedback you get which is healthy.
''People outside the club like those two … people inside the club like [director of sports performance] Neil Craig for example, [assistant coach] Jade Rawlings, very experienced people.
''We made a decision based on what was the best thing for Melbourne, which I think sometimes can get overlooked if you're not privy to every bit of data that comes across the desk. You're not the one making that decision, we are. You take that stuff on board. There's some good people with some really good ideas.''
Neeld has turned Melbourne upside down, which amounts to an acknowledgement by the club that the past three years under Dean Bailey's coaching were wasted. It is a monumental decision to make but Neeld is not taking half-measures. If he is going down, then he will be swinging.
He makes no bones about saying his team is in ''development'' , even though the Demons have been there for at least three years already. He classifies his style thus: ''A fair coach. We're in a development phase, so certainly one who's about educating the players about how we want to play. That's how I'd summarise that.''
The 0-6 record speaks for itself. But Neeld sees signs that are not necessarily reflected on the scoreboard. ''I just feel we've been able to play the game more the way we want to play. I put it down to that, pretty much. Things take time.''
What he craves is a club with an even keel, ''an environment that's after continual improvement. You shouldn't know whether you've lost, you've won or you've drawn. That's the way we're going, albeit we haven't cracked it for a win, but I think the improvement in the last few weeks has been good. We want to win, and we're coaching to win all the time.''