Neale Daniher trying to lift his players, during his time with the Demons. Photo: Pat Scala
DARREN Jolly's extraordinary whack at former Melbourne coach Neale Daniher has attracted the ire of the AFL Coaches Association, which lashed out yesterday at the Collingwood ruckman over his criticism of Daniher.
Coaches Association chief executive Danny Frawley said Daniher, who now works in the football department at West Coast, was ''pretty upset'' by the Jolly comments, made in a column for The Age about coaching styles.
''Look, he's got a wife and kids and I don't know of any coach who's got a perfect record with every player,'' said Frawley. ''His record at Melbourne is pretty successful and the fact is not every player at every club in every year gets along with the coach. Where Darren is a bit out of line is that he could have left these things in the past.
''Neale gave him his first opportunity when he came down from North Ballarat and Darren hasn't put any balance in the article. It's hard for Neale to defend himself and no doubt he won't want to do that. But there's no balance in this. It's come out of the blue and it's disappointing.''
Frawley said Jolly was ''naive'' in the sense that he was a young player when he played under Daniher. ''He was just starting out, and Jeff White was the No. 1 ruckman … The coach will put a bit of a barrier there because the young players will have to earn their stripes.''
Hawthorn's head of coaching and development, Chris Fagan, was moved to contact The Age after reading Jolly's assessment of his former colleague, which he described as ''harsh and not a true reflection of the way he coached''.
''In his time at Melbourne, Neale had a positive effect on a number of careers and there are a number of people at Melbourne whose performances improved because of him,'' Fagan said.
''He was pretty hard-nosed when he first arrived but he needed to be. He changed the culture at the club and by his third or fourth year he successfully empowered players and leadership groups. It was Neale pushing that player-led revival that took Melbourne to the grand final in 2000.''
Fagan, who was Daniher's assistant and later football manager, said Jolly's comments were not representative of Daniher's time at Melbourne. ''Darren wanted to be No. 1 and he ended up going elsewhere to achieve that. I watched Neale deal with the players, I saw him promote players and end their careers, and you would never meet anyone more honest, direct and yet empathetic than Neale. He and Alastair [Clarkson] are similar in that way.''
But one who sympathised with Jolly's view was David Schwarz, who played under Daniher. ''I can understand where Darren was coming from in one respect,'' said Schwarz, a 173-game Demon from 1992-2002. ''It's well-documented I didn't have the greatest relationship with Neale. But I still won a best and fairest under him [in 1999], and I still respected what he did.
''I've always maintained that if you put Neale Daniher and Neil Balme [coach from 1993-97] together you'd have the perfect coach, because Neil Balme was a great people person; Neale Daniher's strategy and methodology on footy was supreme. But Neale's management of people wasn't great. He didn't have a lot of empathy.''
Daniher did not respond to Jolly's sledge yesterday.
Jolly, who played the 2001-04 seasons at Melbourne under Daniher before being traded to Sydney, described Daniher as a coach who ''used the stick'' to extract performance, and only talked to the club's star players. ''Neale for me was a very intimidating person to talk to, extremely hard to engage and have a relationship with and really hard to approach,'' wrote Jolly. ''I do not look back on my time at Melbourne as a particularly enjoyable experience.''
Former captain David Neitz, who remembered Daniher as an honest coach with ''a very single-minded approach'', said he was surprised Jolly had made his thoughts public. Neitz said Daniher had an open-door policy, in which players knew they could approach him with any concerns, although the coach ''didn't necessarily go and seek everyone out''.
''He was very direct, he'd give you feedback if you wanted it and wouldn't sugar-coat it. It was a very honest environment.''
The debate about coaching comes with the backdrop of Mark Neeld's issues at Melbourne this year.
With CAROLINE WILSON
Read Darren Jolly's column here