Off season update - Western Bulldogs
Matthew Scarlett oversees Bulldogs training
If they were on the open market they'd be blue-chip stocks
THE WESTERN Bulldogs' coup to bolster their football department with a strong Geelong influence was a "mighty effort" that could fast-track the Dogs' development, former Cats skipper Tom Harley says.
Six former Cats fill positions at Whitten Oval – coach Brendan McCartney, assistant coach Steven King, part-time specialist coaches Cameron Mooney (forwards) and Matthew Scarlett (defence), strategic football operations manager Ben Graham, and player wellbeing manager Brent Prismall (who was beaten to a spot on the Dogs' rookie list by Brett Goodes but then snapped up Goodes' old job).
Each had worked closely with McCartney when he was an assistant coach at Geelong, where the former high school teacher built an impressive reputation as a teacher of the game.
In other additions to an expanded football department – the best-resourced in the club's history – the Dogs have also secured club great Brad Johnson and West Coast Eagles premiership player Ashley Hansen as development coaches, along with respected international pair Graham Lowe (high performance manager) and Andy Barnett (strength coach).
But it's the intriguing predominance of former Cats that has sparked the most excitement, and increased hopes for a swift rise up the ladder.
And Harley – captain of Geelong premiership sides in 2007 and 2009 – believes that rise could be accelerated by the familiarity shared by the tight-knit ex-Cats.
"That level of familiarity really helps them hit the ground running and could even fast-track the Bulldogs' development to some extent," Harley told AFL.com.au.
"They have the advantage of immediately having that rapport that's developed over a long period of time; you don’t have to work to establish that because it's already there. And they know exactly how each other operate, their personalities, and how they'll work together.
"I think the most telling thing about the cast that 'Macca' has assembled is their desire to work with him. If they were on the open market they'd be blue-chip stocks, but they obviously have the respect and trust in Macca to go on the Bulldogs' journey with him.
"The Bulldogs are very fortunate to have that kind of talent and experience on hand. If I was a Bulldogs fan, I'd be quite buoyed by that."
The most surprising appointments were those of Mooney and particularly Scarlett, who was a publicity-shy player and was expected to seek anonymity after his retirement last year.
But Harley wasn't surprised.
"It certainly didn’t surprise me that they were going to work with Macca. It's testament to the strong relationships they have with him," he said.
Harley, who also has a close friendship with McCartney, laughed when asked whether the Dogs coach had also sounded him out about a role at Whitten Oval. "No, no, no, I'm very comfortable in what I'm doing," said Sydney-based Harley, who is general manager of AFL NSW/ACT, a coach of the AIS/AFL Academy, and a Seven Network commentator.
When looking for positive examples for his young Dogs to aspire to, McCartney need look no further than Scarlett.
"No doubt Macca would be sharing the experiences of starting at Geelong with a young list in 2000 and looking after the backline with myself, 'Scarlo', Darren Milburn, a very young Corey Enright and so on," Harley said.
"And he could point to Scarlo as a poster boy for his development from a scrawny kid who got pushed around early on, but with his ruthless competitive streak he blossomed into arguably the best fullback of all time."
McCartney is pointing to such examples, retired Bulldog Lindsay Gilbee said.
"And he's well within his rights to do that because he's seen it work for a long period of time," he said.
"And it does take time, so the more Geelong influence we have around the footy club from that successful era, the better. It's a massive positive for the footy club, it can only add to the culture, and we should be grateful that they want to help lift the club back up to where we want to be."
Gilbee – who, like Harley, said he can’t speak highly enough of McCartney – said the Geelong influence on the Bulldogs was apparent in their focus on contested ball, building bigger bodies (with an emphasis on leg weights) and developing more "playing coaches".
"Under Macca, the older guys have got a big responsibility to take things on board and teach it to the younger players," he said.
"And it's a bonus – having more coaches on the field is only going to make us better. The more players that buy into what he's trying to teach, the quicker it can all be fast-tracked."
To illustrate why McCartney is held in such high regard by his former charges, Harley tells a couple of "Macca stories".
The first anecdote comes from November 1999 when Harley was living with Geelong teammate James Rahilly (now a Cats assistant coach). Rahilly convinced Harley that the first session of the pre-season under new coach Mark Thompson (and McCartney) was to begin at 9am. He was wrong, and they arrived as their teammates were jogging a warm-up lap.
Their punishment was an early-morning, weekend session with McCartney at Geelong College. McCartney worked the pair "really hard".
Afterwards, he took them to his house for breakfast with his young family, and the exhausted players ended up staying for a couple of hours. Harley recalled it was a classic case of "we'll give them the whack they deserve, but we'll also nurture and develop them".
On another occasion, young defenders Harley and Scarlett made some errors at training so McCartney told them stay back for some remedial work.
"You better get used to kicking to each other," he said, "because you'll be doing it for the next 10 years."
"And he was right," Harley said. "So, again, he let us know very clearly where and how we had to improve, but he also gave us some confidence at the same time.
"I'll forever be grateful for what Macca's done for me, as I'm sure a lot of my former teammates are, and that's how he's been able to get some of them to the Bulldogs. He's done a mighty job, and the Dogs are the big winners out of it all."
Harley was intrigued by the appointment of Graham.
"People forget that Ben captained Geelong and played over 200 AFL games, including a Grand Final, which is a great resume to have in the first place," he said.
"Then he spent eight years in the NFL, which is arguably the most professional sporting competition in the world. To take all that knowledge into a young club like the Bulldogs is a real coup in itself."