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'Relationships' man Dew faces greatest challenge

Stuart Dew has taken over a club that was floundering badly last year - AFL,Gold Coast Suns,David Swallow,Gary Ablett
Stuart Dew has taken over a club that was floundering badly last year
We really want to know our players. That's ongoing because their circumstances change all the time
Stuart Dew

ON THE eve of his first season as a senior coach, Stuart Dew is under no illusions, describing the task of overhauling embattled Gold Coast is "significant". 

In seven seasons, the Suns have barely had a sniff of the top eight, firing two coaches and struggling to get a foothold in the tough south-east corner of Queensland. 

Not only did Rodney Eade get the boot, but CEO Mark Evans also decided to move on general manager of football Marcus Ashcroft and list manager Scott Clayton late last year in an unprecedented football department revamp. 

Dew was the fresh-faced coaching appointment, the man that helped Port Adelaide (2004) and Hawthorn (2008) to premierships as a player, and Sydney (2012) to one as an assistant coach during his seven years in that role. 

Dew walked into a club that was floundering.

The Suns were about to wave goodbye to arguably the game's greatest modern day player in Gary Ablett after he wanted out, were struggling for sponsors and would soon be given a draw that started with a 10-week stint on the road due to the Commonwealth Games. 

The knockabout 38-year-old hasn't tried to complicate things since getting his feet under the desk in October, making his priority building strong relationships with his players. 

Whether it's hosting players for dinner (or sometimes sampling their culinary expertise), or allowing them to blare loud music at training, Dew has made a point of being inclusive. 

"As an assistant coach I always tried to not forget what it was like as a player and to put yourself in the players' shoes," Dew told AFL.com.au.

"I think improvement is not just about looking at edits. You only get to the technical part if you've got a relationship.

"As a coaching group we have to know what motivates you, where you're at in life, what's happening outside footy, everyone ticks differently. 

"We really want to know our players. That's ongoing because their circumstances change all the time. 

"If you can sit with players for more than five or 10 minutes you do get to know them, then you can start to work on the technical part, or if you need to be firmer, it does carry more weight." 

Running Sun's hope for decimated defence

It's a philosophy Chris Fagan took to Brisbane 12 months earlier, and although the Lions won just five games last season, the progress was evident. 

Fagan has fostered a trusting environment through care and empathy for his players. 

The Lions were happier, more competitive and the club's best young players have extended their contracts accordingly. 

Dew knew Fagan in their time at Hawthorn and said the two had chatted since he got the Suns job.

"That's the kind of guy he is," Dew said. 

"All you hear is that he's created a good environment.

"I'd love for any of our players as a starting point to say I've done that.

"If we've done that, that's a good starting point and then you can start to grow your performance.

"Clarko was one that made you feel like he was invested in you as a person. 

"He'd always check in on you. He had an ability to know when something wasn't right. 

"He really wants the best for his players. He wants them to do well outside once they leave the footy club. It's a real two-way relationship. 

"It's great to have those people in the industry – it is cut-throat, but we have a bigger role and that's to the game.

"You can separate the competitive element and just talk about the welfare of the game and players in it."

Dew has also made including families a priority. 

Aaron Hall and David Swallow have recently become first-time fathers, joining veterans Michael Rischitelli, Matt Rosa and Jarrod Harbrow in giving the Suns a more 'child-friendly' feel. 

 

Other parts of the business have also been integrated with the playing group, which Dew says is all about making a tight club - something that has characterised the stops on his AFL journey. 

"I wanted to engage the admin side of things, and then (want) the players to be really aware how that part of the business runs," he said. 

"We'll have players in an admin staff meeting, admin staff in a players meeting, just so they get a feel for what each department does. 

"We got different parts of the business to present to the leadership group in terms of sponsorship or community plans, just to make the players look more broadly than just the two hours they play on the weekend, so when we ask them to do things, they have a background on why."

Stuart Dew says getting to know his players is one of his most important jobs. Picture: AFL Photos

As for the on-field, Dew has not set any specific expectations for 2018.

He said it would be a year of learning. 

The two JLT Community Series matches have shown he will reward effort and intensity. 

Overhauling the Suns is arguably the biggest job in football, and Dew is acutely aware of the magnitude of the challenge he has walked into. 

"I don't think in the history there would have been a change of list manager, senior coach and GM of footy in the same year, so to have all three, it's really significant. 

"That says when you walk in that things need change. 

"The first year we're trying to win as many games as we can, but we're also assessing where our gaps are and where we can improve.

"We want to spend the right amount of time on it and not make flippant decisions and make change for the sake of change." 

Just how quickly things spin for the Suns, only time will tell.