MATT Egan turned 40 in July, but unlike most people his age, the Western Bulldogs' new coaching and performance manager has far more experience in the coaches' box than most. That's what happens when you suffer a career-ending foot injury at just 24.
It has been more than 16 years since the former Geelong key defender suffered the dreaded navicular bone fracture, just weeks before he was named in the 2007 All-Australian team. He never played another game in the AFL.
But since eventually being forced to retire in 2010, Egan has amassed 14 years of coaching experience across a variety of different roles. He has been a development coach, assistant coach, VFL coach and even caretaker coach. He started at Geelong, moved to Essendon, then became Melbourne's head of development before returning to Kardinia Park in the same role.
With the Western Bulldogs undergoing a football department reset following a disappointing 2023 campaign that finished half a game outside the eight, CEO Ameet Bains and GM Chris Grant have been busy fine tuning the football department at the Whitten Oval.
Egan was in their sights early and was appointed late last month to support senior coach Luke Beveridge, after he spent two seasons commuting back and forth from his home in Newport to GMHBA Stadium.
"This role is probably what I've been building towards. Next year is my 15th year coaching in the AFL and I've done a fair few different roles – development, assistant, VFL coach, head of development – I just feel like this is the right time to challenge myself in a more management style role," Egan told AFL.com.au.
"I'm here to support 'Bevo' and the coaches. There will still be hands-on coaching at training. I'll work with all the coaches on their PD and development, but still work across the program and work with 'Granty' and across high performance and welfare to be a link between a few different departments.
"I've always loved Bevo, always watched his press conferences and followed his story through the VAFA into the AFL. I just love how he talks about his players and his coaches. He is someone I have always looked up to, so it is a great opportunity to work with him."
Geelong CEO Steve Hocking wore a variety of different hats during Egan's first stint at the club – chairman of selectors, football operations manager, GM team performance, GM commercial operations and head of football – and was integral in bringing him back at the end of 2021. Egan left with Hocking and the Cats' blessing amid an off-season of change down at the Cattery.
The Geelong VFL product has stacked up an impressive coaching resume but doesn't have his eye on becoming a senior coach down the track, despite stepping in for James Hird after the Essendon icon departed the Bombers at the end of 2015. Time will tell if this new role is a stepping stone to becoming a GM, but the events of 2007 have moulded his coaching journey.
"It is long time ago 2007," Egan said. "You forget some of the challenges you go through, but you learn a lot about yourself. Every club that I worked at there have been some challenges along the way, you just learn how to get the best out of people and players. At the end of the day, I love helping people.
"My injury was unfortunate but it meant I got into coaching at 24 and I got to see a great era at Geelong. I sat on the bench in '09 and I was in the box in '07 and 2011. You just learn along the way about what great clubs do and how they get the best out of their people. It has shaped me to this point. I love seeing coaches improve and I get just as much joy out of seeing that as I do seeing a young player develop."
The winds of change have swept through Footscray in recent months. Favourite son Rohan Smith was the first confirmed change in a sign of things to come. Then assistant coach Marc Webb decided to return to Perth. Development coaches Travis Varcoe and Stefan Martin have also departed the coaching panel.
Former North Melbourne and Brisbane defender Daniel Pratt has joined the Western Bulldogs after a decade in different coaching roles at West Coast. Former St Kilda captain Jarryn Geary has been added as a development and leadership coach, while Sydney premiership player Alex Johnson has also joined the club as a development coach.
Amid all the football department changes the coronavirus pandemic brought to the game, Egan spent 2021 as Xavier College's head of football, where former Crow and old boy Sam Shaw coached the First XVIII with Johnson his assistant.
Like Egan, Johnson's playing career was brought to a premature end due to injury. After playing in the 2012 Grand Final, Johnson ruptured his left ACL five times before doing his right knee in his second game back, six years on. Now he is back in club land, five years after leaving the Swans after his sixth knee reconstruction.
"I crossed paths with 'AJ' at Xavier College. He had amazing game-day nous with Shawry, had great connection with the students in Year 11 and 12. He had a great balance of being hard and strong with them. He was really honest and good technically with them. He seriously knows the game so was a great teacher," he said.
"It is an awesome opportunity for him. He has had some challenges with his body and learned resilience and use that to teach others. He is a great get. Really good with the talls and we've got some young developing talls coming through."
The Western Bulldogs have also poached Daniel Duvnjak-Zaknich from Greater Western Sydney to replace Mat Inness as high performance boss after running a long process that resulted in the club also adding Dr Anthony Hipsley as chief medical officer.
The major redevelopment at VU Whitten Oval is nearing completion but the football department renovation is now complete ahead of the start of the pre-season. Egan is a crucial piece in that jigsaw puzzle.