It’s October 1992 and I’m 14 years old, standing with thousands of others along Wellington Street, watching as the West Coast Eagles – just days removed from being the first non-Victorian side to win a VFL/AFL premiership – enjoy a motorcade through central Perth.
Up the front is coach Mick Malthouse, beaming beatifically with his hands on the cup. As Mick passes I extend my right hand, trying to touch the master coach. But I fall short and end up high-fiving a rapturous lady with red hair. I’m still not sure who she was.
It’s amazing the flaws you’ll forgive in a man when he delivers and Mick delivered in spades for my team. Two premierships (in truth, he probably should have got one more given the list he had) and 10 successive seasons in the finals. The 1990s were a golden generation for Eagles.
The ox is slow but the earth is patient. Carlton supporters aren’t.
But like most of my childhood memories, my recollections of Malthouse were rose-coloured and inaccurate. As I’ve aged the myth has been slowly peeled back to expose a man that, because of my occupation, I don’t particularly like.
Malthouse is, in all probability, a loving husband and father, a doting grandfather and a brilliant, supportive football coach who has mentored many young men to achieve more than they ever could have without him. And in the football world, many refer to him as a legend of the game.
The problem is, my only dealings with Malthouse – as a journalist and cameraman working in sports media – showed him to be someone who enjoys belittling people.
The icy stares, the curt responses, the way he makes it abundantly clear he thinks his AFL-mandated commitment to the media is beneath him. A former colleague, and lifelong Carlton fan, vowed to tear up his membership if Malthouse was appointed coach. He followed through.
His veneer puts up a clear division between the outside world and the ‘football club’ – the inner sanctum of which he believes is sacred ground.
Now, in 2014, with his Carlton side off to another 0-3 start, and a good 15 years removed from the prototype of an AFL coach, there are signs – in addition to his mistreatment of journalists – Malthouse is following Kevin Sheedy and Leigh Matthews in footballing obsolescence.
Say what you will about Malthouse, but his teams always played for him. Even with three flags in the bank, perhaps his best coaching achievement was taking an inferior Colingwood side to the 2002 grand final and running Brisbane, that indestructible juggernaut, to within an inch of their lives.
Yet Carlton don’t look to be playing for Malthouse, and their capitulation at the hands of Essendon on Sunday night was baffling. Yes, Chris Judd was out, but the Blues team that took to the field still had plenty of quality.
With all the talk of Buddy Franklin creating friction among his new Sydney colleagues, why has there been no mention of the potential for bruised egos at Carlton following the arrival of Dale Thomas, a man Malthouse has openly admitted is one of his favourites?
These days an AFL coach is aged between 37 and 50, treats the media with respect and courtesy, even when they feel they have been asked a stupid question.
They know how to balance the changing needs of a constantly evolving playing group and manage a panel of line coaches.
They need boundless energy to deal with the challenges of what must surely be one of the most difficult and draining occupations in the world.
Malthouse was always more progressive and forward thinking than his contemporaries like Sheedy and Matthews, which is probably why he’s the last man standing.
But the signs are that maybe even mighty Mick is reaching his sell-by date.
The ox is slow but the earth is patient.
Carlton supporters aren’t, and Mick, who turns 61 in August, may finally be running out of time.