Sport AFL With respect, Mick should be tough enough
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With respect, Mick should be tough enough

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It was tough to take AFL football operations manager Mark Evans seriously when he urged pundits to show Carlton coach Mick Malthouse more respect this week.

Malthouse is in the final year of his contract, and his side hasn’t won a game. The heat is on because Carlton looks well off the mark.

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And the last time we checked, coaches come under pressure when their sides aren’t performing, regardless of whether they’re about to make history.

Malthouse will break Jock McHale’s 66-year record for the most VFL/AFL games coached when he leads Carlton in his 715th match next Friday night against Collingwood.

Malthouse has been involved in elite football for 43 years. Photo: Getty
Malthouse has been involved in elite football for 43 years. Photo: Getty

But Malthouse has made a career out of downplaying milestones, writing them off as ‘just another game’.

He has already described the impending record as “nothing more than a burden”.

Never been particularly sentimental, has Mick.

He’s the king of the icy stare, is engaged in a war with Channel 7 reporter Mark Stevens and seems to delight in intimidating journalists.

The pressure on Malthouse has been no greater than it was on his predecessor Brett Ratten, Mark Neeld or Michael Voss during their tenures in charge of AFL clubs.

Frankly, the AFL’s call for more respect is ridiculous.

“What I would say is when you have got a person approaching one of the most unbelievable milestones in the history of our game that has stood for 66 years, you are talking about 714 games of coaching experience,” Evans said.

“We need to take this opportunity this week and next to pay respect to that.

“(The media) has the rest of the year to pore over Carlton’s form and whether they win or lose, but they have only got the next two weeks to recognise this amazing milestone.”

Perhaps we should have expected as much from an organisation that jumped the shark when it offered Malthouse the chance to choose his own opponent for his record-breaking match.

How things change.

The last time Malthouse was under this much pressure came in 2004-05, when his Collingwood side bottomed out after consecutive Grand Final appearances.

He hit out at Evans’ predecessor Adrian Anderson for not “understanding the pressures of coaching”, prompting Andrew Demetriou to respond.

At the end of the day you’re a windshield or a bug.

“I suspect they’ve (Malthouse’s comments) got something to do with how Collingwood’s travelling,” Demetriou said in 2004.

“It’s a good diversion, it’s a nice tactic.

“Being a coach of a football club, which is a fantastic honour and a privilege and they get highly paid and they’re very influential, doesn’t give you a licence to take cheap shots at tribunal members or AFL people.”

A decade on, Malthouse is part of the furniture, an elder statesman, a link to an era being forgotten after the departures of Kevin Sheedy, Leigh Matthews, Denis Pagan and David Parkin.

(It should be noted there were no fairytale finishes in that group either.)

On Wednesday, Malthouse spoke on Adelaide radio, describing the burden his family – in particular his wife Nanette – faced when his position comes under scrutiny.

It took Malthouse nine seasons as a coach before he won his first premiership. Photo: Getty
It took Malthouse nine seasons as a coach before he won his first premiership. Photo: Getty

“I think the insensitivity of what people write … I don’t need my wife, she has been with me since I was 19, breaking down in the mornings, saying: ‘I can’t cope anymore’,” Malthouse said.

“It does get you. If anything is going to get me, I can cope with most things, but I hate seeing my family under stress and, unfortunately, I think some do know they are under stress and keep the button down.”

Personally, I hate to think of Nanette Malthouse being upset. But Mick has been an elite coach for a long time, long enough to get used to the rough and tumble of AFL life.

We didn’t hear of the plight of Mark Neeld’s wife Sarah, Jo Ratten or Donna Voss – whose husbands never had the luxury of an extended stay.

And it was Malthouse, with the ambition that has sustained his career, who accepted the Carlton job after a year working in the media – no one forced him into it.

At the time of his appointment he said his family were “on board” with the decision, although they did raise concerns about the pressures the job would place on them.

“My drive is to see that mountain peak climbed,” he said at the time.

“My family understand that … they know there is a burning desire to keep climbing.”

Malthouse has always been one for esoteric quotes, but it’s one of his more direct that resonates now.

In August 1998, after his West Coast side had enjoyed a comfortable win over Fremantle, Malthouse opined: “At the end of the day you’re a windshield or a bug.”

He’s been a windshield most of his coaching career, but comebacks rarely end well in this game.

Carlton won’t sack him ahead of his record-breaking game against Collingwood.

But should they lose to St Kilda in New Zealand on Saturday, they’d have good cause.

It would be a result on a par with the loss to Gold Coast that cost Brett Ratten his job.

And there’s no room for sentiment in footy.

Mick’s been teaching us that for years.

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