Sport AFL Peter Schwab: The predicament facing several AFL coaches already

Peter Schwab: The predicament facing several AFL coaches already

Brendon Bolton Carlton
Carlton's Brendon Bolton is still searching for a win. Photo: Getty
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Nothing puts pressure on a coach like early-season losses.

Winning games early in a season is crucial to set the tone, give the playing group confidence and reassure everyone involved – from those at board level to supporters – that the club is moving forward.

Preseason is often a bit of a guessing game at clubland.

You know how your club is going but struggle to match that up against others until the season begins and sometimes that can catch you on the hop.

For those reasons, Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley and Western Bulldogs counterpart Luke Beveridge would have really felt the heat last week as both clubs sat winless after two rounds.

As coach of such a high-profile club – and one that has not played finals in four years under his leadership – Buckley carries more pressure than any other AFL coach this year.

And Beveridge’s pressure is a dual-edged sword.

While the weight of expectation on a premiership coach and team that is not performing is there, there is also an acceptance Beveridge has done it before and knows what is required.

The main feeling both Buckley and Beveridge will have this week, after both the Magpies and the Bulldogs won in Round 3, is relief.

I know what it is like to be craving an early win or two as senior coach.

In my first year in charge of Hawthorn, in 2000, we won just two of our first six matches, including some heavy losses.

The pressure was on and I can assure you I felt it.

The jury was out on my coaching and losses always create self-doubt, but I knew the best way to appease those thoughts was to get wins on the board.

Frustratingly, they eluded us in the early part of the season before a surge of wins late in the campaign saw Hawthorn make the finals.

I felt that early-season pressure again in 2004.

A big first-up win against Melbourne was followed by four successive defeats and, despite denials, the pressure from outside had an influence internally.

It almost always does and it presents a tricky situation for coaches, who have to focus attention on where they can actually influence things.

The problem with bad defeats early in the season is that at football clubs, the rot can set in quickly.

It did in 2004 and my coaching career was over at the end of Round 17.

So that is why the feeling of relief – and elation – among Collingwood and Western Bulldogs people would have been high across the weekend.

Unfortunately, the signs are still not great for fans of either club.

Just five sides in the past five years have made finals after winning only one of the first three matches in a season.

As for Carlton and Brisbane – the two winless teams in the competition – they can, as expected, forget about playing finals.

Of course, the expectation on Carlton and Brisbane was not that they would play finals.

Collingwood Carlton
Delighted Collingwood players celebrate a Round 3 victory. Photo: Getty

Pressure often comes back to expectation and that is why Lions coach Chris Fagan and – to a lesser degree – Blues coach Brendon Bolton are not under immense media scrutiny.

But regardless of expectation, pressure can also mount if consistently poor performances are put in.

Both Fagan and Bolton will know that sooner or later, you simply have to win.

At Brisbane, there is a view within the club and the wider football world that Fagan, in just his second year as coach, is creating a playing list and a game plan that will eventually serve the Lions well.

A five-point loss to the undefeated Port Adelaide on Saturday was encouraging.

There is a little more heat on Bolton, simply because he has had more time in the job.

This is his third year in charge and the Blues have won just 28 per cent of matches under him.

The Blues also look to have stalled a little bit after an encouraging preseason.

Both coaches know their sides will likely lose more than they win this season but they will also be desperate for a win soon.

Even if it is just to convince everyone that things are going in the right direction.

Peter Schwab played 171 VFL/AFL matches for Hawthorn from 1980 to 1991, winning three premierships. He later served as Hawthorn coach, AFL National Umpiring director, AFL Match Review Panel chairman and Brisbane Lions list manager.

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