AFL coaches now have two “games” every weekend, with the post-match press conference taking on greater importance.
At a press conference, this is a game played between journalists and the coach, with the reporters aiming for comment on something that will create a story beyond the result of the match.
Essendon’s John Worsfold is, at the moment, coming to these media conferences like he was as a player.
He is well prepared, combative and a touch on edge, and his recent performances make him the most intriguing speaker of all the AFL coaches at the moment.
This is surprising for someone who has traditionally been almost a passive participant in media conferences during his long coaching career.
The importance of these post-match sessions has changed significantly.
They used to happen in the rooms and I remember my old coach at Hawthorn, Allan Jeans, used to approach an informal gathering of journos in the 1980s waving a few sheets of handwritten statistics.
He used to say: “Here’s the stats. You saw the match as well as I did. What do you make of it?”
His point was entirely logical. The waiting journalists had seen the match. And by handing over the club’s match statistics, he was providing them with the information available to him. After that, it’s a matter of opinion.
Those were the days.
‘Yabbie’ had no sponsor backdrop placed behind him with a dozen branded microphones strategically positioned on the table in front.
There were no cameras to record what he had to say. And there were no club communication manager briefings advising him on the messaging.
For some coaches, talking to the media was a chore.
Mick Malthouse never liked the press conferences and his final year at Carlton became almost compulsory viewing as certain journalists tried to rile him. Malthouse knew the game but wasn’t going to play.
It is little wonder coaches tend to be reticent.
After all, the game has already been dissected from every angle in the grandiosely titled ‘War Room’ before, during and after a match, while a full contingent of special comments experts have given the in-game commentary.
Worsfold is clearly readying himself for these occasions.
He has become like the player he was, brutal, no nonsense and every now and then he plays the man or the woman, often when they are vulnerable.
It is almost like Essendon’s loss to Carlton and subsequent upheaval ignited his combative nature. It looks authentic, although he was less convincing when discussing the departure of Mark Neeld.
Sometimes I think that we need to ask ourselves what do we expect from our AFL coaches?
Unlike politicians, they are not elected and therefore are not paid by us the taxpayers. Nor do coaches, like politicians, have a legal duty to provide further information or share their opinions on what has just occurred out on the playing field.
But nonetheless the football media – and, they would argue, the football public – wants more.
I think Worsfold is telling us the truth, but in recent weeks he is making the media work hard to get it.
If you want to ask him a question you know the answer to, he’ll want to know why you are asking it if you already know. If your question requires a yes or no answer, then that’s what he’ll give you.
If you don’t reveal your exact source or ask an exact question, then you’ll get, “Who not whom said it?” or “What’s your question?”
Some will draw a link between these performances and the pressure that comes with being an AFL coach.
But every coach feels the pressure at times and it rises and falls in correlation with wins and losses.
Win and you can take the upper hand when dealing with the media. They have less ammunition to bring. Lose and the need for answers is more critical because there’s a fan base wanting to know as much as the media do.
Worsfold has been a great appointment in what was a crisis at Essendon. He has been solid, dependable and respected.
In the current environment he still brings those qualities, but the game has moved on and the question is now whether his coaching of this Essendon team has moved with it.
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