(Dear Herald Sun, please find above my entry for the 'obscure Neeld headlines competition'. You can keep the prize of a chicken dinner with Andrew Bolt).
When my usual Friday afternoon attempting to look busy was interrupted around 4pm yesterday by SEN announcing we were about to announce Mark Neeld as coach I was, it must be said, unmoved. Nothing against Mark, just that we'd spent the week being fed lies by both 'media' and actual clubs/coaches so why not another farcical rumour which didn't turn out to be true? After all, while Hutchy himself was leaping out from behind a hedge at St Kilda HQ on Thursday night to startle the Saints President, 'Hutchy Jr' Damian Barrett was assuring us that it was a Scott Burns/Neil Craig tag team who were poised to take the top job.
The week started with SportsNewsFirst, the Women's Weekly of AFL journalism, claiming that Ross Lyon was about to tell the players he was off to join us. Cue mainstream media (well, SEN at least) being sucked in and sending crews down there, presumably ignoring every red light between Richmond and Seaford in their haste to get there and to check if it true based on a story which was attributed to 'sources' and which no actual news outlet had heard anything about. Needless to say (Neeldless? This is a golden day for headline writers and hack bloggers) it turned out to be such utter crap that when Ross the (ex-)Boss actually did walk out on them and join the Dockers on Thursday that not only had SNF never heard about it but he didn't even tell the players he was off until he was already singing heave ho while swinging a $cully style bag of cash over his right shoulder.
So, we'd already been told to piss off by Clarko, Malthouse is (for now) holding firm on not coaching anywhere next year, we missed Lyon because he was engaged in arguably unethical shenanigans behind his club's back, Scott Burns had been annointed as the winner by the alleged "newsbreaker" and now SEN - the home of following up wild rumours floated by drunken talkback callers - is saying that less than 24 hours after Garry Lyon had said that we were "very close" to announcing a coach that it was about to happen. On a Friday. What ever happens on Friday?
News media, you can see why we might very well have been confused. With the Harvey Heave-Ho Debacle still less than 24 hours old it seemed too ludicrous that we'd add to the chaos by naming our coach while poor Mark was still trying to work out what the hell had happened to him (O RLY?). Add to that the fact that the only men who hadn't been named as our new coach were Paul Feltham, Dean Bailey and Jock McHale and it was hard to take it seriously.
But there was some air of credibility about it simply because Mike Sheahan broke the story. Now, Mike's not perfect but he's a damn sight less likely to put his name to an obscenely made up rumor than some twats sitting in a bedroom trying desperately to generate hits on their sporting news website so that the on-site ads will pay off and mean they don't have to eat dog food for breakfast. And to Mike's credit it turned out to be true. Within a couple of hours Garry Lyon was on Triple M all but confirming it as a done deal without actually saying Neeld's name.
In the spirit of Michael Roberts going right over the top on the Footy Show and comparing Mark Harvey getting the boot to a) a tsunami and b) having cancer I'd like to compare the footy world since Monday to September 11, 2001. This can't end well but stick with me. If you're old enough to remember that day the moment it became apparent that there was some serious terror action going down and not just some tit in a light plane who couldn't steer the news went into overdrive with every stupid rumor they could find and every tiny piece of information was bent and twisted into something much larger. Hundreds of planes were hijacked, reports of car bombs were going off in major cities, Palestinians holding the Moomba Parade to celebrate etc.. None of which actually turned out to be true. Only Americans would need to embellish the biggest terror disaster in history with additional activities just to keep people watching. Imagine if they'd had Twitter then? Chaos.
For once SEN weren't all that bad in their coverage of the switch, but even then they went through a 15 minute moment of doubt on either side of the 7pm news when they were convinced Rodney Eade was on a plane to Perth to sign on just because they couldn't get him on the phone. Still, once the ship was righted and they were on track SEN thumped the TV networks for coverage. I went inside and, very much against my will let me tell you, was watching the X Factor half an hour later when BREAKING NEWS - ROSS LYON RESIGNS AT ST KILDA TO COACH FREMANTLE came crawling along the screen. 1bil for TV rights and they won't even break into a talent quest for five minutes to cover the issue? That's the future of TV sports broadcasting right there. At least dump an episode of Are You Being Served on 7TWO and cross for rolling coverage. Although personally I'd happier to watch the antics of Mr Humphries than those of Ross Lyon but that's not the point.
So, with the paint barely dry on old Owl Eyes' tombstone in the west and him mysteriously 'being on a plane to Melbourne' (which of course he wasn't as it turned out) the plot thickened. He obviously wasn't coming to us as the process was already, according to Lyon at least (the media one), almost over when Harvey was knifed, but who knew what that meant for Eade/Burns/Neeld/etc.. Nobody was even sure who had been interviewed for our job. Burns/Neeld/?? Viney? Laidley? God knows.
In the end though it was Mike who got the scoop, and that's why he's a major football journalist and not writing tossed off tosh about what friends, insiders and amazed fellow diners had to say as if he's trying to convince us Brad and Angelina are about to split. Neeld was indeed to be the man with a press conference at midday Saturday. Mind you the way this week has gone I wouldn't have been surprised if the doors at AAMI Park had flung open to reveal Ken Judge standing there with a cheeky grin and another 'hilarious' gag about Hitler.
But the ex-Collingwood assistant it was, and the reaction from fans was as you'd expect mixed. Everyone wanted a 'name', but after missing out on Clarko and Lyon the name players were rapidly thinning out and we were in danger of losing the man who was obviously the preferred candidate to either Adelaide or Footscray. Like it or not Malthouse wasn't coming, Mark Williams is quite happy being the real coach of GW$ and Eade/Laidley/pretty much everyone else represented just as much of a risk as a highly credentialed premiership assistant. As much as I would cracked an Ararat at the prospect of Laidley/Williams being involved just to fulfil my own sick footballing fantasies the appointment worked for me straight away without ever having heard the guy say a word.
Of course naysayers say nay. "It's another Dean Bailey!" they scream. And while like Bails, Neeld might not have had much of a playing career I think you may just be overlooking his vast experience as a senior coach at local level (and four straight premierships in a half decent country competition is nothing to be sneezed at) and his stint as TAC Cup coach of the Western Jets before he even got to Collingwood - where he was the right hand man of the bloke that everyone (including me) was desperate to get.
I'd go so far as saying that considering what we'd have to have paid to get Lyon - who we just assume is good because he's taken Riewoldt/Goddard/Dal Santo etc.. to two Grand Finals - I'm deliriously happy. Talk to me when Jay Van Berlo, Justin Bollenhagen and Freo are waving a premiership cup around - until then I think we can afford to go without paying him $cully money. I didn't give god knows how much money to Debt Demolition just to have us spunk it up the wall on the off chance that the only thing wrong with us is the coach.
Also, to all the talkback callers who were pontificating about what complete arseholes we were that we cried about $cully doing a runner and then tried to steal somebody else's coach. In the words of Alan Partridge, "Swivel". I don't expect any apologies from [Name] of [Suburb] will be forthcoming. Besides, the moment the compo came in was there anybody left wailing about the $2m turd leaving? Doesn't mean we have to like him though..
If you'd given me the option of the 'untried' assistants yesterday I'd probably have taken Burns just because he had a long career and was a captain but either way I'd be happy not to see all the hard work to get out of debt wasted by spending zillions on a 'name' coach. But now that I've watched Neeld in action at his press conference I'm even happier that we've gone for him.
If you've been reading Demonblog long enough you'll know that the one thing I've wanted ever since 2005 (and before) is a coach who is a bit of a psycho, and I think we've landed one here. In a good way of course, not somebody whose floorboards need to be taken up in the search for bodies.
In between saying all the right things in his first press conference (and who else other than Mal Meninga doesn't?) he didn't crack a smile once. I love it. In his interview on the club's YouTube channel the only time he half raises a smile for the first seven minutes of it is when his list of achievements as a coach is being read out to him. I love this. You can tell he's driven, and although this mean a great deal doesn't coming from the guy who was convinced Dean Bailey would be a smashing success, I'm more than happy to back him 100% now and then go back and delete this post in five years time if it doesn't work out.
We all swoon when he says things like wanting us to become the 'hardest team to play against' in the competition, but we'll have to wait and see how he intends on achieving that. I'm happy to be along for the ride. If you wanted a coach who you'd heard of, and who you have happy memories of during their playing days, then bad luck but if you wanted somebody who is going to take no shite from his players and will hopefully do a great line in verbally destroying journalists in press conferences around the country then here's the good times, and here's the hill, let them roll.
I also love the twitch in his left eye. He's just ticking every box for me to believe that one day we'll lose and he'll cut a swathe through the press conference with a chainsaw. He's as cold as ice, willing to hack and slice.
It's also confirmed that he'll get his own team to work with, and that's a big goodbye to Josh Mahoney, Bryan Royal, Scott West etc.. The good news though is that Todd Viney stays. Todd seems infinitely more jocular than the man who replaces him but there's no doubt they're both fierce competitors and will hopefully get on nicely. Get Jack Viney in there already.
So, I'm as happy as you can get with a new coach at the moment. Though you just don't know with football. Mark Harvey went into this year looking at top four, was still at least within visible range of it three months ago and now finds himself out of a job. Just don't spaz out and threaten to microwave your (unpurchased) membership just because we didn't get some superstar in the job. And if we go out and get rolled in Round 1 next year don't forward project three seasons, decide he's no good, start sulking and not show up for the rest of the year. It may work, it may not - that's footy. Have some faith that eventually the skies will open, and the god of football will finally point his gigantic cosmic finger at us and deliver what we've all been waiting most of our lives for. Could happen. Probably won't, but as long as we get a few good years of legitimate hope out of it then I'll be satisfied.
Now the question is whether there's any truth to the rumor that Neil Craig is going to be a 'senior assistant' to him. Doesn't look like the kind of guy who would enjoy having a gruff South Australian hovering over him, and I'm still not sure Craig can operate in a non-South Australian environment. Maybe we can keep him in an oxygen tent full of air sourced from Victor Harbour and unleash him at nights only to follow Cale Morton around, leaping out at him from the shadows in carparks and scaring him until he's an edgy killing machine.
Watch this space. Well don't watch this exact space. This is already one more post than I expected to write before the end of the year.