AFL grand final 2016: Luke Beveridge – the two sides of a top dog coach

by admin on November 20th, 2018

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Luke Beveridge, Bob Murphy and Easton Wood take the plaudits from Western Bulldogs fans. Photo: Justin McManusFootball’s love affair with Luke Beveridge is neither simple nor monogamous. For to love the Western Bulldogs’ messiah is to love two men – the romantic and the ruthless formalist.

The 2013 Norm Smith medallist Brian Lake – who credits then Hawthorn defensive coach Beveridge with a mid-season intervention that year that realigned his career – believes the Bulldogs coach has managed to combine his two sides to locate the perfect sweet spot between mate and “hard arse”.

Bulldogs captain Robert Murphy has described him as “the most balanced person I’ve met in footy. He’s clinical and methodical and super-focused, and yet he has this other side where his love of the game, the romance and his passion are equally important to him and the way he coaches.”

Murphy described sitting near Beveridge with the Bulldogs’ coaches in the final 10 minutes of last week’s preliminary final against Greater Western Sydney as “almost unnerving. I was with the statisticians turning into a human pretzel and he’s just totally calm.

“His tone and his messaging were just so controlled. That steady hand when things are really tense and there’s a lot happening are quite remarkable when others – well, me – are figuratively and almost literally breathing into a brown paper bag.”

But Beveridge does have his unhinged moments, not unlike many great coaches. Although unlike some he listens and converses with others about subjects outside of his own sphere. And he can laugh later at his “psycho” self.

Generally, Beveridge’s anger is fuelled by fierce club loyalty or perceived wrongs to his players or coaches. No one laughed when Gold Coast poached his head of fitness, Justin Cordy, last year; Beveridge memorably recalled a group of journalists to vent his anger.

As a footballer, Beveridge played 118 games across Melbourne, the Bulldogs and St Kilda, leaving an impression from beginning to end.

Matt Healy, a fellow St Bede’s boy, former teammate and friend, recalls a suntanned, ripped, ringlet-haired but gently spoken surfie arriving in 1987 for his first Melbourne under-19s training session, before hitting the track as if it was grand final week. From that moment, said Healy, he knew what standards were expected.

St Kilda football director Andrew Thompson remembers the stirring farewell speech the unwilling AFL retiree and teammate Beveridge delivered 12 years later, in the bowels of the WACA before his last game, a farewell that inspired the Saints to an upset thrashing of West Coast.

While assistant coach at Hawthorn, before one big game Beveridge showed the team’s defenders the store robbery scene from the Dirty Harry film The Enforcer, in which Clint Eastwood’s famous character responds to armed robbers demanding a car by driving said vehicle into the shop and then shooting the criminals. “Don’t sit back and let them dictate,” was the message, according to the backs’ coach. “Take the fight to them.”

Brian Lake described Beveridge’s quirkiness as a joy for the Hawthorn defensive six to work with: “He’d get online and find photos or videos and characterise us in a certain way and now he’s doing it with a whole team. This week I’m sure there will be the twin towers of Sydney, the Bondi billionaires against the Western suburbs boys who need to fend for themselves.

“He’d tell us defenders at Hawthorn that we’re not the glory hunters, the glamour forwards – we’re the silent assassins who get the job done when you don’t see us coming, the bandit boys.

“I liked his analogies. He was a cut above most assistant coaches who are like the nerds who sit around for hours cutting tape and looking at edits. And you never got a rocket from him the way Rocket [former Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade] would give me because you worked so hard not to disappoint him. You just never wanted to turn up on Monday and see that disappointed look on his face.”

Beveridge replaced now St Kilda coach Alan Richardson as development coach at Collingwood at the end of 2008, after his famed run in the amateurs where he coached his old school St Bede’s to successive premierships from C to B to A grade across three seasons.

Beveridge was at Collingwood for two years, leaving after the Magpies’ 2010 flag. New coach Nathan Buckley wanted him to stay, but for reasons involving superannuation, Beveridge returned to his government post where he had been working in a senior national security role fighting money laundering. After one year, his financial issues resolved, Beveridge realised football was his calling and joined Hawthorn, leaving after the 2014 season. He was set to become director of coaching at St Kilda.

“Even though I barely knew him I thought he was very impressive and forthright,” said Richardson. “I felt we needed a director of coaching and strategy with an eye on where the game was going and Gavin Brown at Collingwood had spoken very highly of him.

“In coming on board he did make the point that the way he wanted our team to play in a certain area was a little bit unique. So we gave him a laptop and loaded him up with some of our games because he was going overseas with his family for a holiday. Obviously he didn’t last as long as we’d hoped.”

Richardson’s description of “a certain area” clearly refers to Beveridge’s focus on accountability and defence. Immediately after winning the Bulldogs job, he told both chairman Peter Gordon and his predecessor, David Smorgon, that Murphy would be playing as a permanent defender along with Matthew Boyd, while Liam Picken, whose career has blossomed under Beveridge, would be freed up.

Andrew Thompson, who had played with Beveridge during his time on the Bulldogs’ supplementary list and later at St Kilda, called Saints club chief Matt Finnis almost immediately after McCartney was removed from the Bulldogs coaching position. “We’re in trouble,” said Thompson. “He [Beveridge] is going to get that job.”

Thompson recalled this week that as soon as Luke Darcy agreed to join the Bulldogs’ coaching selection panel, the appointment became a fait accompli. “I knew if Bevo was interviewed they wouldn’t go past him.”

A guilt-stricken Beveridge, who had signed a contract with St Kilda, called Finnis, Richardson and Thompson once the senior coaching job had become a reality. “If you don’t want me to do it then I won’t do it,” he told Alan Richardson, who responded that, having one year earlier departed his contracted role at Port Adelaide for a senior position, he could hardly deny Beveridge such an opportunity.

Hawthorn, too, did not want to lose Beveridge, but could not offer the highly regarded assistant coach a position commensurate with the St Kilda role he never actually began.

The view from several at Hawthorn is that one of Beveridge’s strengths is his ability to understand the struggle of the average AFL player, because he faced that struggle himself.

Not that it was apparent at the beginning of his career. Healy said “on day one he hit training like there was a grand final the week after. I realised straightaway that I was going to have to raise the level expected of us.”

Like Murphy and Lake, Healy said one of the most attractive things about Beveridge was the double-sided nature of his character. “He has that intensity that comes out in his work ethic, but he’s a sensitive guy also,” he said.

One of club chief David Stevenson’s final acts before leaving the Bulldogs in some acrimony in June was to extend Beveridge’s contract until 2020. To that end Stevenson can still feel some ownership to the grand final journey. He will attend the game as a guest of the AFL and reportedly never fell out with the coach, who called Stevenson for a lengthy conversation after the chief executive had left the club.

Healy said Beveridge remained handy at any sport he put his mind to, while Lake endorsed the “cut” description. “He’s a little bit vain as well,” said Lake. “He … loved our weights room.”

“After the 2014 flag he was the only coach to rock up to ‘Mad Monday’,” adds Lake. “The boys got around him and tried to make him scull a beer, which he didn’t do. As a coach he wasn’t our mate and yet he wasn’t a hard-arse. He somehow found that sweet spot.”

Andrew Thompson recalls coach Stan Alves putting in place a pre-training ritual in which each St Kilda player had to tell a joke before training. “Most guys would try to get their jokes out of the way as quickly as possible, but Bevo would grab a chair and tell the longest jokes, which were so funny along the way that it didn’t really matter if the punch line wasn’t that funny.”

Beveridge had believed he could play on after 1999 but coach Tim Watson disagreed, so – with the Saints having narrowly missed the finals – the player chose to make that memorable farewell speech at the WACA.

“He spoke for five to ten minutes,” said Thompson, “and I couldn’t tell you what he said, but I remember it was so emotional and so inspirational and we came out and trounced West Coast by about 75 points.”

The story of how the Western Bulldogs turned around their club under leaders from Peter Gordon to Beveridge to Murphy after the horror spring and early summer of 2014 will become football legend should they win only their second flag.

Murphy said that as newly appointed captain he felt he connected with Beveridge very quickly. “But we probably didn’t have much choice,” he said. “We were one-out, the scourge really, in terms of the game and the competition. Everyone was coming at us, so maybe it helped us make that connection. We clung together and there was no time for second guessing.”

If it is true, as Murphy says, that he has been waiting all his playing life for Luke Beveridge, the Western Bulldogs might well have been waiting for 62 years.

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