Posted in Front Page News

By Nick Crook 

In 2009 a 17-year-old Max Gawn was drafted to the Melbourne Football Club – but before that he played his junior football alongside his good friend Alistair McCooke at Ormond. Fast forward five years and Gawn has returned to join his friend, no longer boys but men, in order to teach the next generation of Ormond footballers how to play the game they love. 

You could be forgiven if you viewed getting an AFL player down to volunteer at his junior club for the entirety of a season as a fool’s errand – particularly one as busy as Gawn. When he’s not spending much of his day at Casey Fields with Melbourne, Gawn is studying to be a teacher or helping out with the charity, Ladder, in an effort to decrease youth homelessness. 

However, there was no lengthy courtship undertaken by Ormond, in fact it was Gawn who reached out to the club to express his interest in coaching. He contacted McCooke, who has continued through to the Ormond senior team and become a quality footballer in his own right, to suggest they team up to coach a squad. 

Obviously Ormond welcomed an AFL footballer back into the fold with open arms, not only have they given Gawn and McCooke a team to coach, they’ve also provided two experienced coaches for the first-timers to learn from. 

This season Ormond will field two Under 16 teams with the rookies Gawn and McCooke taking the reins for the Division 2 squad. Neither has coached before but they are fortunate enough to be joined by a couple of the club’s coaching stalwarts in Craig Lovett and Greg Maclaren. 

“[I’m] still in the process of finding my feet. A lot of coaches you see coaching in the AFL coach the way they play, I like to think I’m a pretty hard player so I think the team’s going to be nice and hard,” said Gawn. 

Lovett and Maclaren have a plethora of junior football coaching experience – between them they have coached every age group at Ormond from Auskick through to Under 16’s. This season Maclaren is the head coach and Lovett is his assistant for the Division 4 side and both will serve as a guiding force for the two first-time coaches.

As a new coach it can sometimes be hard to get your point across but according Lovett the team hasn’t taken long to take to what the newcomers have to say: 

“They’ve both been fantastic with the way they communicate with the boys. Max has to say anything and the boys will fall over for him… [He] commands a lot of respect but he’s certainly a fun guy and gets his message across really well.” 

Both teams train together so all four coaches get the chance to impart their coaching philosophy onto the group and all four stress a different message. It creates a synergy within the group not dissimilar to several pieces of a jigsaw coming together to complete the picture. 

This return to Ormond may be the first step on a path as a career coach for Gawn, who harbours ambitions to coach in the future: 

“I’ve obviously got big aspirations to be a coach when I’m older. Look at the ruck coach in the AFL at the moment… They come in for two days a week and still work full time outside of football. 

“I’d like to come down and coach at Ormond seniors one day.” 

One of the most exciting things for local juniors who haven’t decided if they’re going to pull on the boots this season is that there is still room for a guaranteed start at Ormond where they will get to train with an AFL footballer every single week. 

Perhaps the biggest draw to return to Ormond for Gawn was the culture at the club. If you can imagine the stigma that can sometimes surround a football club – one of boorish men behaving poorly – then you’ve pictured the antithesis of the Ormond Football Club. 

According to the coaches this is one of the benefits of having a senior club affiliated directly with the junior club. Ormond is able to foster players from Auskick and instil a sense of respect that remains prevalent and consistent throughout the pathway to senior football. 

“The Ormond Football Club – both junior and senior ranks can progress the boys through all stages,” said Maclaren. 

“To have players go even further such as Max and then come back to the club is a tribute to the community that this club represents.”                                                                                                       

Getting an AFL player down to his junior club may be a fool’s errand, but Gawn isn’t any AFL player, alongside McCooke, he’s making the time. With Lovett and Maclaren’s savvy as a guide it appears they’re also making strides as coaches.