Man to Man

Saturday, March 22
Geelong Advertiser _ Crackers Keenan

This season looms as crunch time for MARK THOMPSON and his young Cats. After just missing the finals action last year, the expectations are that the boys in blue and white hoops will still be plying their trade come September.

CRACKERS KEENAN talked to the coach about what lies ahead.

CRACKERS: Now the first question: What about the lights? The lights that should be up there, that the people want. Come on, you're the coach, wouldn't you like to play night games there?

MARK THOMPSON: I don't care where we play, whether they be night games or day games but I think the AFL has stressed pretty strongly that we're not going to get any night games even if we do put the lights in.

Would it be good for the Geelong Football League to play games at Skilled Stadium?

Why would it be good?

Because the locals would be able to turn up and have a look at a great oval, it's one of the best ovals, a showcase oval. And to play under lights would be tremendous.

Ah, would it. I don't know, you'd have to ask them if they wanted to do it or not. I know that we won't get games there.

All right we've cleared up the lights issue, you don't care where you play. Would this be the big crunch season for you Mark. You've gone and blooded the young kids last year.

This is like 1993 at Essendon when you were captain. A mixture of older players like you and (Mark) Harvey and some exciting young players that you had. Would this be about the same?

Yeah, I think it's pretty similar, we've got some really well established older players, and we've got some exciting young players coming through. Some of them would probably be younger than a lot of those boys that played in '93.

Did you take a gamble to get rid of a few blokes and didn't play a lot of blokes last year, and play the kids - was it a calculated gamble?

Not really, I thought we picked the side pretty much on who deserved a game, and Cameron Mooney and Kent Kingsley in the end proved to be good choices. (David) Menschy wouldn't have been any good on the wing or ruck rover. That's where we play James Bartel, Gary Ablett, James Kelly and these sorts of boys.

I think Kelly and all those young boys will complement Joel Corey and will end up a very good midfield.

What about Peter Street - a couple of weeks ago you were a little bit tough on him, I felt?

Yes, I had a few words on him, but what I can't understand is these young people when they get opportunities that they just don't grab them and really appreciate the opportunities.

I'm not just talking about Peter Street, I'm talking about a lot of people. Sure you can't go too hard if they're only young, but Peter Street has been given five years and it's time for him to really play some good footy and the season's only early and I'm sure he can do that.

How's he taken your criticism?

Well, he answered the best way he possibly could, he played well, he played a full game and took some really strong marks and he did play well. And that's the first step back.

It's a little bit hard when you're six foot 10 and you've got to come off the bench.

It's a little bit harder doing it from the reserves, though, Pete.

Also you bit the bullet on Ben Graham, how's Ben really taken it?

I think Ben's taken it very, very well. And I think that the football has shown that he's going to be able to handle not being the captain and I think it'll improve his footy, which is always our aim.

You said you were going to keep him in the backline all year, I was watching the Collingwood game and he seemed to be down in the forward line a bit.

Well they were very rare circumstances with no Kingsley and no Mooney and only young kids playing in the forward line.

Now you've been the coach down there four years, you've redirected the team, you're starting to play a different type of football. If you don't make the eight this year, what about your future Mark?

Well, I'm not too sure, I don't make that decision. Hopefully we do make the eight and everyone's happy and things progress.

I wanted to ask you about one of your compatriots, a bloke called Mark Harvey, I was speaking to him during the week. He said young Ablett was exceptional. How's he coping being young Gary and has he made the next step or could he make the next step?

Next step as in?

A permanent player in the seniors and a very good contributor.

I think there's a very, very good chance of that and I'm just really proud of what he's been able to achieve in the short time he's been in the system. He came in really raw and he's learnt so many skills. Saying that he's got a lot more skills to learn and one of them is slowly settling into life in the media. Getting himself into that forum, which is always going to be difficult but he'll get there. I don't think he'll shun the media for his whole life, I just think that when he's ready he'll step forward.

Do you ever talk to Gary senior about his boy?

Not very often, no. He's always there. Gary's a great parent in that he's probably one of the greatest players that has ever played and certainly in Geelong, but he's never given us advice about how he wants his boy handled or trained up or played or where to play.

From what I know he doesn't give him too much advice that conflicts with what we're trying to teach him to do on the footy field.

So, he's not an ugly parent in other words.

No, no he's definitely not an ugly parent.

Did you ever play on him?


How did you go?

Good in patches.

And had a couple of bad patches?

Yeah, I know he cleaned me up and broke three of my ribs once, but I don't hold any grudges.

Are you still ringing up Cat fans and talking about their memberships?

Ah, not as often, no. We have a whole membership department and things seem to be going OK. I haven't been copping many filthy letters so maybe you can put that in the article and people can start writing again.

Copping bad letters? Do you like bad letters?

No I don't, but I haven't had too many bad letters recently.

Do you ever talk tactics to the fans on the phone?

They want to know why we do different things sometimes, but when I sit down and talk to them they understand why I did things. We want to keep Geelong people happy, that's what we're here for.

Yeah, I know you've always been here to keep people happy. What do you like about your job?

It's a great game. It's the game I love. I love helping other people develop and we bring young people with talent to the football club and get them to do extraordinary things that other people can't do and that's very motivating and very enjoyable.

What's the thing you most dislike about it?

For every person you give an opportunity to, you cut someone else's career off, and that's definitely the hardest part of the job and the part that is the hardest thing to do.

Every coach has a favourite player, who would yours be down at Geelong?

I've got many favourites, I like Paul Chapman, I like Matthew Scarlett.

Because they try very, very hard and use everything they can?

Yeah, and I like Steven King. I think in the three years that I've been at the club he won two best and fairests, and the third year he was in front but he got injured so I must like him a little bit too.

You recently had lunch with Kevin Sheedy and Danny Corcoran, and all these people. Have you buried the hatchet with Sheedy yet?

Look, I don't think there was any hatchet to bury.

It was tense there for a while wasn't it?

It was tense but it was very over-rated. I think the thing that Kevin likes most is people being honest and that's the thing that I've always been with him. I always let him know how I felt.

The Bulldogs in round one - you played them in the Wizard Cup, very impressive that day. You had a good line-up, will you be sticking with that line-up?

Yeah, basically that line-up, I think we played a pretty full squad that day. We didn't have (David) Clarke who will be pushing for selection, didn't have (Aaron) Lord, and he'll be around the mark. I think everyone else played, we're going to have everyone available for round one it looks like. There won't be a player that will miss out. So that's a huge achievement when you compare that to some of the other clubs, with what we've been through.

Will you be disappointed if you don't make the eight this year?

I would because we just missed out last year, we had very young side and even though we got rid of a lot of experience, the experienced blokes didn't play much last year. So all the boys we have played, you'd think would be better players for having the year and having another pre-season and that's why I think we will be better.

Now you've been at Geelong four years, you own this whopping big house in Essendon that you can actually walk to Windy Hill. Would there be time when Kevin Sheedy gets to 85 years of age and no longer wants to coach Essendon, would you like to coach Essendon?

No, not at all. Geelong's a great club and if we can get this club going to where we want to go and that's to win a premiership and become a really consistent club. If Geelong wanted me I don't think I'd ever leave.

So I take it you'll be moving your house down here?

No, I don't need to move. I spend a lot of time in Geelong but it's also nice to get away from Geelong when you're a public person, and I've got another life, and my life is my family and we're pretty settled where we live and it just happens to be Essendon. But it's just somewhere where I've lived all my life and I like my neighbours - like you.

On that note I'm going.