Cameron Joyce has always been attached to football.
It’s been ingrained, almost since birth, in the man now charged with coaching Gold Coast’s AFLW team in 2022.
It started watching on the sidelines as his father, Alan Joyce, coached Hawthorn to two VFL/AFL premierships in 1988 and ’91 (and also played in the 60’s).
Joyce just loved being around the game, so it was only poetic he would one day go on to coach his own team at the elite level.
Growing up in Victoria, Joyce was a perfectly capable footballer himself, playing for Glen Iris and Scotch College before joining the Oakleigh Chargers for two seasons as he approached draft age.
He even earned a coveted position to complete a pre-season with Hawthorn, but admitted he wasn’t quite good enough to make a career out of football.
At least as a player.
“I loved footy so much and I’d grown up with footy, if I couldn’t be a player I wanted to work in footy and still be involved in it,” Joyce told SUNS Media.
“As a kid I was heavy on all the stats, I just loved my footy and would watch endless amounts of games like a lot of young kids, but I probably had that extra insight that others didn't which probably helped me move through a bit quicker.
“So then I took the path of how I can get involved.
“And that was my first foray into it, when I started straight out of school at the Richmond Football Club.”
A foot in the door:
It wasn’t a glamorous start to a football career by any means.
What was his first role? He was a glorified tape recorder.
“There was an opportunity to do all the tape-to-tape videos of the players back in the old VHS days,” Joyce explained.
“So I'd sit there on a Sunday, after the game on a Saturday and literally put in the 22 tapes for each player and just watch each of the players’ vision from the game to record them on to the tapes.
“It took me four to six hours every Sunday and I think I got paid $500 for the season, but back then it was just great to be involved.”
The idea was that, by the end of the season, the players would then have up to half a dozen VHS tapes containing their game vision, from every game they played, all meticulously compiled by Joyce.
Joyce said he’d hate to sit down and calculate how many hours of vision and games of football he’d watched on those Sundays.
But it was a foot in the door, and that was all he needed to begin working his way up.
He was offered his first full-time role in 2001 at the age of 21, looking after operations and stats in the football department.
That soon evolved into football IT, recruiting, opposition scouting, and even marketing.
In the space of five years Joyce had compiled an extensive CV and invaluable experience in most areas of a football department.
Yet he still had one area he yearned to develop, coaching.
After leaving the Tigers, Joyce started working part-time in recruiting with North Melbourne, but deliberately went about building his coaching skillset at the same time.
“I always had a passion for coaching and because I'd gone down a different path around more the administration, operations and recruiting, so I tried to do as much as I could to gain experience and education,” Joyce said.
“I did three or four years, alongside my full-time job, coaching at the Oakleigh Chargers and really enjoyed working with some of the players that are still playing AFL footy today.
“That sort of whet the appetite.”
It was not long later that West Coast came knocking for Joyce’s services, employing him as an opposition scout based in Melbourne.
His versatility was desirable, and he soon earned the trust of those around him.
In 2005, the Eagles made the Grand Final but lost to Sydney. In 2006, the two clubs met again on the last Saturday in September, but this time West Coast were victorious.
Joyce was in the coaches box that day, which he says is one of the highlights of his career.
After almost four years at West Coast, Joyce was on the move again, this time returning to North Melbourne to take on the role of List Manager in 2008.
He held that role for almost nine years before being promoted again to General Manager of Football at North Melbourne, where he worked closely with Brad Scott to take the Kangaroos to two preliminary finals and four finals series.
11 years at North saw Joyce at a crossroads in late 2019.
He’d progressed as far as he could in football operations, but that burning passion for coaching still lingered.
He wanted to become a full-time coach, and assessed his options before settling on taking a role as a development coach in the Tasmania Devils NAB League boys and girls programs.
“It gave me an opportunity just to sit back and think right, what's the best thing for me in terms of my next progression in football,” Joyce said.
“I was faced with a decision around the coaching role down in Tassie and then there were other roles in Victoria at the time.
“But they were coaching only a handful of games and you didn't have the players for a significant period of time where in Tasmania, it gave me an opportunity to run a whole program across the state.
“In the end, it also gave me the opportunity to coach boys and girls and I'm really thankful for that because that's really one of the main reasons why I'm here today.”
The Tassie Experience:
With over 400 games of football experience across both the coaches box and interchange bench, it’s fair to say Joyce was well-prepared to tackle his first full-time coaching role.
In 2020 he was handed the reins as talent manager and head coach of the Tasmania Devils boys and girls.
He may not have realised it at the time, but he’d already spent the previous 20 years of his life unconsciously learning from some of the biggest names in football.
Danny Frawley, Darren Crocker, John Worsfold, Leon Cameron, Tim Gepp and Tony Micale all played a role in Joyce’s development.
That’s not to mention Brad Scott who Joyce describes as “the biggest influence on me in my time in football”.
What made that relationship so special was the trust and confidence the pair were able to develop over an extended period of time.
“It’s a small industry,” as Joyce puts it, evidenced by his connection to a number of current SUNS staff in Wayne Campbell (Richmond), Josh Drummond, Rhyce Shaw and Ben Mabon (North Melbourne), and even Sam Collins, who Joyce coached at Oakleigh.
“I think there's certainly a combination of all those people that I've been exposed with that have had an impact on some of the things that I believe in today,” Joyce said.
“You're grabbing little bits from everyone and also throwing bits back that you think might not necessarily align with how you want to coach.
“That starts to move and shape you as a person as well as your own coaching philosophy from what you’ve been exposed to.”
But coaching females was completely new to him.
Joyce had played a role in the creation and implementation of North Melbourne’s AFLW team, but had never had the experience of coaching a women’s team.
He quickly identified some adjustments he needed to make in his style to stay ahead of the learning curve.
“I can remember down in Tassie just saying let's do some 45 (degree) kicks and a couple of the girls asked what’s a 45 kick,” Joyce recalls.
“So that sort of straightened me out pretty quickly early, let's just go back a step and let's explain what that is.
“That doesn't necessarily mean that they haven't done those kicks before, but just some of the terminology that you might have been used to in the boys game that you think is automatic, isn’t.”
Joyce also identified opportunities to fast-track the development of the players under his guidance.
“A couple of people gave me some advice to not give the girls too much information, and I sort of reflected on that and thought about that,” Joyce said.
“But these are the better girls in Tasmania and obviously then you go to the AFLW and they’re the best girls in Australia. They want more.
“So I had to weigh up how much is too much, but at the same time I think that their thirst for wanting to get better learn more about the game has been excellent.
“And I've seen in Tassie, but also in a short time here, what we've been able to teach and maybe open up different areas of the game that they haven't really been exposed to which they've really enjoyed.”
His approach showed results.
In 2021, Joyce helped lift the Tassie Devils NAB League Girls from a winless season to a 6-2 record, guiding the club to its first-ever finals appearance.
Two girls from that team went on to be drafted to North Melbourne’s AFLW list.
Ultimately, it’s what led him to his newest career opportunity, coaching the Gold Coast SUNS in the 2022 NAB AFL Women’s season.
Something that’s been consistent through Joyce’s football journey has been relationships.
It was one of the reasons he came back to work at North Melbourne all those years ago and has been an important factor in his success in both coaching and operations.
It’s one of the reasons he loves coaching so much.
“The ability to try and get the best out of people, to really use their strengths to the betterment of the team, that's the part that that really interests me,” Joyce said.
“I think the best day of the week, in all my time in footy has always been gameday.
“And it's the one where you win together, you lose together, you're trying to achieve something together.
“I think the sense of being able to achieve something with a group of people is pretty special.
“I don't know if many workplaces get that whereas sport in particular is one that provides that.”
The other drawcard to his new role was the sheer challenge of competing at the highest level.
He’s never been the type to back down from a challenge and is committed to seeing the SUNS achieve success in the AFLW competition.
“We’re competing in a 14-team competition now, we'll be competing in an 18-team competition very soon,” Joyce said.
“We're all trying to do similar things so how can we do things better?
“How can we make inroads into the competition?
“All of the above is trying to strive towards what’s important in the time that you have.
“I think the challenge is exciting and trying to help the SUNS be successful was really appealing.”
Behind closed doors he’s already gone to work.
Joyce has played a role in streamlining the processes under a new staffing structure.
He’s regularly spotted in the café talking to players, at his desk reviewing training or out on the astro turf doing extra craft with a player.
He’s also assembled what he calls a “weapons and work-ons board” at the entrance to the club, where all players are encouraged to identify their strengths and focus areas throughout the pre-season.
It’s all part of an over-arching strategy, the “continuum of high performance” as Joyce puts it.
Essentially, it’s building a foundation and continually adding layers to begin the climb up the ladder.
It’s already started, and if history is anything to go by, Joyce is one who’s prepared to see it through to the end.