Following the win against the Sydney Swans in Round 6 at Metricon Stadium, as Members made their way home, SUNS players began their recovery at the Austworld Centre following a bruising encounter and the SUNS coaching group began to review one of the SUNS more complete performances in recent years.
Neil Craig, the vastly experienced former AFL senior coach, sits amongst the coaching group discussing thoughts of the performance that was.
Craig, who has been involved across different areas of AFL club’s football programs throughout his 23-year career, including stints at Adelaide, Melbourne, Essendon, Carlton (alongside his current role with Eddie Jones at England Rugby Union), has also been working with the SUNS since December 2019.
After spending the week on the Gold Coast, SUNS Media caught up with the engaging figure to discuss what he had observed and learnt working with the SUNS on and off field teams.
SUNS Media: Neil, Thanks very much for joining us. Obviously, you’ve been working with the club for a while now, but due to the year that was in 2020, the majority of it has been remote. Can you tell us a bit about your week and how you’re working with our coaching and playing groups?
It was good to spend a week here, you know because of last year coming up to the Gold Coast was hard, we had to put a hold on that. Anyway now things are settled down it's been good to come back, and I've really enjoyed it. I've pretty much just used it as an observation week in a whole range of areas.
It’s been primarily in the coaching area, observing main training sessions or craft sessions, observing meetings, sitting in match committee. It’s given me the opportunity to learn the language of the SUNS if you like, which is always important, because we all use different terminology, each club uses different terminology, so to get a bit of a feel for language as well.
And now that the week’s done, I’ll gather all my thoughts and it's a matter of just catching up with Stuey (Stuart Dew) and Jon (Jon Haines), which I will do fairly soon. In particular, just to share some observations and thoughts.
It's certainly not a situation for me come in here and tell people what to do, that's not the case at all. It's just really looking at it through a different lens if you like. Which is great, because it says something about the club, that they're open to that sort of thinking.
SUNS Media: You’ve worked with our Coaching Group for a while now, what have you learnt about them as a group?
What I've learned about the coaching group is they’ve got a great work ethic.
But probably every coaching group in the AFL has got that, so that's not a competitive advantage.
What I have noticed though is they've certainly made me feel very welcome and I’ve observed a great level of open mindedness. A willingness to do things possibly different.
Not just saying yes or no, but just thinking about things. That says something about the coaching group, and their mindset. It’s no different, to what you would ask your playing group, to have that sort of mindset, so the coaching group is modelling that behaviour.
Then you've got, Alex (Rigby) in terms of Strength and Conditioning, who's got a real passion and enthusiasm for that job, and is doing a fantastic job the way he's prepared this group, a young group is top class. I was here just before Christmas as well and saw some of the preseason. He's doing a really good job.
The footy department from a collaboration point of view, from my observation is all working in synergy, which is important, because you can get your different silos occurring if you're not careful.
SUNS Media: Following the Swans win, Stuey said in his press conference that it had been a heavy week for the coaching group, reviewing their own performances after a poor first half against the Bulldogs in Round 5. That’s a great trait, that willingness to improve, isn’t it?
It's no different to what you ask players to do. It's really important for coaches to model that behaviour. To be open minded and be the best they can possibly be.
The AFL is a fantastic sport, and in general on the world stage, AFL clubs do it as well as any sport that I've been involved with in the world.
And, and the best environments have exactly that mentality, that they're not closed shop, they're continuing to ask questions about how can we do better. In this case you're talking about coaches, so how can we do it better? How are we operating as a group of coaches? How are we making each other better? Are we open for feedback in everything we do? Whether it be in coaching on the main session or when we present to our line groups. That's a really healthy attitude, a really healthy attitude.
The bottom line is that always stems from the head coach. So if Stuey’s not open to it, I wouldn't be here. It says a lot about your head coach. About his attitude to wanting to be the best he could possibly be.
The best senior coaches I've experienced throughout the world, have a curiosity and humility and are looking to get better. And hopefully I can provide, a view looking through a different lens, different perspectives and just throw up some different questions really to help them get better.
SUNS Media: That’s great insight thank you Neil. You have also been working with some of our players in leadership roles or aspriring leaders. How have you found the playing group?
What I do know is you've got four, you've got four passionate leaders in the senior group. Jarrod Witts, David Swallow, Touk Miller and Sam Collins, not only with the way they're going about their own playing performance, but then their care for the group and the way they think about the group, they’re doing a great job. But once again, they were open to listening to ways they could do things better.
And then we spent some time with, a younger group of players and I found them really refreshing to work with. They were able to implement a couple of ideas that they came up with, within a day, around the main training session. Which was exciting.
We also spent some time with guys who are not in the senior leadership group, but are in the 20 - 24 year old bracket and they've got a really healthy attitude. Their capacity to want to be able to help the senior leadership group, share the workload. Meet with them for example on a Monday and find out what needs to be done across a whole range of things. Could be, picking up conversation with teammates, it can be energy, enthusiasm, drive on the training track, a whole range of different little parts of the club.
To be honest, I've found the playing group at the SUNS in particular, really welcoming. They come up they introduce themselves, they’re really friendly, but you also smell that they're up for the challenge.
All today does, (win against Sydney), is build a bit of belief in the path that the club is on. There will still be, there's always ups and downs, no matter where you are on that on that journey but certainly from what I saw today, what I saw during the week, and the performance I saw today against a really experienced AFL club supporters are in to have some fun. Your members and supporters are in for some fun ahead of them.
SUNS Media: Neil, you’ve got a wealth of experience and knowledge in sport and we appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us.
Neil Craig: Thanks