Road to ruin: Lyon confirms money woes, says he has ‘great empathy’ for Harvey
Fremantle coach Ross Lyon faced financial ruin, losing a seven-figure sum in a single month during the global financial crisis, in an admission that has shed further light on his reasons for leaving St Kilda.
In a wide-ranging interview with the West Australian, Lyon said investments in an Australian mining company failed during the early months of 2009 – the same year he took the Saints to a grand final.
Shortly after the birth of his third child, Lyon and his wife Kirsten had to sell their properties and move into his father Maurie’s Reservoir home for six months.
‘‘It was pretty significant. I didn’t tell anyone but my closest friends,’’ Lyon told the newspaper. ‘‘I just dug in with my wife Kirsten and we coped.
‘‘It was huge, but I didn’t want any handouts and I look after myself.’
Lyon said the past two seasons had St Kilda had helped him move to a more stable financial position and he believed he had coped well with the stress.
‘‘Everyone got hit and it was my own stupidity,’’ he said.
‘‘It certainly wasn’t cowboy stuff. It had been a 10-year investment that basically disappeared. That’s what I was coping with.
‘‘It was pretty stressful and I had one bad night. But if you’re talking about handling stress, I didn’t miss a beat.’’
The admission confirms specualtion made in the wake of Lyon’s shock decision to walk out on the Saints last week that money was a major factor in luring him to the Dockers.
The Age’s chief football writer, Caroline Wilson, said Lyon had agreed to a five-year contract worth up to $1.5 million a season in the cashed-up west.
In the frank interview, Lyon said he had “great empathy” for the AFL coach who was sacked in order for him to defect to Fremantle, but didn’t want to “patronise” Mark Harvey by expressing sympathy for him at last week’s hostile media conference in Perth.
He said AFL coaches came under “unique scrutiny and pressure”, but there was not a “brotherhood of regular contact” between the group.
“There’s a mutual understanding of the pressures of the job and the pressures on your family. But you know what, we’re all big boys and we choose that,” Lyon told the newspaper.
Lyon shocked AFL observers late last week by turning his back on St Kilda and signing a four-year deal to coach Fremantle. The Dockers sacked Harvey with one year remaining on his contract.
“Specifically in relation to Mark, he was a great player at a great team and he was incredibly tough. We shared some time together and we know some mutual people and I know his wife, Donna, was so down-to-earth and supportive around the ’09 finals series.
“The human side of it is really tough, but at the press conference, I certainly wasn’t going to sit there and patronise Mark because I didn’t think it was appropriate or the right time. That was really a no-win situation.
“It’s really important to reiterate I didn’t create a position (at Fremantle). Basically, I was head-hunted and accepted an offer. I certainly have great empathy for Mark and at the right time, I’m sure we’ll run into each other.
“One ounce of common sense would tell you it would be inappropriate for me to contact Mark Harvey and his family at this time. It would be offensive … it’s illogical.”
Lyon, a self-described career coach, believes Andrew Demetriou would have softened the attack on his integrity had the AFL chief executive been fully aware of the reasons behind his controversial defection.
Lyon told the West Australian Demetriou had “stood firm” with the Saints when the club was beset by a series of off-field problems last summer.
But as critics rounded on Lyon late last week, the AFL boss publicly questioned Lyon’s integrity for speaking with Fremantle when both he and Harvey had existing contracts.
“He was one of the few people when everybody was jumping off the players at St Kilda and making harsh and inaccurate judgements, he stood firm,” Lyon said of Demetriou.
“He’s got stewardship of all the AFL clubs. I’m sure he likes to see stability and key people and key planks in the organisation stay because it makes his job easier.
“He felt some disappointment and on the surface it looks harsh.
“I’m confident if he knew the full facts and my rationale, his personal opinion would be softened somewhat.”
Amid widespread attacks on his “integrity”, Lyon said his definition of the word revolved around meeting a pledge of what you say you’re going to do.
“At no stage have I said I was going to do something that I haven’t done, so I’m really comfortable,” Lyon told the West Australian.
“Obviously (my) integrity has been raised at this point, which for me is disappointing and at some level, (it) hurts. But fundamentally, for my family and friends and players I’ve coached, I like honesty, I like consistency in relationships.
“I certainly don’t associate with people who just go up and down depending on who they’re with. I really mix with people who, fundamentally, you can trust.”
The coach also refuted rumours he considered walking out on St Kilda early this year after four players found trouble on a trip to New Zealand and were suspended for breaking a curfew.
That came on the back of the so-called “St Kilda schoolgirl” scandal, in which nude photographs of several players were published on the internet.
“No, (that’s) inaccurate. I was never going to abandon my players. I was disappointed that it was suggested I left because of off-field (incidents),” he said.
When asked whether he had any regrets about his five seasons at St Kilda – including three grand final appearances – Lyon said: “I regret we didn’t win it and ultimately, I fell short with the group.”