Happy with the pre-season so far? 

There have been a lot of positives. There are still areas we are working to improve. In the first hit-out there were some really good signs. I thought the effort was really good. The priorities haven’t changed. We want them fit, available and everyone on the same page on game day. We are getting closer to getting everyone on the same page but we have some work to do to fine tune. The availability is lower than we would like. The operations that were done – there have been hiccups throughout the rehabilitation. The two notable ones are Morabito and Mundy but there is also Viv Michie. Obviously the aim is to get on top of it. We are taking the approach that it is not all due to bad luck even though a significant element of it probably is. We owe it to members and supporters to investigate it. We have made inroads and it is not dissimilar to what I experienced when I first went to St Kilda. In the end we think that will result in really strong player availability which is a critical component for success in the AFL. I’ve formed a really strong working relationship with (sport science manager) Jason Weber. We communicate daily and he is aligned to the philosophy that I bring in. He has made some adjustments and I’ve made some adjustments. I am pretty confident it is coming together.

What did you see in the first NAB Cup games?

You have to be careful reading too much into NAB Cup games. The format is now significantly different. It is twenty-twenty footy with big breaks and teams that are fatigued against teams that are fresh. Our effort was really strong. Even in the West Coast game our intensity and effort was what I am looking for. Not perfect but a strong foundation to build on.

You made only three changes between the games. Why?

We have got a red-hot start: Geelong, Sydney away, Brisbane, the Saints in round four and then Carlton. That is three or four top teams and a rejuvenated Brisbane. I want them ready to go in round one so we will push the envelope. We could have made eight changes but I thought there was more merit in pushing them through and conditioning them. It was a conscious decision which put our group under pressure but that is OK. They were under enormous pressure and they didn’t crumble. I liked that.

Did it surprise you that because it was West Coast v Fremantle, a round one NAB Cup match became a significant event?

When we play West Coast it is four points. Peter Sumich is inside our tent now and I know that is the way that West Coast looked at it. I understand the rivalry and the supporters but it is still about four points. To answer your question, nothing surprises me about the AFL any more.

Is Lachie Neale a realistic chance to play round one?

I think he is a realistic chance, yeah. Everyone still has got four or five weeks to select themselves.

At St Kilda you had a reputation for liking older and harder players over young players. Was that a fair perception?

I am not going to waste my time trying to change people’s perceptions. I stand on my record. Clint Jones came off a rookie list, Jarryn Geary off a rookie list, Robert Eddy off a rookie list, Andrew McQualter off a rookie list, Zac Dawson off a rookie list. They were all young players. Sam Gilbert was a young player. I am comfortable with that. Fremantle haven’t got too many older players. We have got 30 first to third-year players plus rookies. We will play what is in front of us.

You have a reputation as a defensive coach. How do you view yourself?

I don’t think about that too much. If you are top four both offensively and defensively it gives you the best chance. The Saints were top four in both in 2009. It is all linked together so you can’t isolate one component. But defence is an important part of it. People forget that Geelong and Collingwood were one and two defensively as well. You have got to be very good at both sides of the ball to win a premiership. You have got to be top-two contested ball as well and I think we have been 14th two years in a row. We are an 11-goal swing behind the premiership team last year. That is the gap we are trying to bridge, six goals in attack and five goals in defence. We have some work to do. What we averaged in score for was six goals behind the premier and defensively we are five goals worse. That is significant. In contested ball we are minus two on average and the premiers are something like plus 12 so there is a fair bit of ground there. I am not just going to wave a magic wand and fix that. We are a young list and there has been a lot of work done but there is a lot more to do.

Are changes to the game plan significant or subtle compared to Mark Harvey?

I didn’t analyse Fremantle too much. We used to fly in, take the points and go home. They were only a finals contender once so I didn’t analyse them too much. There are some differences. I want to implement a midfield zone, some team defence mechanisms on a consistent basis. Mark Stone is a really good stoppage coach … but the reality is we have got a lot of work to do. I am very respectful of what has been achieved. Philosophically the direction that the club took – full salary cap and not playing finals – they said enough is enough. They kept their first-round picks. They have looked at other leagues and hence Silvagni, Spurr this year, Mzungu, Barlow. There has been a philosophy to rebuild the list. That is a lot of hard work with kids.

Is the Fremantle list better than you thought?

There is a lot of hyperbole about lists in the AFL. When I first went to Sydney and then the Saints it took me at least 12 months to get an intimate understanding of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. I have been here four months and had one competitive hit-out so it is really hard to judge. Hill and Fyfe have got a lot of work to do to become Pendlebury and Thomas. At St Kilda we saw the quantum leap forward by Montagna, Dal Santo, Goddard and Fisher. We have got to produce that. I don’t think anyone would say we have got eight or nine All-Australians here. We need to develop them. I am excited with the raw talent here and the opportunity to mould them. We have got about nine coaches working really hard so the players have got every opportunity. We just want to create an environment where you be the best you can be. Work really hard every day when you get up and with a strong purpose.

Paul Roos says it may take a year for Fremantle players to adjust to your game plan. Do you agree?

It is not something I have thought about. He is a commentator. Clearly he is a friend but I haven’t had that discussion with him. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but you don’t spend energy ringing people up trying to change them. I don’t have the luxury of assessing everyone’s opinion.

Can your three big men – Clarke, Griffin and Sandilands – play in the same team?

I think there is definitely room for two of the three. Hopefully they are all available which they seem to be at the minute. Jon Griffin is coming back from a little hiccup with tendonitis. Zac has got a light body so we have to protect him a bit in the ruck. We see him fighting for a key forward spot more against Anthony and Kepler Bradley. It would be fantastic to put Sandilands and Griffin in the one team. Last year there were two models. Collingwood had Jolly and Leigh Brown and Geelong had West and Ottens. I thought West and Ottens were significant in the finals. When it is tight and fierce the big bodies and the big men give you first use.

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