You cannot control injuries, but you can control the development of your players to cover them

IN the last round of 2003 we secured a top-four finish.

Late in the last quarter, against Melbourne, discussions quickly turned to who we would take off to save for the first final the next week.

Mick O’Loughlin’s name came up and, as the runner was heading out to take him from the field, Mick lunged at a mark and tore his hamstring.

Season over before the runner could arrive.

I guarantee that every coach in the box, and possibly every player on the ground, had the same thought: did our premiership chances just go down with Mick?

Every coach of the top-10 teams will be riding the injury rollercoaster during the next three months.

Injuries are very significant in the run home to the finals. While you can’t control them, a coach can control his gameplan and the development of his players. Both can cover the loss of a great
player in some way.

You can’t replace a star, but you can ensure the person who comes in knows exactly what to do in the three phases of the game.

Where do I stand when the ball is in dispute? What do I do when we win the ball? And the phase you can have most control over: when they have the ball, what is my responsibility?

Perhaps one of the greatest advantages some clubs have in developing their players is a stand-alone seconds team.

Seventeen and 18-year-olds have an enormous amount to learn before they are ready to play at the highest level. The ability to have 100 per cent control over your young, developing players is significant.

To be able to duplicate all of your structures and to place your young talent in exactly the same situation they will face in a senior game is the most important learning tool you can provide. At the Swans, we used to have an affiliation with Port Melbourne, and generally we had a very good relationship — but we didn’t control the team.

There was a fundamental difference that existed — they wanted and needed to win, and our only goal was development.

The problems were glaring and insurmountable. Young midfielders playing in the back pocket, young defenders in the forward pocket, and often some would sit on the bench for large parts of the game.

So it is no surprise that Collingwood and Geelong — who both control their own VFL team — have been two of the best clubs at covering injuries and developing talent.

How often have we marvelled that their youngsters slot into the team structures and never look out of place at senior level?

Injuries aside, the other area that will consume coaches’ minds in the run home is player discipline.

This can also unravel a club’s season.

Richmond was the first to deal with this on Monday, and no doubt it would be absolutely filthy with Dustin Martin and Daniel Connors.

You have to set standards, and I applaud Damian Hardwick and the Richmond Football Club for their actions.

We need to look no further than this time last year to see how quickly things can change.

The Magpies were unbackable favourites for the flag. Not only were they winning, they were demolishing most sides.

As the season neared its end, club sanctions, suspensions and injuries cost the Pies the flag.

That will not be lost on any of the current coaches, and all start a nervous march to September.

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