‘I know the process of winning’: McRae challenges Pies stars to drive success

Collingwood coach Craig McRae has immediately challenged the stars of his new team including Brodie Grundy and Jordan De Goey to drive the club to a new level.

McRae, who coached the two players and other stars when he was a development coach at the club, said he was keen to resume working with Grundy on how to better connect with the group and turn hitout dominance into clearances and midfield dominance. Grundy has fallen away in the last two years from his All-Australian standards.

In a broad-ranging interview after being appointed coach, McRae said:

  • The club would return to pre-COVID staffing levels in the coaching structure. The lower salary for a first-time coach in McRae meant the club could spend on other areas such as development, and they would add several more people.
  • More work needed to be done on leadership and contested football. McRae wants Scott Pendlebury to decide his captaincy future but beneath him, he believes the club needs to improve its leadership. “There is a bit of work to do in our leadership group. I’ve known that for a little while. And I say that with all respect, but I think we’ve got to get better in all areas and I think leadership is a starting point.”
  • The preferred game plan would not be finalised until the full coaching panel was completed and they determined what best suited the playing group. “When we get our coaching panel together we’ll sit down and go, ‘OK, how do we want to play and what suits our list?’ But within that, the contest will be a really strong focus, how we set the field up in offence will be a really strong focus and how we set the field up in defence and some strategy around stoppages so they’ll be some key pillars.”
  • That while this year’s debutants had had impressive starts, they also only had about one tackle each a game and this needed to improve.

Board challenger Jeff Browne has passed on his support for McRae’s appointment through other people, while former president Eddie McGuire texted McRae with his enthusiastic support.

McCrae worked with Grundy, De Goey and others such as Brayden Maynard, Mason Cox and Darcy Moore when he was a development coach at Collingwood.

New Collingwood coach Craig McRae has big plans.

“He [De Goey] is certainly a player that we want to be the best version of himself so there’s two parts. For me, one, the choices he wants to make to be that player, which ultimately it’s up to him to decide, but then it’s the environment we create to allow him to be,” McRae said.

“I am hoping that he makes the choice that he does, and those decisions he makes now in that time before he gets back will be pretty critical to set him up for that, but also, when he gets back in here we want to create an environment where he’s challenged and he’s rewarded and he’s motivated and he’s happy and then create an opportunity for others to push him and help him feel part of something bigger than himself.”

PIES NEED GRUNDY TO CONNECT

“He’s a significant part of where we need to go. When I worked with Brodie in the first couple of years, he was one of the hardest working kids I’d seen. They’d do weights and he would go and do weights at the end of the day and do a little bit more and get Anthony Rocca to kick balls into his hands over and over again, so he’s got that gene to want to get better.

Star Pies ruckman Brodie Grundy.Credit:Getty Images

“I think the thing with Brodie, and I said it to him when I got here, there’s the team on one hand and then on the other hand is the glove. I think Brodie is his own unique self that I don’t think the glove is ever going to fit on the team for Brodie, he is different and we want to embrace his difference but at some stage you have got to put one of the fingers in the glove, maybe two to connect in.

“I think Brodie is at that stage of his footy career where we need him to be more than a good preparer [and] maybe good at hitouts. We need him to connect and if he is connecting in the group, hopefully we get more connection in the hitouts.”

MEETING MATURE MOORE

“I was really, really strong when I was here last time, I thought Darcy Moore could be one of the best key defenders in the game and I’m not saying that as a crystal ball thing but I just saw all the key attributes to be that. So I’m certainly he will be a big part of the back six. Darcy is another one, he is such an intelligent guy and wants to be a young leader of the group and I saw young Darcy, now I’m going to see mature Darcy and look at what that looks like.”

REUNITING WITH COX

McRae taught Mason Cox to kick, and play. They developed a relationship and the coach is proud of what Cox has achieved. But Cox is now out of contract and on the fringe. “I’m going to be really clear that I’m not going to have favourites. I want the best for him but also I want the best for the football club. Mason will be a talking point.”

THE CULTURE OF WINNING

“I was asked in the presentation about who you are as a person and who you are as a coach. And one of my strong characters is that I’m a winner, but I’m not a winner in the sense of being arrogant I’m a winner because I think that winning is a process. And I know that. I know the process of winning.

Craig McRae (centre) with Michael Voss and Justin Leppitsch after the Brisbane Lions’ third premiership in 2004.Credit:Getty Images

“When I was growing up and not getting picked for the high school footy team I used to have this thing that I would prove you wrong and that was my motivation, ‘I’ll show you I can do this’, but I quickly realised when I got older it wasn’t about that it was just about proving myself right so I just worked harder and harder and overcame hurdles.

“I have good resilience, I feel like you need good resilience to do this job.”

HOW DO THE PIES SCORE?

Collingwood have struggled to kick a match-winning score for several years. While defensively sound and able to possess the ball, avenues to goal have been difficult, partly because they lack a recognised key forward. Darcy Cameron emerged this year as a second ruck and forward and Brody Mihocek is a talented third tall forward. The team’s ball movement had been slow and deliberate.

“When I presented I said there are some holes in the list if you want to play a certain way,” McRae said. “I am conscious of saying we are going to play exactly this way. We experienced it at Hawthorn this year.”

He observed Collingwood were strong for possessions but last for inside 50s in the AFL. “For me that doesn’t correlate so there is our first opportunity to say, OK, we need less possessions and go forward more. If we are going forward more we’re potentially kicking to more contests so then we have to improve our contest.”

Nick Daicos is a top prospect set to join Collingwood as a father-son nomination. Credit:Joe Armao

TACKLING YOUNG TALENT

McRae praised the talent of the players to debut this year but noted they needed to work harder.

“[Ollie] Henry, [Caleb] Poulter, [Trent] Bianco and Finn [Macrae]. They’ve all had exposure but the thing that stood out for me, and this is no disrespect to all those guys, it’s that, I won’t name names but they played 12 games had nine tackles, 13 games eight tackles, five games four tackles.

“For me, it’s not enough and I don’t want to denigrate the past but in the future we need that to look better.”

WELCOMING DAICOS

McRae said he took advice from Chris Connolly when he coached Melbourne and Jack Watts arrived as the No.1 draft pick. “He said we had the No.1 pick with our least experienced [development] coach so I don’t want to fall into the trap. Maybe the highest pick needs to go with the most experienced coach, and let’s give him the best chance to set him up.”

COACH ON THE FLY

McRae isn’t used to being called Craig, which is strange for a 47-year-old man to be unused to his own name.

It’s because he’s so seldom called Craig. His name is “Fly”, from before he was drafted. He gave himself a bad under-cut haircut and turned up to the Glenelg footy club where he was being coached by Mark Williams.

“I walked into the club and the Back to the Future movie had just come out and Marty McFly was in it so I got ‘McFly’ for about two years and then I got to Brisbane and they just dropped the Mac. It’s funny listening to people say my name in the news, I thought ‘who’s that?’ I just haven’t been called Craig for so many years.”

A NEW PANEL, NOT JUST A COACH

Collingwood will return football department staffing to pre-COVID levels, with the club determined to have a new coaching panel alongside the new coach.

Justin Leppitsch is certain to come on as a head of strategy while the club wants to hire Brendon Bolton as a coaching director and with line coaching duties. They are also looking at a stoppages coach, utilising existing assistants Scott Selwood and Hayden Skipworth, and bringing on another development coach and a culture and leadership consultant.

“I stressed [in the presentation for the job] that I wanted a diverse group, I want them to be different at all levels.

“I know ‘Leppa’ has been spoken about. He has an amazing strategic brain that, I don’t see it as a weakness in my game, but his is another level. He can see things that other people don’t see.

“The other person we’re going to interview shortly and hopefully get over the line.”

Bolton is the person Collingwood have earmarked for this job.

COLLINGWOOD II

This is the second time McRae has worked at Collingwood. The last time he was there as a development coach who had the misfortune of coming out of contract at a time of soft cap pressure. He now sits at the desk where Nathan Buckley had to deliver the news to him that the club could not renew McRae’s contract.

“When I first arrived I thought this is this big corporate powerful company, but you get in and it’s just another footy club, the people are just people,” McRae said. “The external noise is like it’s the biggest and the best and the boldest, well, it’s not, there’s just 44 players and there’s 30 support staff who are really good people and a lot of those people are still here.”

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