AN INTERVIEW WITH AUSSIE
Triple Premiership Coach James Dore
Presented by Tiger champion, Tony 'Aussie' Wynd
The Accidental Triple Premiership Coach
Late 1997 – Appointed Treasurer of QAFC Ltd
Appointed Coach of Tigers 1st Grade Teams early 1998
1st Grade Triple Premierships – 1998, 1999 and 2000
They are regarded as three of the greatest in the Clubs History
1st Grade Coach – 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001
Prior to moving to the Canberra region for work in 1996, James Dore had been involved in senior football for 31 years – having played in his first senior premiership at 16 in 1965. Although, when he went along to watch a local game at Philip Oval and was pleasantly surprised by the standard of football being played, he had no intention of continuing his coaching career.
A few months later, the mild-mannered accountant ended up with a second job, a part-time, after-hours contract to do some accounting work for the Tigers licensed club. In that role, he struck a friendship with prominent Tigers figure, former player, committee member, treasurer, auditor and all-round good guy, Col Imrie. This steered James in the direction of joining the licensed club board and led him to watch many Tigers games that year.
Along the way he was asked about his personal history in football, which was both extensive and impressive. Commencing at his local club, Nar Nar Goon, east of Melbourne, James had also played in and coached premierships at Pakenham, Wycheproof, Mildura, and back to Nar Nar Goon, before he accepted a development officer role with Carlton. Then he took on the Under 19s coaching role at Essendon in 1981/82 under an up-and-coming senior coach by the name of Kevin Sheedy. After his AFL experience, he then coached 3 U17 Premierships with Mildura and Pakenham (2) and derived great satisfaction in moulding these groups of headstrong young men into successful team units.
Eastlake football club had also heard of James’ football resumé and, after the 1997 season, had approached him to coach the Demons. James had a historical connection to Eastlake as his first ever senior coach, Bill Drake, had ended up in Canberra and coached both Ainslie and Eastlake. Soon after, James had decided to coach Eastlake in 1998. However, after his initial appointment, at the first meeting to discuss the plan for the season, some of the conditions of the appointment differed from the discussion 48 hours earlier and he was not prepared to proceed with the revised terms of the appointment.
In this same short period, incumbent Tigers coach, Brendan Robertson, had told the club he needed to move home to Mangoplah for family reasons. The Tigers quickly entered intense and persistent discussions with James which ended with his appointment to the senior coaching role with Queanbeyan.
Things did not start that well and after the first training session for the season, James was seriously questioning his decision. He recalls, ‘less than a dozen players turned up’. I thought ‘this could be a long season.’ While numbers improved as the season approached; almost 30 senior players had retired, moved to interstate clubs, or had new study or work commitments preventing them playing. On top of that most of the players recruited as replacements returned home for one reason or another. The senior team lost every practice game by 8 -10 goals, including to the eventual AFL Canberra wooden-spooners. At this point, James didn’t think the team would even make the finals.
Once the season proper commenced things turned around and, by Easter, James was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the team. ‘I was quite amazed how things turned around. There was an intangible ‘built in toughness’ in the club to scrap and fight that always came to the fore’, James said.
From there, the team went on to win a most unlikely premiership in 1998 and by September 2000, James had steered the team to three outstanding and celebrated premierships in a row.
For James, each of the three premierships had a different significance. The 1998 was unexpected after the turmoil of the pre-season with the success built on the quick development of the younger players and the leadership of the senior players.
In 1999, the team was more established but, after Belconnen had won the second semi-final by 6 goals, the Tigers went into the Grand Final with 6 or 7 injured players. James knew the team could not outrun the Magpies and implored the players to ‘make it a physical contest’ for the whole game. James marvelled at the ability of those players to play so well when not 100% fit and the physical commitment displayed.
This was exemplified by the oft-recalled situation late in the last quarter when Jon Elias was surrounded by 3 or 4 Belconnen players but attacked the loose ball and then to then streamed through the middle of the field to deliver to Michael Neisen in the forward 50 (the only Tiger in the front half of the field), who calmly kicked the goal to put the team in front. James remembered, ‘If Jon had missed that ball, we were cooked; it was do-or-die, but he showed no fear. The team simply refused to accept defeat’.
The premiership in the following year was different again but just as memorable. Eastlake had a very strong team in 2000, with several ex-AFL players, and had also picked up an experienced assistant coach who James had worked with at Essendon 15 years earlier, so there was real challenge to overcome on grand final day, having lost the 2nd Semi by 10 goals. Meanwhile, along with everyone else in the AFL Canberra world, Eastlake knew the Tigers had the best centre half-forward and full-forward (in Mark Armstrong and Michael Neisen). So, the Eastlake defenders would double-team the key position players, and the rest of the Queanbeyan team seemed to ignore the loose players left on their own.
James’ plan, starting six weeks out from the finals, had the team working hard at training to identify and kick to the free player and were not to go to the key men unless they were ‘alone and unattended’. But this approach was strictly not adopted on game day, until the decider. Come grand final day, the plan worked perfectly and, with Jason Brown on fire, the Tigers kicked 9 goals in the first quarter. James recalls, ‘Eastlake then had to play one on one for the rest of the game and all our key forwards made winning contributions.’
Even when it looked like Eastlake were mounting a comeback in the third quarter, the team again amazed the coach. Jason Gilbert, not the quickest of the midfielders, ran down and tackled Eastlake’s speedy winger who was about to kick a goal, delivered the ball to Steve Vizy in the centre, who in turn passed to ‘Neiso’, who then slotted the goal that switched the momentum back to the Tigers. ‘That winger was twice as fast as Gilbo, Jason had no right to catch him’ James said, ‘but he bloody well did!’.
James was a rather intense coach, particularly on game day. During his tenure, when talking to his players, he was almost always focussed, calm and constructive. However, it is fair to say that Dr Jeckyl could become a little more like Mr Hyde once the umpire bounced the ball. If a player made a bad error or things didn’t go to plan, he was known to ‘voice his frustrations’ and occasionally (only on days ending in y) take out his frustrations physically on an unsuspecting chair, wall or door. However, this was not seen by the players because, by the time he got to talking to the team, James had regained his composure and his demeanour would revert back to a composed, rational mentor.
There was one particular day at Jamison oval, when James’ usual unwavering concentration on the game was broken. He had already taken a bit of a disliking to Belconnen, who he saw as a ‘bloody good football side’ but also ‘a bit arrogant and disrespectful’. On this day James was not impressed that the Tigers were asked to get ready for the game in a small changeroom, which was outside the ground on a different field, and then walk a couple of hundred metres over to the ground. Meanwhile, the home team had bigger changerooms adjacent to the field. Then, to make matters worse, the Belconnen coaches had a viewing area set up on the roof of the small grandstand (if that is not a contradiction in terms) but the away team had no such option and was left at ground level. The Belconnen coaches did have to climb a ladder to get on the roof and James mentioned in passing to his chairman of selectors, Alan Mapleson, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if that ladder went missing?’.
Sure enough, at three quarter time there was great hullabaloo from the Belconnen coaching group, as the ladder had decided to relocate itself to be resting on the ground in a more scenic spot. Mapo had a knowing smirk on his face and James had burst out laughing.
James said, ‘Queanbeyan was like a good country club. It looked after the young players from the bush. I quite quickly gained the impression that Queanbeyan was looked down on by the Canberra teams, but that the Tigers didn’t mind. They had an inbuilt ability to scrap and fight against the odds and relished a challenge. The locals set good standards and they were able to handle tough times, because they had been through it before. When I was coaching, they had good leadership. The likes of Michael Goiser, Steve Vizy, Jeff Gilbert, Mark Armstrong, Jason Gilbert, Michael Neison and Tony Wynd were all different personalities, but they were wonderful leaders in their own ways’.
James believes every football club is a good club. They provide the physical and personal development benefits of a team sport and, importantly, the social and community benefits off the field. ‘But, he said, ‘I have no doubt that Queanbeyan do it better than most. Football can and has always provided me with a focus and purpose when other aspects of life were not so smooth.’
James also recalls that, as a coach, ‘the only time I would totally relax is after a grand final win. To sit in the social club and see the pleasure on all the faces – the players, officials, volunteers and supporters - brings the greatest satisfaction when you get the job done’.
It is safe to say that James Dore, three times in a row, most certainly got the job done.