Day 9 – Friday, December 14
The completion of a successful pre-season camp is near, but there is still plenty to be done on the final day of Melbourne’s nine day heat and humidity expedition in the Top End.
Firstly, there is a ‘rock off’ to get through at breakfast. It’s one of the biggest in the Mess Hall.
Rohan Bail, who seems to have contested several ‘rock off’ finals, plus Jack Fitzpatrick, go at it. Fitzpatrick is then left with Jeremy Howe to see who will take the mountain of dishes to the conveyer belt area.
The boys go hard until Fitzpatrick edges Howe in the final. A pumped up Fitzpatrick gains the roar of the boys, as Howe looks to the tables, mostly with coaches and officials, with his fist in a rock-like action, looking for challengers.
It doesn’t eventuate, and Howe is left to clean up.
Sgt. Jason Colquhoun, the physical training instructor and massive Melbourne supporter, takes a personal training pool session for the players.
After a few laps to start the session, the players are then split into three groups to perform the obstacle course of sorts in the water.
From the deep end of the pool to the shallow end, the players are carrying two tractor tyres – which have initially been sunk to the bottom at the deep end of the pool – an ammunition box, a long wooden pole and three medicine balls.
The players then have to work in their groups to ensure the equipment reaches the end of the pool. Once that’s achieved, the items are lifted out of the pool and fitted together to make an artillery-like figure.
From there, the players launch the medicine balls as far as they can back in the pool to replicate cannons being fired.
This activity is completed a handful of times.
At the end of the session, Colquhoun points out some of his eye catchers.
“The team with Nathan Jones in it did very well in each of the three laps,” he says.
“Also the group with Col Sylvia and James Magner in it did pretty well too.”
Being a huge Melbourne supporter, Colquhoun is rapt to have the opportunity to work with the club.
“It’s been awesome. It’s been the best week of my career so far,” he says.
“You get to talk to the coaches and players, and meet all of the boys, so it’s been great.”
He also has a new appreciation for the players’ fitness.
“They boys are probably a lot fitter than what they were last year at the same time, and no doubt they’ll improve for the experience up here in Darwin,” Colquhoun says.
The players get a tour around the Barracks, checking out everything from tanks to helicopters and other military vehicles. Each player gets inside the tank, which is a challenge for some of the taller lads.
“It was really crammed for the big men and like an oven inside,” says Shannon Byrnes.
The boys also get right into some of the tank’s tricks. At one point, the tank is motoring along, before it skids and breaks suddenly. The thick cloud of smoke that soon surrounds the tank brings plenty of cheers from the crew.
Some of the players joke that Dean Kent is capable of turning his hand to the military given his interest in the session. We’re just happy if his left foot proves to be a weapon for the Demons!
Senior coach Mark Neeld meets up with Northern Territorian legend and Essendon great Michael Long on the Barracks. Long continues to do some outstanding work in the NT with his football academy and community work.
The final Mess Hall meal is enjoyed – and devoured – by the touring party. I’m sure it’ll be missed by a few!
A photo with Melbourne and the army is organised in front of the army tanks and another couple which have been specially driven in for the occasion.
There must be about 120 people in the photo. A photographer from the NT News has been organised to take the pic. Another tank has been brought into play to help the photographer, video guru Jack McCowan and yours truly out. The three of us jump on top of the tank, so we can get some elevation in the shot. It’s the first time I’ve been on a tank, save a climb on a Wobbies World tank!
But to get everyone in the picture, the tank is forced to reverse.
We hold on tight, while sitting on top of the tank, which is a smart thing, given there is a sudden jolt after it has finished reversing. Otherwise I would’ve been forced to complete a James Bond-like tumble down the front of the tank, which to be honest ain’t gonna happen!
Soon we’re snapping like crazy to get the shots. It looks good from up there and will make a nice memento for both the Demons and army.
As the Melbourne contingent heads to the Rowell Centre for a camp review and leadership meeting, Northern Territorian duo Aaron Davey and Dom Barry have their photo taken for the NT News.
Davey hops into the tank and Barry sits on it, just near where the 2009 club champion has his head popping out.
Aside from the two being locals, it’s also a melding of the times – the master and the apprentice.
Davey and Barry join the rest of the group for the meeting.
There, football manager Josh Mahoney gets up and gives an overview of how the camp came about, why the camp was done and what was accomplished.
Mahoney says the camp gained some momentum mid-year following some meetings in the Northern Territory, which involved chief executive Cameron Schwab and strategic relationships manager Tom Parker.
Then it was researched carefully by the fitness staff, headed up by Dave Misson.
Mahoney add that it was critical from the outset that the squad’s training program was not compromised.
He pointed out that the ovals the players trained on, including AFL venue TIO Stadium, met the criteria. The barracks had a 50 metre pool for training and recovery sessions. And the food provided had a range of options.
Mahoney says that part of the camp’s appeal – in the Northern Territory heat and humidity – was to put the players under mental and physical duress.
But it needed buy-in. And the group did that.
Mahoney points out that it could’ve gone the other way, however, when the group arrived at the Barracks and immediately congregated in the common room.
On that day – Thursday, December 6 – 70-odd people crammed into the common room, with the air conditioning battling on the hottest Darwin day in December since 1976.
And when the prospect of taipans and dingoes were mentioned as possibilities in the base, Mahoney says people could’ve quickly thought, “What the hell are we doing”.
But in the end, the 2004 Port Adelaide premiership player said the players would be able to draw upon the camp experiences later down the track – even in matches, when times were tough.
Mahoney acknowledged the staff’s efforts in the camp, highlighted by football operations manager Craig Notman, who was instrumental in organising it.
The behind the scenes crew, media team and fitness staff were also thanked.
Senior coach Mark Neeld then addresses the entire group.
He starts off by saying, “I don’t want to make it a bit of an awards ceremony.”
Neeld then reflects on the nine days, and adds that he doesn’t want his group to be “renowned for having a great pre-season camp or beating Collingwood in the NAB Cup and living off it for the next eight weeks.”
The message is clear. This camp is simply part of the plan to help the team rise. It’s not just a one off achievement.
But he adds, “I believe that we’re on the right track.”
Neeld also doesn’t leave anyone in doubt that smart choices must be made over the weekend and the ensuing Christmas period, given the training that’s been achieved so far.
After the camp review aspect of the meeting, he then outlines the leadership criteria to the playing group.
It’s ultimately a peer rating of leadership characteristics.
Forms are then given to the players. They can either remain in the lecture theatre or return to their rooms to complete the task of helping bring together the 2013 leadership group.
The 2013 leadership group won’t be announced until probably late January, as there is still a process to follow after the Christmas/New Year break.
Leadership forms are then handed back at 3.45 pm, as are keys and security tags in the Common Room (yes, the room, where we learned about taipans and dingoes habituating the base on occasions, but did not see during our stay) before we depart Robertson Barracks at 4 pm.
We leave for the airport after an incredible nine day experience.
It’s run incredibly smoothly and the efforts from everyone concerned are to be commended.
We board our flight from Darwin directly back to Melbourne. Again, I’m sitting next to Shannon Byrnes and forward line coach Leigh Brown. Surnames that start with the letter ‘B’ are common in my seating area. (Hello, Rohan Bail, Dom Barry and Dr Dan Bates in the row in front of me!)
But it’s obviously changed somewhere along the way. It’s nice to see Josh Mahoney sitting behind me, but how did we go from ‘Bs’ to ‘M’? Hmm …
The Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Renegades T20 cricket match gets a hat-trick viewing in our row, as I tap away on the way home.
The coaches and fitness staff hover around our seats, standing and stretching for part of the flight home.
Eventually we land, a tick after 12 am on Saturday morning.
There will be plenty of tired personnel across the whole touring party.
It’s been an immense pre-season camp. It’s been full on, but worth every minute, with some memorable experiences for all concerned.
It’s been a privilege to be part of the group, and watch the coaches, players and staff perform their roles – which they do well.
Make no mistake. These guys are working extremely hard – but smartly – to rectify Melbourne’s fortunes.
Neeld is one impressive operator. He is overseeing a group that is eager to make the red and blue rise again. And he will leave no stone unturned.
This challenge has been ticked. There will be plenty more.
The journey continues into 2013.