By: PAUL ROOS
Former Kangaroo John Longmire learned from the best, but has gone his own way as a senior coach
JOHN Longmire has been in the public eye for as long as I can remember. He burst on to the scene as the next big thing from Corowa-Rutherglen.
I first met John in 1987 when I was in Wangaratta with a few of the Fitzroy players during a split round in the VFL. He was 16, nicknamed “Horse” and was playing full-forward for the senior team against Wangaratta Rovers.
I was introduced to him in the rooms after the game and told he was going to be a star. He had played well and was the biggest 16-year-old I’d seen.
The hype was warranted, because the next season he was playing with North Melbourne. By 19 he had kicked 98 goals to win the Coleman Medal and North’s best-and-fairest.
John was an integral part of a great North Melbourne era and learned from one of the modern coaching greats in Denis Pagan.
In my time as Sydney coach, several of those successful North players had a big influence on the Swans coaching panel: apart from John, there was also John Blakey and Brett Allison.
I could tell how much they respected Denis because their football beliefs were so strong and ingrained from their time under him.
So much so that when the coaches joined match practice, every time the North boys got the ball they would launch a long bomb to centre half-forward, where they were programmed to expect Wayne Carey grabbing the footy.
Given our game plan involved keeping possession through short kicks and a clear direction never to bomb the ball to centre half-forward, I would stop the game and remind that coach that Sydney didn’t have a Pagan’s Paddock.
The Swans players found it hilarious that their coaches were mucking up.
It usually ended with a few quips about how the North boys had been brainwashed and now they needed to be reprogrammed.
During the eight years John and I worked together as coaches at Sydney, there is no doubt we evolved in our views about football.
“Horse” retained many of the great lessons he learned under Denis, but even when he had a slightly different view about tactics or selection, you couldn’t have asked for a more loyal assistant coach.
Once a decision was made, he would support it 100 per cent and would defend it to anyone and everyone.
John and all the North boys were professional and they all knew how to work hard. Horse knew what it took to be successful and did not take shortcuts.
He had an understanding of how to drive the players to achieve their best.
Having such a strong and focused coach as Pagan helped the Kangas win premierships as players. It also meant that as coaches they brought immediate insight to less successful clubs, such as the Swans.
Equally, the game was starting to change and we all had to change with it.
That is where the North boys perhaps needed a little more convincing than the rest of us.
Coming from Fitzroy, I didn’t experience the success Horse did at North. As a player at Sydney I had been coached by Rodney Eade, who had learned a lot under Pagan in his four years as a North assistant coach, but also had some different views about the game and how it should be played.
One development that demanded an open mind from coaches was the evolution of fitness and medical staff, and the need to hand over much of the training program to them.
We had all come from a philosophy of training hard and, when that didn’t work, simply training harder.
We were used to a model where the coach had full control, and needed to learn how to let go of some of that control to others.
Leadership groups and players having a big impact on all aspects of the club was again a massive swing from the top-down approach we had all experienced in our playing careers.
There is no doubt John and the North players initially found some of those methods frustrating, and at odds with what they had learned under Denis.
But to John’s credit, his desire to be the best coach he could be meant he was always willing to embrace new ideas once he could see the benefits on team performance.
From the day I met him I sensed he would always be his own man.
While both Denis and I would love to think we had somehow influenced the Swans team that runs on to the SCG tonight, make no mistake: the Sydney of 2012 is unmistakably John Longmire’s team, and a team that is well coached.
The Swans are very much a long-kicking team. In fact, they ranked No.1 for long kicks, vastly different to the team I left in 2010. They are 16th in short kicks and the method is simple — get the ball in long and quick, and don’t risk a turnover by over-possessing the ball.
They are still a great defensive team, but no longer is it done on the back of a one-on-one philosophy. The coaching staff have embraced and taught more of a press/zone-style defence.
They still have the hard inside tough element of Jude Bolton, Josh Kennedy and Dan Hannebery, but have added some real outside run and speed. Lewis Jetta, in particular, has added a significantly different element to the team.
The Swans’ ability to score quickly was evident against Essendon. Their pressure was exceptional, their ball movement precise and they made the Bombers look second rate for much of the game.
One of the Essendon coaching staff told me the first three quarters the Swans played that night was clearly the best football the Bombers had seen all year.
Geelong will understand the task ahead tonight and I suspect it will be one the Cats players will embrace.
But, just as John Longmire lived up to the hype that surrounded a teenager from Corowa, I suspect the Swans will rise to the challenge tonight at the SCG.
Games: 200 (Nth Melb 1988-99)
Coleman Medal: 1990
Leading goalkicker: 1990-94
Assistant coach: 2002-10 (Sydney Swans)
Senior coach: 2011-12
Win Draw Losses: 21 1 13
Win ratio: 61%