Ross, you have just returned from a leadership course at Harvard. How was that?
I am really thrilled. We thought as a club we’d like to challenge ourselves a little bit more with some external development. Leadership starts at the top. So as a senior coach it was fantastic to go away and attend business school and immerse myself in a course. I think a couple of AFL coaches have done it, but basically there is 100 people on the course from all around the world. So to talk with CEOs who can share their experience and leadership whilst completing intense study was great. I really enjoyed it and I think it was beneficial both personally and professionally.
Are there any changes you will make to your coaching style after that course?
It wasn’t a coaching course. It was leadership and development course. There are certainly takeouts and we will apply some learnings. Stress under load equals growth. I was out of my comfort zone, I was loaded up but I feel like in some ways I will grow. But it is yet to be determined where that applies.
What did you make of the off-season and the troubles that came off the field? How did you deal with it being so far away?
It was in the players' 10-week (leave) period. It has been well publicised. I have been here for five years and I have heard the headlines thrown about. Culture is built over a long period of time. Over the last four and a half years we have, for want of a better term, been incident free. But during this off-season there has been a couple of situations that haven’t pleased us.
But these matters are before the courts so I cannot comment. There is some concern from the club, and we support our players as much as possible. But clearly there are boundaries in society and if you break those or have allegedly broken them, that escalates way beyond us. Our basic premise is you know right from wrong and civility costs nothing.
That is what I say to my kids at home and my players. Whether you realise it or not, you represent your members, sponsors and directors. All of us come under the same banner. So clearly there is some disappointment. We will work through this in the course of time and let it all play out. We are vibrant and we are training really hard. Whilst I have been away for two weeks the boys have been training well, we have aligned ourselves. I spoke publically at the best and fairest, we made some hard decisions this year. We had to let go of some warriors and great people. It’s great for Mzungu, de Boer, Silvagni and Barlow to get an opportunity. This will allow for what we started last year to continue. Which is the growth of Darcy Tucker, Lachie Weller, Connor Blakely and Ed Langdon. They are all thriving. But we also spoke about aligning and getting back to some basics. We spoke about being fit, available and on the same page. We analysed our running was a little bit down and we certainly weren’t available through injury and we weren’t as cohesive on the field under pressure as we would have like to be.
When I talk about getting back to basics with the players, that is what I am talking about. That simplification has made them quite vibrant.
Have you spoken to Shane Yarran personally. Do you think he will play for Fremantle again?
I have spoken to both players (Shane Yarran and Michael Johnson), one of Shane’s incidents was well before he was drafted and he is working through that. The other incident was in the off-season.
I have also spoken to Michael (Johnson). Those conversations are private. I am not here to speculate. Everyone is allowed due process and natural justice. It would be remiss of me to speculate. Except to reiterate that Shane has taken a leave of absence. He has taken a program of support and he has to work his way through that.
Have you spoken to them about the clubs values and what they mean to the players?
I think what you will find is that the leaders do that, we are really proud of our on and off-field performance for a long period of time. Obviously our on-field slipped last year but our off-field had been strong, without being perfect of course. If you look at the demographic and age of our players, 18 to 33-year-old males who are high risk, developing and maturing. If you then benchmark them against the general public they actually out perform. They exceed expectations. You are only as good as your next moment. All of us need to put our best foot forward from here.
One of those players in question is from the leadership group, how much does that erode the messages coming from there?
I don’t think it erodes it. Erosion occurs over a long period of time. Water takes a long period of time to erode away strong structures and soils. It doesn’t happen with one lap of the wave or one incident. We feel our leadership group is quite strong. Obviously you are referring to Michael Johnson and as I said it isn’t pleasing and ideally it didn’t happen but again it is before the courts and there is a fair bit to play out here and work through. But again, it is not pleasing.
Does his position in the leadership group need to be looked at?
Well everyone gets looked at. We have a vote at the end of the year based on what we would like to model and defend. I don’t think you have to be a genius to work out it is not ideal. Michael would also say that.
Do you have an influence on the leadership group?
Coaches get a vote. But it doesn’t carry any more weight than the players. I am a part of the system. The key is Ray McLean (Leading Teams) and his education process so they understand what they are voting for is really important. Again, we aren’t perfect and no system is. We will work through that in the fullness of time. I understand the sensationalism around it, but from the course I learnt bad negates good. You can do 98 per cent good things but if you do two things that don’t look great there is focus on the bad.
What I am here to tell if you is, 98 per cent is great, the players are vibrant, Fyfe is back on the track, Mundy is back on the track. We are really thrilled with our training period and that has been well documented. We really got the player we targeted in the draft. We have rearranged our coaching staff, there are new roles, everyone is enthusiastic, as you should be at this time of the year. The leadership and playing group are all working hard and getting back to basics.
Does Fyfe’s future have any impact on how the captaincy is voted for?
Only if you don’t have any integrity or congruency in what you say and do. I think we have plenty of integrity and congruency. So the answer is no.
Ross what about Zac Clake? How much of the season will he miss?
That happened whilst I was away. He has had ongoing knee issues and he has hurt a ligament in his patella. So it is about six weeks before he is back, mobile and moving. So obviously that isn’t ideal. That is an operation on top of an operation.
How much do you know about Harley Bennell and his situation?
I know a lot. I got an email from Greg Mullins our physio who is over there with him. He is with Dr Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfarht, who treats the best in the world such as Usain Bolt and Kobe Bryant. We got an email through about the treatment and it was really positive. He (Müller-Wohlfahrt) has identified what he believes to be the issue and what he plans to do. So that was a really positive email. That email was sent last night from Munich. So without going into a lot of detail we are really optimistic.
A few AFL players have been over there, I think Max Rooke and Ben Reid from when they had hiccups. He (Dr Müller-Wohlfahrt) is world class. We tried to get Harley (Bennell) in there earlier. We couldn’t get him in their the first time but we persisted. Our aim is to give our players the best treatment possible. Harley has trained hard.
Are you confident Harley Bennell is doing the right things off the field?
I can only judge what is put in front of me, we don’t tail around. But again, they are young people with high demand, high stress and high anxiety. The media is a really important part of the game, without media, television and broadcasters we can’t be in the position we are in. That is the good. The bad is, that the stress and anxiety can put a lot of pressure on a lot of people. That spotlight and heat that a lot of men aren’t fully equipped for. As a club we have to support them. At times they will slip but we like to realign them.
On Harley’s injury – is it an ongoing concern or is it more serious than first alluded to?
At the end of the day he has an injured calf. In compared to the other one it is quite minor, but it is in the same region and our job is to give our members and fans player availability. He is one of our really talented players and someone we want to get on the paddock so we have sought a world-class option.
So it terms of player availability, Harley should be playing football in 2017?
I think we have to take it one step at a time. He’ll come back and we will map out a plan. I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you what Harley (Bennell) will and will not get through. But that is the plan.
If you get back Nat Fyfe, Aaron Sandilands and David Mundy – are you confident you will improve on last season?
The aim is to improve. All I know is that you need to do the work, take the emotional risk and lay it out on the track on game day. There aren’t any guarantees. This year we gave it everything and we weren’t quite good enough on the day.
We are thrilled with Langdon, Weller, Blakely and hopefully Alex Pearce will be back and going quite well. They are happy, blossoming and thrilled with their coaching staff and leaders. We have work in front of us, there is no doubt about that, but we see real possibility. What that looks like, I don’t know, I have never made predictions. We need to do the work and give ourselves the best chance. I am in and committed – so are our leaders. We need to get back to basics and give the effort we are renowned for. We know last year was a transition, we see great possibility for ourselves and so we should. We will keep persisting and get there when we get there. Whether that is round 10 or 2018, I am not too sure. But I know we are working really hard.
What are your thoughts on the players that you traded in? In particular, Cam McCarthy, are you happy with his output?
I haven’t been around, so I can only go on the feedback. But he is training really well. The key to having a good year is getting on the track. I think one of the players that did media recently described him as a beast. He is training and he is settled. It has been well documented that he struggled without the support of his family. Fortunately for us, he fell into our lap. He is connected to Freo and it is working out well. But again, Cam (McCarthy) needs to get a kick.
What will Freo’s game plan look like in 2017?
It is always difficult to learn new concepts and deliver them under pressure. We want to get back to playing a real effort based game.
Are you going to be more defensive minded next year?
I have never walked in saying we are focusing on defence or offense. We try to compete, tackle and use the ball well. We are tying to play both sides of the ball.