When an AFL team loses a few
games or has a bad season, it doesn’t take long before the media start asking
questions of the head coach. Yet some coaches seem to have an easier time than
others. Cases in point – Kevin Sheedy and Denis Pagan.

Essendon’s dismal start to the year is not
enough to call for Sheedy’s resignation. He is deep in credit with the Bombers
after more than 25 successful years. But Sheedy’s masterly way with the media
has as much to do with it as his record.

Ex-club champions Tim “the fish rots at the
head

Watson and Simon Madden have had their say this week, but it has been Sheedy’s
calm reassurances that have set the tone of debate about Essendon’s woes.

For example, despite being 1-6, and with
their prolific full forward out for the rest of the year, Sheedy only yesterday
wrote off Essendon’s finals chances.

Implied here is that Sheeds is still aiming
high, which makes fans feel better, but to suggest they’ve only just given up
on playing in the finals is little more than a clever game. Essendon’s
non-appearance in this year’s finals was clear weeks ago, if not immediately
after Matthew Lloyd suffered a season-ending hamstring injury.

Sheedy’s counterpart at Carlton knows all
about clever games. In his even-voiced way, Denis Pagan has rocked the media
into a state of unquestioning somnolence, and sympathetic articles like
yesterday’s “No one knows our pain” in the Herald Sun are the result.

“Carlton coach Denis
Pagan yesterday spoke candidly about the pain he and his coaching staff have
felt through more than three years of frustration with the Blues,” wrote Jon
Pierik, tears welling in Carlton supporters’ eyes before they finished reading the first paragraph.

Like Sheedy, Pagan is a premiership winning
coach who has been at it a long time; his coaching credentials as impressive as
his media management skills. But if a young coach like Alastair Clarkson was in
his fourth year at Hawthorn, and his team were performing at the same level as
Pagan’s, would the media would be as forgiving?

Peter Fray

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