DIGBY Morrell is a premiership coach with both Strathmore and West Coburg.
Pascoe Vale is now hoping he’ll do it again at Raeburn Reserve.
After fielding numerous enquiries, Morrell signed a two-year deal with the Panthers and they’re hellbent on joining Strathmore Community Bank Premier Division’s elite after failing to make the finals in both 2017 and 2018.
The club has already announced the signings of Ben Allan, Errol McConnell and Josh Cauchi and is promising more to come as part of its five-year plan.
Morrell recently caught up with EDFL Media’s Adem Saricaoglu.
AS: You’ve now taken on your third gig here in the EDFL, so you must be enjoying the caper…
DM: Yeah, I really enjoy coaching and obviously it’s a great thing to be able to do in our community. I’ve really enjoyed all the opportunities I’ve been afforded at Strathmore and West Coburg and now I’m looking forward to a new challenge here. They’re all a different challenge and that’s probably the intriguing element to coaching, is that each one of those clubs have provided a really different challenge and I’m really excited about what’s to come in the next two, three, four or five years at Pascoe Vale.
A lot of jobs did open up across many competitions. What was it about Pascoe Vale that attracted you?
I suppose I had the luxury of many clubs ringing and asking me what my intentions were and I really had a couple of parameters around what I wanted to get out of it, and ultimately I wanted to get back to winning an A-grade flag, whether that was in our league or another league. I wanted to go to a club that was in a position with a list and in a position to go forward… that was a real key element to my decision and I had numerous interviews all over the shop. In the end, Pascoe Vale ticked all the boxes that I was looking for and that was why I jumped at the chance to take on that challenge. One of those elements is the quality of their list and I suppose we can look externally and say they’ve under-achieved, and that’s something internally we’ll continue to balance and look at. But ultimately, we just want to win.
Funnily enough, the most recent game you coached was against Pascoe Vale. From the outside, how have you viewed what that club’s been able to do in recent years?
They’ve had a good, quality list and a good spread of players with some good top end talent. I think they probably got caught out a little bit when they got beaten inside and there are a few things we want to change structurally on our list, but I suppose the ultimate thing is they have a really high-quality list and they didn’t end up playing finals, so there’s some frustration with that. I think Kyle (Hardingham) and Adam (Contessa) have done a great job to build a really high-quality list of talented guys, so it’s just now about coming in and refining that list and getting them to play a little bit better defensively to help set ourselves up to have a crack at getting into the finals.
Both you and the club have been on the record and honest in the assessment of Pacco and the lack of finals appearances in recent years and you clearly really like the list as well. So what are your priorities right now to get the club back up into finals contention and what are the key objectives in this first pre-season coming up?
Our key objective is to win the flag. We haven’t one in 101 years so they’ve positioned themselves in terms of the talent on their list in the past few years and probably haven’t got the full value for that. That’s why I came on-board. I think I know what we need to do to win an A-grade flag and that’s a real element of why they brought me on. But in terms of our list, we had Daniel Harris, Craig Anderson and Paul Bunn retire at the end of last year in their late thirties, so there’s a focus this off-season of bringing in some 22-to-26-year-old guys who will be around the club for six or seven years. We want to build a brand and build a club that’s looking at long-term success and we’re not looking at bringing in 36 or 37-year-olds who have played AFL football. It’s just not the way we want to structure our list. We need to continue to bring lots of Pascoe Vale juniors through and get that balance of homegrown talent versus brought-in talent, and that’s something we’re not going to be able to fix in one year. But I think in five or six years, we’ll aim to get that balance right.
The Ben Allan type of signing... is that the sort of thing you’ll focus more on? Will you look for other former Pacco juniors to come back?
Yeah well everyone’s got a different philosophy on how they can win it. And from where I come from, it’s about making sure you bring in guys who have got upside to their football and with those between 22 and 26, you’re going to get that upside and Ben Allan’s a prime example. He’s played 70-odd VFL games through the midfield and he’s proven as a player and he’s got a real drive to continue to improve and I think when we build our list, as a Pacco boy, players like him are the prime target we want to try to set ourselves up with. I thought Strathmore last year did a really good job with bringing their young guys through and it shows that when the time and effort’s been put in, that there’s an opportunity to play A-grade finals and go deep into finals with that local talent, so I guess that’s our philosophy, to bring those sorts of guys in. Errol McConnell fits that bill as well and I think in the next week or two we’ll definitely outline a couple of other guys who will also fit that bill. We want to play finals year in, year out.
The club clearly wants to be considered one of the elites in the EDFL but to do that you obviously need to win and have some success. You’ve been at Strathmore, which is in that elite category. You’ve been at West Coburg, who isn’t. Pacco’s somewhere in the middle but historically, probably leaning more towards the West Coburg side of things. What’s the difference between a club that is elite and in the premiership conversation and one that’s not? And how does Pacco get to that level?
Ultimately in the end, sustained success is the backbone. You look at the Abers and Strathmores and Keilors and the Greenvales, they’re in there year in, year out because they’ve figured out that junior development is a really key element. They top up on the right kind of players and not just any kind of player that comes onto the market. Pascoe Vale, in terms of off-field, are professional and ready to be a dominant A-grade club. I’ve got the luxury of having a great football department, the resources are there and the business acumen that flows around the club and through the committee is really first-rate. They’re giving themselves every opportunity to play a very important role in EDFL footy but ultimately, you need to win. A winning culture is what draws players in and a winning culture is what keeps young guys involved and intrigued and challenged to play A-grade football and that’s absolutely an area that Pascoe Vale understands, that junior development and the streamlining of kids into A-grade footy is definitely an area we need to continue to improve in.
Just finally, it’s a bit silly but this so-called ‘home ground disadvantage’… I’m curious to know if you think that is an actual thing and if so, what do you do about it? You have some experience at a tough ground like Shore Reserve and even Lebanon Reserve when you were at Strathmore. Raeburn Reserve is one of those weird grounds and consistently for a number of years now, Pascoe Vale doesn’t seem to play as well at home and it does seem to be a problem in terms of making the finals each year. Is that a genuine thing to address or is it a bit of a myth?
Obviously the statistics back up the fact that they didn’t play well at their home ground and they lost games that they probably shouldn’t have. Talking to some of the players, I think it became more of a mind or attitude thing that they weren’t playing well at home and we’ll change that and spend time working on that mental side of the game, which will hold us in good stead in those tight games. But in the end, last year they lost several games by under a goal and they lost a couple of games they should have won and in the past 10 years with 12 wins, you play finals. So I think if they play finals then you wouldn’t be looking into any of that and ultimately, you’ve got to win away from your home ground to win the flag. So if we drop a couple at home, then so be it.