A Man With A Plan?


According to Josh Papalii the main thing that Michael Maguire has brought to Canberra is a plan.

He’s come up with a plan and a strategy to win with a comp and I think that’s what’s needed here. We’ve had plans and values that we were probably just not up to scratch, but he’s definitely brought honesty.


That’s a little bit confronting. As much as it rings true, one would have hoped that a coach with 20 plus years of experience had been able to muster an effective plan that could be appropriately enforced. To be fair to Coach Stuart, it’s probably a bit of inaccurate phrasing on half of the big man. It’s more a discussion about vibes to me, and what we should take is rather than a new game plan, there’s a new mood in the neighbourhood. And it sounds so good to me (Deep cut that).

However, the last time I remember Papa being so outspoken about hard truths from an assistant coach was Andrew McFadden before (and during) 2019 season where his focus on fitness and effort was credited with being a big part of 2019’s improvement. So perhaps rather than bringing a new plan in the absence of one, Madge is speaking plainly about things that had been overlooked or not explicitly addressed over time. Both Tom Starling and Joe Tapine echoed Papa’s sentiments, suggesting that Maguire is bringing intensity and details-focus to his role as the defensive coach.

At one level it’s recognition of the length of the length of time Ricky Stuart has been at the helm and the challenges associated with that. There’s an unending list of people that will tell you there’s a limited amount of time that a single coaches voice will resonate with a crowd. After a while there can be a tendency for certain messages to not get through when delivered by the same person. Where we’ve seen long-term coaches succeed, this has been combatted by senior players creating a culture of collaboration and accountability that ensures the message isn’t always coming from a single source. You can see it in rugby league (Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk in Melbourne), NBA (I think of Tim Duncan at the Spurs), NFL (Tom Brady, Matthew Slater and others at New England) among others. Call it a fail-safe, or maybe a ballast. In either event senior players step in to ensure key foundations and standards are maintained, even if the Coach is the singular voice they once were.

It makes it all the more interesting that a senior player acknowledged that perhaps that hasn’t occurred. Over time gaps in their game have evidently crept in. Papalii isn’t specific about what they may be, but given Madge’s apparent defensive focus, one would assume there’s been some home truths about the Raiders defensive structures and efforts. That they are now addressing them is unequivocally good. The list of teams that have won the competition without an elite defence is lonelier than a broke punter at a strip club (sidle up to him and I’m sure he’ll tell you about how the 2005 Tigers did it with razzle and dazzle). If there was something to fix, either in structure or attitude, then yesterday is the best time to fix it.

But it does leave us with several questions. According to statements from Tom Starling, Stuart has remained in charge of the offence. Last season Canberra had the 8th best attack and the 6th best defence. In 2021 they had the 10th best attack and the 9th best defence. In 2020 it was the 6th best attack and the 6th best defence. If their are home truths to be found in the defence, lord knows they exist in the attack too. There’s been plenty of change in the attack over the last two years, including lots of changing personnel, but what has remained is a relatively unstructured attacking style that has relied on individual brilliance to manufacture points. Is Sticky’s voice still effective here? Has Papalii’s assessment of what Madge brings revealed an un-attended problem in the attack?

I remain curious as to whether Stuart’s feeling is that he needed the ‘other’ voice or set of eyes, or whether his view is that he just needed more time to dedicate to focusing on the offence. Given Brett White and Cappy McFadden handled the defence in the past, and Mick Crawley the attack, I’m not sure Stuart can complain lack of time to drill into the detail in attack. If the new set of eyes that Madge is bringing so many things to light about the defence, will Stuart be able to be the voice that can identify, and communicate, the need for change to a group that has heard his voice for eight plus years?

There’s also the concern that comes with having two intense people in the room when things go bad. Stuart is renowned for a temperament that can shift as quick as your mums when you reveal that crashing noise was a window and the cricket ball in her room was the culprit. Papa, Starling and Tapine all made mention of Madge and Stuart’s combined intensity. It’s fine when you’re winning (what isn’t), but that kind of double trouble can turn a storm into a hurricane if it starts to rain.

Only time will tell I guess. But in the meantime if all that is achieved by this is Maguire tightening up a defence that was already pretty good, then it could be a massive benefit. 2019 was built on holding the fort and working it out from there. Madge helping to rebuild that stronghold is a good place to start.

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