LUKE BEVERIDGE’S coaching fingerprints are all over three of the past five AFL premiership cups.
He was part of Mick Malthouse’s backroom staff at Collingwood in 2010 and was the defensive coach at Hawthorn as that club won back-to-back premierships in 2013 and 2014.
But the greatest work of the new coach of the Western Bulldogs might well have come in the more austere surrounds of the Victorian Amateur Football Association.
It was there that Beveridge helped create VAFA history, leading St Bedes/Mentone Tigers to three straight premierships – C Section in 2006, B Section the following season and A Section in 2008.
Three flags in three years in three grades; it had never been done in amateur football before and it put Beveridge on the track from being a former League footballer who went back to help the old boys team of his former school, to becoming an AFL senior coach.
Beveridge was an assistant coach at the club in 2005 when despite winning a handful of games, the Tigers were relegated back to C Section.
He took the main job the following year and transformed the club immediately. “He created an environment that people wanted to be part of, from the seniors all the way through to the fourths,” said Tim Lamb, then assistant coach of the Tigers and now Melbourne’s national recruiting manager.
Lamb recalls every player at the club receiving a DVD in the post in the summer of 2006 inviting them back for pre-season training with the theme ‘we want you here’. And once the season was underway, every senior player took part in an individual video review of their game from the previous weekend.
“It was common practice in the AFL, but unheard of at the time at C Grade amateur level,” said Lamb.
And it’s not like Beveridge was sitting idle at the time. In addition to coaching, he held down a senior job in the corporate sector and was a husband and father of a young family.
“He understood people and he understood balance. These were people with other things going on in their lives but he still built a club where he was able to get the best out of them as footballers,” Lamb said.
St Bedes went through the 2006 home and away season undefeated, but shockingly lost the second semi-final to AJAX by a goal. The re-match a fortnight shaped as a classic and the capacity 5000 crowd at Sandringham’s Trevor Barker Oval on a warm and sunny afternoon witnessed what many believe to be the best game of amateur football ever played.
AJAX jumped to a 47-point lead midway through the second quarter and even despite the result two weeks prior, this shaped as a monumental upset. St Bedes had owned C Grade all year; to not win the premiership was unthinkable.
Up stepped Beveridge, who soon became the most influential player on the ground. He parked himself across half-back and according to Lamb, “read the play, set things up and from a leadership point of view, got them focusing on what they could control and to be in touch at half-time.”
By the main break the Tigers were back within 22 points and by the final change it was five points. Beveridge wasn’t necessarily the best player on the ground but his influence was profound. To this day, AJAX supporters ask why their coach, Tim O’Shaughnessy, didn’t put more work into negating Beveridge.
“He stood out not because he was the most talented player on the ground, but he just always put himself in the right spot,” said AJAX captain Nick Gold. “To use the modern football vernacular, they had a plus-one going and he read the play beautifully and chipped the ball to the right spots. He was a cool head in the right position.”
The lead changed hands several times in an epic final quarter, but it was a big mark from Aaron Sawers, the son of AFL umpiring legend Rowan Sawers, which set up the match-winning goal from Paul Groves, just moments before the final siren. Beveridge, of course, was involved in that final, decisive passage of play.
St Bedes would win 21.12 (138) to 21.11 (137). Beveridge, at age 36 and with 118 AFL games to his name, would tell the Sunday Age: “This is the best win I’ve ever been involved with.”
The B Grade flag the following year wasn’t too shabby, either, with the Tigers spotting University Blacks a four-goal lead and trailing from early in the second term until midway through the last before winning by 13 points.
Remarkably, the A Grade premiership in 2008 was the easiest-won of the lot, with St Bedes ahead at quarter-time despite kicking into a five-goal breeze. The Tigers led Collegians by 40 points at half-time and eased home from there to win by 30 points to take their place in the record books.
St Bedes recruited selectively over that period but it was mainly the same group of players who delivered the three premierships. “He placed a huge focus in player retention and the team that won the A Grade flag had five players who were eligible for the under-19s,” said Lamb. “And we won the under-19 flags in those three years as well.”
It was only at the end of 2014 that the Tigers dropped out of A Grade. They would contest two more Grand Finals after Beveridge left the club to join Collingwood, but Lamb said he left an incredible legacy.
“He would be the first to say there were other people just as responsible for the club’s success, but he didn’t coach just the team; he led the staff, committee and the supporters as well. The club had been around for 100 years but until he came along it had never been to A Section. He made it a very inclusive place, with no segregation between the various teams, which can happen in local footy.”
It was obvious to all at St Bedes that a bigger stage beckoned for Beveridge. “His footy philosophy was quite clear and from the start he trained them in the manner he wanted to play on a Saturday, which was different to what most of the guys were used to,” Lamb said.
“His football nous and his understanding of the technical side of the game was through the roof.”
Watching from afar, Lamb has noticed the effect Beveridge has had in his two coaching stints in the AFL, particularly at Hawthorn.
“Have a look at 2013. To me, it was no coincidence that the best and fairest (Josh Gibson) and the Norm Smith medallist (Brian Lake) in their premiership team were both from the backline, the part of the ground he oversaw.”
Lamb expects Beveridge to go well at the Whitten Oval. Premierships seem to follow him wherever he goes.
“He’s just a terrific coach to play for. And on a personal level, he’s a good mate and a mentor of mine and I’m just rapt for him,” he said.
This story first appeared at afl.com.au and was written by Ashely Browne for AFL Media. You can read the original here. You can follow Ashely Browne on Twitter @afl_hasbrowne.