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McLennan ready for top gig

As the football world has seen in recent years, serving an apprenticeship before taking the reigns as a senior coach is as invaluable as it has ever been.

And there seems no man more ready to assume the role of senior coach than Northcote Park’s Matt McLennan, who will lead the Cougars in 2017.

McLennan has served a long apprenticeship at Bill Lawry Oval.

He coached the Cougars’ under-19s to the 2012 flag, before guiding the reserves for the past two years, which included a grand final appearance in 2015. He has also spent time as the club’s football manager.

McLennan said the time was now right for him to step up into a senior coaching position.

“I’ve done the apprenticeship and now it’s time to take the next step,” McLennan told NFL.org.au.

“I’m pretty proud of where I’ve gone and where I’ve got to.

“It’s sort of like an AFL kid getting drafted – you think you’ve done so well in the TAC Cup and it really hasn’t started. I see some similarities with that for sure.”

McLennan knows of the legacies of outgoing coach Harmit Singh and 2012 premiership coach Jason Heatley.

He has been friends with Heatley for close to 30 years and has taken many of his learnings of the trade from the master coach.

“Jason would be one of the most organised and prepared people you’ll ever meet,” McLennan said.

“His pre-game preparation and the work he puts in to getting the best out of each individual player is something that I’ve really made a lot of focus to in my coaching time.

“Jason is a role model and a mentor for me and was actually one of first people that I rang when I got the appointment.”

One-on-one relationships and a strong connection with the list is one of McLennan’s major strengths as a senior coach, as he looks to close the gap on an even Division 1 competition.

“I’m more sort of the mould of Jason,” he said.

“‘Singy’ was an educator type person where Jason was more your old-school motivator and works on the one-on-one personal relationships, which I think was my strength coming into the interviews.

“Just knowing the connection I have with the boys at the club, and just improving the boys five or 10 percent. I think that’s probably the difference between finishing fifth and getting the double chance once you get to Cramer Street.”

Northcote Park’s coaches’ box could once again include Jarrod Molloy, who played 169 AFL games for Fitzroy, Brisbane Lions and Collingwood.

“Jarrod Molloy is available to be my senior assistant. (He has) massive credentials, very similar to Jason and from the same sort of school. With his work commitments, he’s happy to play the assistant role,” McLennan said of Molloy, who has assisted at Northcote Park the past two years.

Meanwhile, the Cougars’ fitness program will be headed up by the esteemed Loris Bertolacci, who served at four AFL clubs, including lengthy stints at Essendon (1987-1993, 1995-98) and Geelong from 1999-2006.

McLennan can’t wait to work alongside Bertolacci, and believes his expertise will bring out the best in his young side.

“Knowing a lot of boys across the Northern footy league, they do what they’ve got to do and it is a big commitment and they do come out of VFL and TAC Cup programs sometimes a little a bit burnt and just want to get back to local footy and enjoy themselves,” he said.

“Sometimes they take a step backwards in their commitments and dedication to training but I just think with Loris on board it’s a real easy line to gain that extra five or 10 percent in dedication and therefore fitness.”

Northcote Park’s 2016 campaign came to an end after a comprehensive loss to Bundoora in the elimination final.

However, McLennan was proud of the club’s fight after the adversity of injuries early in the pre-season and a 4-7 start to the home and away campaign.

“We’d lost Nick Carter, Jake Mills, (and) we recruited Simon Andrews from North Heidelberg and he’d kicked 43 goals the season before,” McLennan said.

“We (also) actually lost a guy that probably would’ve played on the half-back flank, Wade Demasi and that was all before Round 1.

“We had a bit of catching up to do, mentally and physically I think – it took them a while to get their groove on but in the second half of the year they did exactly that and got rewarded with a spot in the finals.

“That was a fair place to finish with how the finals panned out. I don’t think as a club we walked away disappointed at all – we were proud with what had happened.”

With the evenness of Division 1 over the past six years, McLennan can’t wait for 2017 as the former apprentice readies himself for the big time.

“When I look at the company I’m in, I’m humbled, but also inspired to step right up to play with the big boys,” he said.