Mark Egan is the new coach of Launceston United, who finished bottom of the Forestry Tasmania Northern Premier League competition for the past two seasons.
An Irishman, Egan faces a huge challenge in changing the fortunes of the club.
Launceston United, who host the annual pre-season Steve Hudson Cup competition, are intent on improving and, under the guidance of Egan, may well turn the corner.
I spoke to Mark this week about his new coaching challenge and the interview follows:
Walter Pless: Mark, can you please outline your playing and coaching experience for readers?
Mark Egan: I arrived in Tasmania from Ireland in 1990. I had played a little football at high school, but had more of a preference for Hurling. It wasn’t until 1994 while talking to a then work mate that I decided to join a club out here. That club was North Launceston (White Eagles). Peter Davidson was the coach at the time. He was a very hard task master, but a great coach. Work at the time restricted my availability greatly but I continued to play when I could. I made a brief move to Launceston United before returning to Eagles, where I finally hung up my boots in 2000 after a number of back injuries. I made a brief come-back in 2009, playing for Northern Rangers in their Sunday team, which I enjoyed very much, but at the same time felt aggravated with myself that I couldn't run and tackle the way I did when I was a younger man.
As a coach, I became involved when my eldest son, William, asked if he could join a club. The closest junior club to where we lived at the time was Westside Devils, so I phoned Rob Brewer to find out some details and, by the time I had hung up the phone, I had a team. From there I became involved with the Northern Representative scene, which opened the door for me to become the Northern Junior Development Officer, a role I held for four years. My time as a representative coach took me on several trips to the mainland and also New Zealand, but it was my time as a development officer, especially my time working with David Abela, that gave me the confidence to coach at a higher level. Launceston United is my first senior appointment.
WP: How do you feel about the 2011 season, given Launceston’s difficult past seasons?
ME: Optimistic. There is no doubt that the last few seasons have been hard at the club and last season was no exception. I passed the remark to another senior coach that ‘our club was not in a rebuilding phase, but rather it was a new club’. So much work has gone on behind the scenes that the uneducated knockers don’t or can’t understand the committee have cleared a large debt that was hanging around the club for several years while, at the same time, trying to raise money for our new club rooms.
I have to laugh at times when I hear comments the likes of ‘the Northern Premier League needs a competitive Launceston United’, while at the same time the great crop of young players at United are being touted by all the other clubs.
WP: Do you have any new players in the pipeline?
ME: We have signed a lad from France. I must admit I was surprised when I first laid eyes on him as it looked like he had been let loose in a croissant shop, but he has worked hard and has trimmed down. We should have a lad join us from England in the new year, but that one isn’t in the bag yet and there a couple of local lads that have contacted me about joining the club.
WP: What is your coaching philosophy?
ME: I’m not sure you would call it a philosophy, but it’s a a quote I once read from Danny Blanchflower. “Football is about glory, it’s about doing things with style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the opposition, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”
It’s a great quote, don’t you think? From a time when playing for your colours meant everything, unlike today, where most professional players are out to impress their hair gel sponsors.
WP: How would you rate the Northern Premier League competition?
ME: Compared to what? The Southern Premier League? Victoria, New South Wales? It is what it is. I have friends who play country football, where every player gets paid, even the fat guy who eats pies at half-time and stands in the goal square waiting for the ball to hit him on the chest. Some players are getting $250 plus for a game. Tell me, why would you play football (soccer)? That’s the question that was put to me when I went to talk to a lad who had jacked in playing in the Northern Premier League and now plays country football. Do you think I could answer him and be honest?
WP: Can you think of any improvements?
ME: It’s such a broad topic. Older football die-hards talk about the ‘old days’, when the standard was much higher, and I believe it was in those days, and I am from that era. You played games in the local street or car-park of 22-a-side, boys and girls. Tea time was half-time. You came back out and and got back into it. The magic of that time has passed us by. Coaches and associations are trying to recreate that environment, but it’s very hard. It’s like trying to grow a pearl in a laboratory. It’s just not the same. I don't have the answer. But then again, there isn’t just one answer. There is a vast array of problems facing our code in our state and only together can we try to overcome those problems. Of that fact, I am certain.
WP: Who will be the title chasers in 2011?
ME: Northern Rangers once again (sticking my neck out with that one!), Devonport, naturally, Burnie and Riverside.
WP: Will Launceston United be hosting the Steve Hudson Cup again in 2011?
ME: Yes, we are. It kicks off on February 6th.
WP: How can Tasmanian football be improved?
ME: Ground conditions might be one area. A better surface to play on usually improves the standard of football. You only have to look at the growth of the EPL as a product. Do you think the long list of super stars would have played on the mud baths or the frozen grounds twenty-five year ago? Perhaps some of the junior registration money that gets shipped off to the FFA in Canberra might return in the form of ground improvements, lights, all-weather pitches and so on. We, as parents, coaches and committee members are out there trying to produce the next Tim Cahill. Wouldn’t it be nice if the FFA could at least chip in and buy a junior club a coffee machine so mum could have a hot drink while she waits for the next captain of the Socceroos to finish splashing around in the mud with his mates at training.
WP: What are your aims as a coach with Launceston United?
ME: To keep the current crop of young players together and add a few experienced players to our playing list. To state the obvious, it’s very difficult to retain players at a club that’s bottom of the table and, if it’s possible, it’s even harder to attract players to a club that’s bottom of the table. But, that’s what we face at United. The young lads can see a future together. If they split up now, one or two may find success at a different club, but not all of them. Together, there is a possibility that all of them will taste success at United.
My aim is to continue to develop all the players at United, including the junior club and the women's team. The senior team was bitterly unlucky in several games in the latter part of last season. Having been through that, I’m sure the younger players will be stronger for the experience.
WP: What does the future in the game hold for you?
ME: I would like to continue to develop as a coach and to achieve higher accreditation. There is so much more work to be done at United. Rest assured, that’s where the greatest challenge in the Northern Premier League resides.
WP: Who is the best player you have seen in Tasmania?
ME: Come on, ask me an easy one!!