FitzGerald to break coaching record
North Ballarat coach Gerard FitzGerald will this weekend break the all-time VFA/VFL coaching record in his 314th game Sunday at Eureka Stadium against Frankston.
For those who have played under or just observed Gerard FitzGerald over his extraordinary football journey, one which sees him claim ownership as the longest serving coach in the VFA/VFL history, values and principals are as important as wins and losses.
FitzGerald is as structured as a Wall Street building, as measured as a Saville Road tailor and as disciplined as any Fort Hood commando.
It is a profile he’s never deviated from and helps explain not only his longevity, but also why the club’s he has coached have been so successful.
For ‘Fitzy’, the kid from the small western district town of Derrinallum, whose promising AFL career with Geelong was limited to three games by injury, it’s all about processes, KPIs and measuring sticks.
- CLICK HERE to listen to a podcast featuring Gerard FitzGerald, and a host of guests including: Orren Stephenson, Marg Richards, Phil Partington, Gary Ayres, Simon Goosey and John Faul.
While North Ballarat may be languishing closer to last than first this season, FitzGerald remains as committed as ever to his philosophies.
Don’t for a moment, however, think that FitzGerald is mired in old fashioned ways.
He’s continually evolving, just like the game. But anyone worth his salt has to stand for something. For FitzGerald it is values and principals, and they extend beyond the boundary lines.
“Obviously, I love footy, but I have a great passion for coaching and I have a great passion for the role of the coach - the importance of the position of the coach not only within the club, but within the community,” Fitzgerald said.
“To be a high quality ambassador for the game is really important to me.”
From when he first coached North Ballarat in 1997, FitzGerald has seen a remarkable transformation of the competition. He notes it has been a “phenomenal shift” and one that constantly changes and develops annually.
“It is unrecognisable to what it is now,” he said.
“If you had been away on Mars for three years and you came back and saw the competition now, I reckon you would be staggered by the difference.
“I’m of the view that AFL football gets better every year. It’s hard to quantify how, but it does. There is just another way someone is going to improve and then they’re going to get caught and upon being caught someone else improves and they’re going to get caught.
“There are more and more teams now in the VFL that are influenced by AFL clubs. It is a different chemistry of clubs involved now than in 2000.”
After coaching North Ballarat for six seasons, including two Grand Final appearances in 1999-2000, FitzGerald made an unsuccessful bid for State politics.
It forced him to leave North Ballarat and he moved from Springvale to Port Melbourne for a season at a time before as he calls it returning ‘home’ where he coached North Ballarat Rebels in the TAC Cup.
FitzGerald candidly admits it “broke his heart” when he had to leave North Ballarat, but he believes he returned a far better coach than when he left.
It’s a statement backed by undeniable facts. Experiences, tough as they may have been, gained at Springvale, Port Melbourne and then the Rebels helped FitzGerald.
After taking North Ballarat into Grand Finals early in his career, he also took Port Melbourne into the 2004 Grand Final. FitzGerald then took the Roosters through a halcyon era where they threepeated - premiers in 2008-09-10.
It is an accomplishment only achieved five times - Coburg (1926-27-28); Northcote (1932-33-34); Williamstown (1954-55-56); Port Melbourne (1980-81-82) and Sandringham (2004-05-06) - post World War 1.
Not only has he coached to outstanding levels in the VFL, but two of FitzGerald’s finest moments were as coach of the VFL representative team.
He has coached in the VFL for 16 seasons since 1997 – 14 of those at North Ballarat – and has seen the likes of Darren Jolly (2000), Nick Maxwell (2002), Josh Gibson (2004), Stephen Clifton, Isaac Smith (2010) and Orren Stephenson (2011) all recruited from sides he has coached. In a two year stint as North Ballarat Rebels TAC Cup coach between 2005 -2006, he also had the pleasure of coaching Mitch & Nathan Brown and James Frawley.
More importantly, FitzGerald has an 58% winning ratio as coach, with 183 wins from his 313 games.
He takes over the title from Bill Faul, who had a great playing and coaching career in the 1940's and 1950's. Faul enjoyed a 15 year coaching career in the then VFA up until 1959, winning premierships at Prahran and Moorabbin before he moved to the VFL where he coached South Melbourne for two years in 1960/1961 and won a night flag.
Prior to his coaching career, he played over 100 games for South Melbourne, playing in a Swans’ premiership and was later named in the South Melbourne Team Of The Century, adding to his Team Of The Century spots with Subiaco and Prahran. He was runner-up in the Brownlow Medal to Haydn Brunton in his first season at South Melbourne, making an instant impression.
Bill’s son John will be at the game in Ballarat on Sunday to see his dad’s record broken.
Read the full article on Gerard FitzGerald this weekend in the VFL Record.