Coaching odd couple a work in progress

Sam Lonergan in action for Glenelg watched by fellow Tasmanian AFL player Aaron Joseph.  Picture: GORDON ANDERSON
Sam Lonergan in action for Glenelg watched by fellow Tasmanian AFL player Aaron Joseph. Picture: GORDON ANDERSON

THE Northern Tasmanian coaching ``odd couple'' at SANFL club Glenelg hope to be working together for a long time to come.

The two men in question are well known in Tasmanian football circles _ former Launceston, Essendon and Richmond midfielder Sam Lonergan and ex-Hawk Mitch Thorp, the man who captain-coached South Launceston to last year's State League premiership.

They are part of a group that is led by senior coach Nick Stevens, the former Carlton and Port Adelaide midfielder, at the South Australian Tigers, who sit bottom of the ladder with a 2-6 record as the competition goes into its representative game bye.

Mitch Thorp in action for Glenelg. Picture: GORDON ANDERSON.

Mitch Thorp in action for Glenelg. Picture: GORDON ANDERSON.

Lonergan says the ``demanding'' Thorp, whose coaching passion revolves around the development of young players, and his own more relaxed approach make the perfect partnership.

``In many ways we're two complete opposites,'' he said.

``Mitch is quite aggressive and really demanding of his side, which is great, because some of the best coaches are like that, where I'm more relaxed.

``So when we are together coaching we are the perfect package. When it is time for the screaming to start, Mitch takes over, and when it is time for the pat on the back  and `we need more from you', that's where I step in.

``It's a relationship where I can go to Mitch `it's time to stop yelling' and he can go to me  `Sam, it is time to scream'.

``The main thing I want to be as a coach is approachable, but I do expect high standards and respect for the footy clubs and other players' needs. I will go to the nth degree to make them a better footballer.''

Lonergan, 27, and Thorp, 25, knew each other in their younger days without ever being close, before their lives took them in different directions.

Thorp had a small taste of AFL with Hawthorn and spent time with Werribee in the VFL before returning to the Bulldogs while Lonergan played 79 games for his two AFL employers.

``Sam is a terrific guy, who is very cool, calm and has collected a lot of information from his time in the AFL,'' Thorp said. 

``I've been able to learn a lot just from spending some time with him.

``He's very passionate about his footy and he delivers his messages very clearly.

``Like me, he wants to progress with his coaching. We've got a strong relationship, and you don't know where that might lead us in regards to working together.''

Both men, who combine their playing and coaching duties, have gone into this venture with eyes well open.

Lonergan has been doing what he was known for in the AFL, getting down and dirty in the midfield, but this time with the addition of a tagger each week.

Thorp, meanwhile, has gone from a spearhead in Tasmania to playing mainly at centre half-back, with some cameos in attack and the ruck.

He missed last week due to a collarbone injury, but said sitting in the coach's box beside Stevens is ``invaluable''.

He is employed by Athletics South Australia in talent identification and development.

``It's the next development in my coaching going from a senior coach in Tassie to a senior assistant in the second best competition in Australia.

``This has been a great growth year for me as a coach as I'm adding more strings to my bow. The athletics job is really helping as I'm able to help these young guys become athletes and I've got a lot out of that already.''

Overlooked in last year's AFL draft, Thorp says that dream is not dead but his coaching and life in South Australia are his focus.

He and wife Kyla, who recently welcomed their second child Pax, will decide later in the year where their future lies, with family to be the deciding factor.

Lonergan, who is expecting his first child with partner Kirrie, is set to be a playing coach at Glenelg for at least another season.

``I've enjoyed this transition into coaching, even though it has been challenging as we haven't got the wins on the board yet, which is part of my development.

``I knew there would be things I hadn't experienced before, the stuff behind closed doors, away from the tactical stuff, so that side is the new part for me.

``There's no real timeline for me, but the plan of being (in the SANFL) for two years is still in place. The question will be after two years do I decide to play on, or focus everything on the coaching side of things?''


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