For those with long memories and a bit of an interest in AFL matters, you may recall when Grant Thomas, AFL Club St Kilda coach at the time, appointed Lenny Hayes, Nick Riewoldt and Luke Ball as co-captains? That was in 2007 and followed Hayes (2004), Riewoldt (2005) and Ball (2006) as sole skippers: then Riewoldt captained the club as sole leader for the next nine seasons (2008-16). Intriguingly, that same club named three co-captains for their inaugural AFLW season in 2020 – they were: Rhiannon Watt, Kate Shierlaw and Cat Phillips.
While I am not giving Thomas the entire credit for opening the way for “cluster captains”, there is a trend in modern times towards multiple team captains or leadership groups to head up sporting teams. Recently, even the Aussie test cricket team named two vice-captains, and that in a team of eleven on-field players!
It is argued that there are as many as five distinct leadership styles and not one is necessarily best for all situations so perhaps it could be reasoned the “St Kilda model” covers all contingencies. But, think of the great British war time leader, Sir Winston Churchill, who was in his element during the conflict but sadly, tended to make a bit of a mess of things when hostilities ceased. I wonder how Churchill would have reacted to the notion of a shared Prime Ministership during WWII?
However, while DDCC clubs did not openly follow that “cohort leadership mentality” in the early years, it’s my understanding that captains would always consider advice from experienced members of their team.
All DDCC Clubs can rightly boast remarkable leaders, either on the field or administratively, during their period of existence and it would be improper of me to express opinions because there may be exceptional circumstances for individuals being appointed - and that is certainly the case in one of my greatest leadership reflections.
So, here, I will outline three outstanding, and quite differently motivated acts of sole-leadership at DDCC Clubs.
One of the first acts of leadership heroism I witnessed was PINT skipper Brian Mappas leading his team to Grand Final victory over Waratah at the “old” Waratah Oval, which in 1984, was the major Top End cricket venue. Ironically, Mappas was a former Tahs player but was enticed to change clubs, and as they say, the rest is history.
Chasing 260 in the semi-final against East Darwin, PINT was in a spot of bother at 8-169, but Mappas who opened the innings and Andy Haycraft (20 n.o.), got their team home. The PINT skipper was resolute during the early batting mayhem and finished the game at 161 n.o.
In the final, PINT had it a bit easier, bowling Tahs out for 186 and then going on to score 384 in their first dig. Mappas again led from the front with 53 at the top of the order. Certainly, he was the PINT spearhead during that historical final series for the club.
Around that same time, East Darwin – formerly Banks and later Tracy Village East and then simply Tracy Village – had been the standout team winning seven consecutive premierships. I can recall that Ross McKenzie, at 21 years of age, stepping up and essentially keeping the club breathing – taking on the coaching, captaincy (from Russell Vine in mid-1984) and Presidency roles. At the time I wasn’t sure what happened, but some 35 years later I actually found out, and here is the story.
According to Keith Kroger, one of the major contributors in the premiership winning era, said many of his successful teammates retired at the end of 1983.
“We just all got old and decided to retire – we had been part of seven premierships and collectively many of us were finished both emotionally and physically,” Kroger said.
“It left the club short of players and administrators because most of us oldies had held various administrative positions as well as playing for a long period of time.
“Ross (McKenzie) was not a regular A-grader at the time but he ‘grasped the nettle’ and became a hard-working administrator and in time a solid A-grade cricketer.”
That has eased my mind and for the record, still as East Darwin, they were premiers 1986 and 1987 before McKenzie went to Southern Districts as playing coach and former Aussie quick, Jeff Hammond, took over the reins at then Tracy Village East in 1988.
Another club appointment that aroused my curiosity, which is now also resolved, was Darwin Cricket Club appointing Kevin Peters as senior captain in the very early 90s. Peters was lesser known to me than the likes of Greg Connors, David Andrews and Craig Widdowson so I enquired recently of club President at the time, Greg Bicknell, about the appointment
“At the time, we had a lot of interstaters rocking up and the club decided it needed to concentrate on locals because there was a feeling they were being neglected,” Bicknell said.
“Although we had Chuck (Connors), Ronnie (Andrews) and Widdow (Widdowson) playing at the time, A-grade was a pretty disparate bunch and we needed someone to pull them together and get a more balanced local/interstate team on the park.
“We believed Kevin was a genuine A-grader and thought he also had the leadership skills to do the job required.
“The decision stood us in good stead in the years to come – not only did we win a premiership under Kevin, the team and more importantly the club, became more cohesive and in later years players sought us out because word-of-mouth regarding our cohesion travelled far and wide.”
Like the above-mentioned Churchill, DDCC leaders of their time in Mappas, McKenzie and Peters were strong willed individuals and didn’t need a gang of others demanding input when their own formidable sole-leadership abilities were clearly more than adequate.
I am pleased to settle some previously unresolved mysteries - ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; etc, etc.