It usually takes a head coach a season or two to remember that pesky camera planted inside the coaches box is always trained on them at the worst time.
But not Justin Longmuir.
The Fremantle coach was filthy on Wednesday night as another valiant effort by his young team began to slip away against Richmond.
The Dockers were still within 15 points late in the fourth quarter when Jack Higgins kicked a goal for the Tigers that put the game out of reach.
Longmuir eyed the glass window in front of him and raised his hand, but in an act of remarkable restraint he pulled himself up.
The 39-year-old immediately eyeballed the camera as if to say, “I know you’re watching”.
It’s that kind of composure that has Longmuir in the AFL Coach of the Year conversation 14 games into his career.
Port Adelaide’s Ken Hinkley is a strong favourite to win for the second time after lifting the Power from a 10th-placed finish in 2019 to top spot, but behind Hinkley there’s not many with a better case than the former Collingwood assistant who returned to the club he played 139 games for after Ross Lyon exited last year.
Damien Hardwick (Richmond) and Chris Scott (Geelong) both deserve recognition for keeping their teams right in the thick of the premiership race, as does last year’s winner Chris Fagan (Brisbane).
But along with perhaps Brett Ratten’s Saints, the Dockers have most outperformed expectations by claiming wins against the likes of Collingwood and St Kilda and not suffering any real blowout defeats.
“He’s been able to do things that other coaches haven’t been necessarily able to do,” former Saints coach Tim Watson told SEN recently.
“The imprint that he has been able to give his team in a short space of time with all the things we’ve had to deal with given COVID-19, he’s been able to really build something and it’s solid.
“Each game that they play in, even though they don’t win every game, they’re in every game because of the way they play. He’s done a great job organising that group.”
Still, you can tell near enough isn’t good enough for Longmuir and it wants more from the season than five wins.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Longmuir, after the 27-point defeat against the Tigers.
“Some of our younger players came up against a really high pressure team. They’ll learn a lot from that and they’ll understand there is a level that you need to train at to be able to compete with the top teams.
“I thought our offence was OK. We were able to hit uncontested marks to take ground. I thought, especially in that third quarter we started using our hands a little bit more and driving our legs like we want to do.
“It’s just that last piece of the puzzle that is letting us down. We will continue to work on it and get better at it. One day it will start clicking week in, week out and we’ll work on the chemistry, get that connection and we’ll be able to make the most of our good work.”
Fremantle flies from the Gold Coast to Cairns on Thursday where they will be located for the remainder of the season. The Dockers’ next match is against Melbourne on Monday night.
AFL COACH OF THE YEAR WINNERS
2019: Chris Fagan (Brisbane)
2018: Nathan Buckley (Collingwood)
2017: Damien Hardwick (Richmond)
2016: Luke Beveridge (Western Bulldogs)
2015: Luke Beveridge (Western Bulldogs)
2014: John Longmire (Sydney)
2013: Ken Hinkley (Port Adelaide)
2012: John Longmire (Sydney)
2011: John Worsfold (West Coast)
2010: Mick Malthouse (Collingwood)
2009: Ross Lyon (St Kilda)
2008: Mark Thompson (Geelong)
2007: Mark Thompson (Geelong)
2006: John Worsfold (West Coast)
2005: Neil Craig (Adelaide)
2004: Mark Williams (Port Adelaide)
2003: Paul Roos (Sydney)
Originally published as AFL coach outsmarts hidden camera