Five seasons as Southern league coach. Five Grand Finals. Four Premierships.
Richard Houston departed the SFNL after the 2010 season with the most enviable record imaginable. But with his passion for football reignited, he returns to the coaching ranks at the helm of St Pauls.
As Houston gears up for his first season at the Kennel, he spoke to SFNL Media Officer Will Hunter about his plans to reinvigorate their senior list with youth after the departures of some experienced campaigners during the off-season.
WILL HUNTER: It’s been a few years since we’ve seen you in the Southern league. What made you want to get back into coaching local footy?
RICHARD HOUSTON: Look, I always keep an interest in the local footy, you know, going to see the Finals Series and other local games on a Saturday. And then predominantly my son got involved in Auskick and then into other football and he just wanted to start watching AFL again so that sort of reignited my passion. And then of course one thing led to another and I thought, ‘dammit, I should coach!’
You’re one of the more prominent names in SFNL circles due to your enviable record as coach. What was the secret behind your success?
I think at the end of the day I always made sure that my team was fit enough to play, I had a very simple game plan and I think I managed the team well enough to get the best out of the team I had.
Rightly or wrongly, many outsiders have had their opinions of you as a coach. How would you describe Richard Houston the coach?
Look, I’m just a very passionate bloke. I love to give my all, I’m very competitive, I love to play the game within the rules and at the end of the day it’s a just a bit of fun, you know. I think everyone’s gotta remember it’s a game, it’s full of enjoyment, you take in the highs and you take in the lows.
It seems like you’ve had a pretty busy off-season, mate. Picked up a few a few handy recruits I hear?
Look, we’ve had a couple of boys that’ve come on, but we’ve also lost a few really good players. Blokes who have had really good experience, like Peter Mercoulia, a long-standing champion of the club. He’s moved on now to coach. Tim Blackwood’s left us as well, Nick and Andy Gilbert have gone, Ryan Kitchin’s gone, so there are a few boys who have moved on. Yeah, we’ve picked up a few new recruits and we’ve got the young kids as well, so I think it will even itself out in the end. But I will coach the team that I get given.
One of your big-name recruits has been Justin Berry. What role do you see him playing for the club this year?
We’ve got a very young group and when you take people I’ve just mentioned out of the equation, especially Peter Mercoulia – towards the end of his career he was a general on the ground. Even if he hasn’t got the footy, he was always telling blokes how to set up, be it defensively or offensively. So we really need someone with a bit of smarts and experience just to hold the young kids together on the field. People like Justin Berry will naturally herd these (young) boys into position and say ‘mate, you stay over there’ and ‘you do this, you do that’. So that’s what we want – a bit of experience to replace the experience we’ve lost.
You’ve got a good crop of young kids coming through. Tell us a little bit about some of the kids you see doing well this year.
I don’t wanna name names because I don’t wanna put any pressure on them, but there’s about half a dozen of them that are probably thinking they are going to play under 19s or reserves this year. They are going to be pleasantly shocked that they are going to roll up in Round 1 and play (seniors) against Bentleigh.
So they will be playing a fair amount of senior football this year?
Oh yeah, I’ve already told them my expectations, what I see they can do this year, how they can perform, how I structure it for them (and) how I put experience around them. Yeah, they are going to make mistakes, and by Round 6 or 7 they are going to be a lot better than Round 1 or 2, but I’m going to persevere with them.
I know premierships aren’t won in February, Richard, but how has the form been over the preseason so far? A bit to get excited about?
There is, yeah. The boys have been training very hard. Before Christmas we had very good numbers and especially with the number of senior players who are training, which is always a great sign for a club. And after Christmas they all came back and we’ve had some pretty hard sessions and they are really working hard. They are very excited, they’re busting to get out and have a kick of the footy and (the season is) not too far away.
It’s a bit of a changing of the guard at the Kennel this year, with a new coach, new president, new skipper after the retirement of Kenny Hall and the loss of some mature age talent. What can we expect from the Dogs in 2016?
There’s no doubt this is a transitional year because we did lose a great president and a lot of talented players, plus the loss of the previous coach Mark Dessent, so we will be in a position where we’re gonna have to move from a group of players who have played together for the last five years, to a group of players who now have to bond for the next two to three years. But I think 2016 is going to be a really good year. I think it’s a start of a process. (It will develop) strength of character for the boys and if they all really pull together, who knows what they can do in one, two or three years. I mean, the age group is fantastic, but we’ve got a few boys who are on the peak side (of their careers), but a lot of boys in the middle between the 20-25 (years of age) range, which is really good for four years ahead. We’ve got a great list so there should be no excuses not to do well (this year) and I feel at the end of the day 2016 be a stepping stone for improvement in further years.
[caption id="attachment_10486" align="aligncenter" width="648"]
Richard Houston (third from left) at training with new recruits (from left) Jay Ting, Nick Hogan, Justin Berry, Nick Shannon and Josh Verlin.[/caption]