I’ll get to the point. Peta Searle giving up her ambition to coach in the AFL is not an awful shame – it’s a downright travesty. And that’s putting into a sentence that can be published.
Not because Peta has bills to pay, two children to nurture, and other courses of life to fulfil to the point where she walks away from her burning ambition.
It’s because our sport lacks the plums to be the pioneers of change.
I read Samantha Lane’s article on Peta on Saturday morning, mulling over a couple of eggs on sourdough at Mario’s on Brunswick St. A few hours later, I was receiving some last-minute instructions from her as St Kevin’s Old Boys ran out onto Glenhuntly Oval to tackle Caulfield Grammarians.
Yes, it’s Premier B Amateurs. Yes, the open surrounds of Glenhuntly Oval are a far cry from the environment I was lucky to inhabit two years ago.
But as far as I’m concerned, I was still playing the same sport that Gary Ablett Jnr and his Gold Coast Suns teammates were playing a few thousand miles north, at exactly the same time.
Peta’s instructions were not structures, processes and every other kind of modern day term we are force-fed to understand by coaches avoiding the obvious at post-match press conferences.
They were simple, they were articulate and the other members of St Kevin’s Old Boys back six stepped onto the field with clear instructions in their minds.
I’m undervaluing the significance of this sentence as I write it: this is what makes Peta Searle a great coach.
In truth, it’s only one of the many great things. Maybe I’m less qualified to speak on them than, say, the girls of the Darebin Falcons team Peta led to five successive premierships, or the 2011-12 Port Melbourne back six she oversaw that wore the badge of ‘most feared defensive group in the VFL’ as a badge of honour.
But I’ll give it a go.
We’ve heard stories of AFL players viewing coaches as “father figures” in their lives.
What an Alan Jeans was to a Dermott Brereton, Peta Searle has been “parent-like” to many athletes she has crossed paths with.
She has the drilling incentive to instruct a player to perform his or her job to their potential without excuse, yet the nurturing understanding to accept that, sometimes, things just don’t always go to plan in football.
She has the knowledge of how modern football works and has the ability to communicate this in a form simple enough to be processed by adrenaline-fuelled players before, after and during a match.
And it’s because of these things, that it took less than half a session for her to be respected and accepted into her new settings at St Kevin’s during the pre-season.
As much as I am relishing in the opportunity to be coached by her, I am fully aware of the brute force of a team under her thumb.
Anyone who knows anything about VFL football knows of the culture of the Port Melbourne Football Club, and knows that a Saturday afternoon at the Borough’s fortress, North Port Oval, is as much a mental test as it is a physical one.
This author met a Port Melbourne side on a Flemington straight-gallop from a 2011 premiership toward a record 27-game winning streak. It featured a Peta Searle-coached backline that defended, harassed and lived its trademark like it was fresh air.
Peta has come and gone from places, from Darebin to Port Melbourne to even the Melbourne Football Club and left, leaving behind a footprint of contribution as her peers, soldiers and superiors sung her praises of recommendation.
It is only now that we arrive at the elephant in the room – her gender.
What she makes up for in her articulate knowledge of the game and a mutual respect with the players she coaches, she cannot seemingly make up in being drafted, winning premierships or being named in Mike Sheahan’s Top 50. Or being a bloke.
There are current AFL Development coaches, heck, even assistant coaches – ones who I have worked under in an elite environment – who Peta would take to town on the judgement of being both better qualified, and a better coach.
But sadly, who you are and where you come from are always placed ahead of hard work and determination in our great sport. It’s not what you can offer, it’s what you can’t and never will. The industry of the football department is no exception.
The commentary on being proactive of women in football has seemingly fallen on the same deaf ears as the subject of homosexuality in the AFL. Talk is cheap.
Change is not made through trials and extinguishing the flames at the first sight of error.
Error is the catalyst for change. Adversity is the challenger, resilience is the armour, and change is the champion: when all around suddenly realise that this is no war, only an argument for social justice to be upheld and equal opportunity recognised.
So until the AFL takes action, and until the day comes when an AFL club does opens its door to her, I will urge Peta Searle to not blanket her dream.
And in the meantime, I will enjoy the education component she brings to my own development; as a footballer, and as a person.
Watch this space.