John Noble has become a staple of Collingwood’s backline since being picked up in last year’s mid-season draft. The rebounding defender spoke to aflplayers.com.au about his season so far, the connection between the Magpies’ group and the support of Matthew Boyd.
Kavisha Di Pietro: Firstly, a big congratulations on a great win against West Coast on Saturday night. What was going through your mind in those last few moments?
Thank you! It was an amazing win for our group and for what we’ve put in place. Against the Eagles in Perth it’s never an easy task. The feeling was a lot of belief. We had good preparation during the week and travel really well together. We’re a very tight group and embraced the opportunity and the challenge that playing in Perth can present. We were quite optimistic about what we could achieve and put forward on the park. We went out there and executed our plan, which was really pleasing.
John Noble: The match up against the Eagles during the home-and-away season was a less than desirable outcome. Did you take several learnings from that going into the elimination final?
Definitely. We fell short of the standard of football that we like to produce week in, week out against them last time. We took our learnings and the coaches put a solid plan in place during the week for us to be able to perform on the weekend. We really focused on what we bring to the table, what we do well as a group and what our strengths are and I think that’s what we were able to showcase in the weekend’s win.
Like with everything this season, it was a pretty unique lead-up to the final in terms of having to complete the seven-day quarantine period. There’s been some media around it but from a personal point of view, do you feel that it affected your regular preparation at all?
Not so much in terms of it being a final because we’d had to do a similar thing earlier in the season when we were in Perth. I’d definitely say that the preparation was interrupted though. We’ve got a great set up in Twin Waters (on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast) and have had a routine week in, week out for the latter part of the season going back and forth from the Gabba and Metricon Stadium, so it definitely changed that. I don’t think that fazed us in anyway because there’s always the expectation that you’ll have to travel. We kept our preparation as similar as possible and did the same types of drills and adapted to our surroundings and made it work for us. As a whole, we embraced the challenge of going over to Perth and knowing we had to get the win so it was amazing to come back with that.
You played in Collingwood’s two finals last year as well. What have you been able to take from that experience and bring into this year’s campaign?
The biggest thing is definitely how much the intensity goes up from the home-and-away season to finals footy. The standard goes up a level, it’s a high-pressured game, there’s less time to decide what you want to do with the footy and the decisions you’re making on the ground. That was something I was able to take away from last year’s finals and also bring into games this year, both regular season and finals. That’s held me in pretty good stead with how I prepare, my role in the team and how I contribute each week. I was able to take some learnings from last year into this season with what to expect at the elite level and how to prepare myself. The Eagles are a great outfit and they’ve matched up against us really well in the past so we definitely knew it was going to be a challenge but with our preparation and that added layer of experience, it definitely held us in good stead. Our diligence as a group in wanting to achieve what we’d set out to and knowing what to expect was something that I, personally, felt was really on show.
With that intensity and pressure you refer to, did you notice the crowd at all when you were on the field?
They’re a hostile crowd over there no matter the time of season that you’re playing – it’s always one-sided! (laughs). We were lucky that we always seem to have Magpies fans in the crowd and they certainly made their voice heard. There wasn’t even a full stadium and it sounded so full! With the games earlier in the year having no crowds and the lack of supporters around you, we almost became used to it. So to play in front of a crowd again adds a different dynamic – it was fun, even if it’s hostile – because as a player you feed off of the energy of the fans.
No doubt it’s always made better when you come away with the win as well! You’ve only had one pre-season with the group, have you found that being in the hub environment has been beneficial for you as a younger player in developing those connections that you spoke of?
Absolutely. Being away for so long it’s given me another opportunity to develop those relationships I have with not only my teammates, but also with their family members as well who have been fortunate enough to join our group and the club staff. It strengthens the relationships and chemistry you have with the group and specific individuals that I spend my time with. That translates on-field as well. Like I said before, we’re a really close group and we actually like spending time together as a whole club. If you walk around our complex there’s always players and staff spending time together, with families or kids. It’s a great environment to be around and I’m lucky to be away with people that I trust and am so close to.
Earlier in the season you spent a couple of weeks out of the senior team. With the lack of a formalized second-tier program this year, how did you maintain your motivation and dedication to return to the senior side?
It is different this year without the VFL, but I think it also provided an opportunity for me to hone in on my craft as an individual from working on your weaknesses to continuing to develop your strengths. I certainly took away some important lessons from the game I was dropped (following the Round 4 loss to GWS) on and spoke to a number of coaches and players to get some feedback on what I needed to be working on and how I could get better and take my game to another level. That was the biggest opportunity for me with no second-tier competition. It enabled me to feed of different people and get some different perspectives on what I could be working on in my game and the stage I’m at. We have a squad mentality at the Pies, so it might sound funny, but not playing is almost like another opportunity to get better. You don’t feel as disappointed that you’ve missed out on senior selection because there are so many people around the club that want to work with you to keep improving. We’re optimistic as a group – from fringe players, to guys not playing or those getting picked every week – that everyone has a role to play and you’re putting your hand up and contributing in some manner. If you’re not playing, you’re still getting as much from the experiences as you would if you were on the park.
Since returning against Geelong in Round 7, you’ve looked really settled in your role. How have you found this season compared to last in terms of knowing what’s required of you each week?
The more games I’ve been able to play, it’s become much clearer what is required of me to fulfill my role in the team each week. Our back six is a team within a team and we gel really well together. Our understanding of each other and the strong connection we have on and off-field has really helped that growth. The more I play with them, the more I understand what I can be doing better to support the group, building my game, the jobs I need to do on the opposition players. They’re only small changes but the more I’ve played at the senior level, the more I’ve been able to grab a hold of and understand those different roles required of me. That’s given me some confidence in knowing I can play at the level and do what’s required of me to give us the best chance to come away with a win and get the job done.
It’s clear from what you’ve said just how important those connections are to the group. Who are some of the players that you’ve worked with this season that have been important in supporting you?
This is going to sound very cliché but the truth is, it’s all of the players in our defensive group. From the guys that are playing each week to the ones supporting from the sidelines, we’re about helping each other and performing as best we can. It’s intuitive for us to want to support each other and make one another better players on and off-the-field. I knew Brayden Maynard when I arrived, we had gone to primary school together and so he took me under his wing. ‘Cripsy’ (Jack Crisp) has been massive for me personally. Jeremy Howe, even though he’s unfortunately injured, has been instrumental for our entire backline. He’s been cutting up extra vision, putting some real time into individuals and working with them to make their games better. Darcy Moore is another one who comes to mind as a young leader. He’s taken his game to another level this year and been rewarded for that with his All Australian selection. Jordan Roughead is just as important in his capacity as a leader at the club. I really could name every single player on our list about the support they’ve given to one another to ensure we keep improving and getting better each week.
Matthew Boyd has taken on the role as backline coach this year. You worked closely last year with him while he was the development coach. What has his influence been like?
I couldn’t speak highly enough of ‘Boydy’. He’s one who has been massive for me since I came to the club. He took me under his wing from the get-go and showed me the ropes, the strategies of the club and how to play. He’s embraced the role as our backline coach this year and has provided a great perspective on the game. He brings a mountain of knowledge with him. He was an unbelievable player and he’s an equally as unbelievable coach and person. Boydy has gone beyond the on-field teachings too and really shows us how to live to that elite standard, as well as having a balance between our football life and knowing when to switch off.
Looking forward to this week’s game against the Cats. What’s the message from Bucks after such an exhilarating win?
The biggest thing is the belief and confidence in our brand. We were really optimistic with the opportunity we had in front of us going over to Perth last week and we were determined to get the job done in whatever manner it took. We’ve got a really healthy balance at the moment between knowing when to switch on and switch off so I think if we can continue to carry that throughout this week and into the game it will hold us in good stead. We’ve reviewed the win and will look at the things we did great and look to improve in other areas, but Bucks wants to instill that confidence in us that we’ve got the ability in our group to get the job done.
We’ll leave it there for today. Thanks for your time John and good luck this week!
No worries, thanks Kavisha.