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Q&A — Pat McKenna

After an injury-interrupted four years on AFL lists with the GWS Giants and Melbourne, Pat McKenna was delisted at the end of the 2018 season. As he transitions out of the AFL system, McKenna has signed on as an assistant coach with Melbourne’s AFLW team. We went one-on-one with the Demons backline coach about his move into the coaching box, his plans for the future and whether or not he plans to continue his AFL dream. 

You had quite an injury-interrupted career across your time at the GWS Giants and Melbourne. At what point did you start thinking about a career post-football and was coaching something you had always been interested in?

It was probably largely when I missed the whole season with hamstring troubles that I started helping out, just sitting in the coaches’ box with our VFL team Casey. I didn’t do much or say much, just listened to the coaches and tried to help out where I could. That gave me an idea that it was something I could see myself doing when I got out of football and then I had a similar year with some injuries this year and unfortunately got delisted. Coaching was something that I have grown into and the Melbourne job was lucky that it popped up when it did but I wasn’t expecting anything that soon or that big. I knew I wanted to complete my courses and get qualified and then give myself the option to enter into coaching.

What qualifications are you studying?

I’m doing a few short courses in December through SportsReady that I got details about through my Outduction with the AFLPA and then I am also going to do my level two coaching course in January. As a player you automatically jump to level two if you want to do the coaching courses. University isn’t coaching related but I have applied to get into physio at La Trobe but I won’t know until January if I get in or not, previously I was studying exercise science at ACU.

What are you hoping to bring to Melbourne’s AFLW team and what does your role there as an assistant involve?

I’m hoping to bring a young perspective. All the coaches we have are probably 10 years older than I am so I want to bring that young take on things. Also, bringing a playing perspective. Having not been a coach before I feel like I am able to relate to the players differently and hopefully I am able to bring that take to the meetings and when I’m coaching try and use those things that I related to as a player to the players we have now. I’ll be taking the backline group and team defence as a general term, as well.

Who have been your coaching mentors, or is there anyone you looked up to at Casey who you’ve felt has had an impact as your enter your own coaching career?

Because it all happened so quickly it wasn’t really something I was preparing for but since I have got the job there will definitely be a few coaches I will try and learn off while I am still involved with Melbourne. Matthew Egan, who is a development coach in the men’s program, will be one of them. He’s trying to create a bit of a coaching pathway throughout the Melbourne club and their aligned clubs. He’s a great development coach who really cares for the players and tries to get the best out of them. He’s someone that I look up to and aspire to be as well.

Knowing that your contract was up at the end of the 2018 season and being hampered by hamstring injuries, did you feel at any point that the end of your AFL playing career had a sense of inevitability about it?

I was definitely hopeful of getting another contract but I was also realistic. I had been injured for 75 per cent of my time at Melbourne and hadn’t reached anything near the potential I believe I could have played at. I played nine games in the end for Casey and didn’t really shine through in any of those games so I knew it was coming and had prepared myself for it but nonetheless, I still always wanted to get another contract and deal with it as best as I could.

How did you manage those injuries and spending such significant periods of time in the rehab group, especially after moving to a new club?

Yeah, it was obviously very frustrating but I just tried to stay involved around the group as much as I possibly could which is why I went down and tried to be involved with the VFL team as much  as possible because you don’t get to experience game day when you’re injured. Training is pretty similar but to be able to experience game day I tried to get involved as much as I could with the boys and help out where I could. It was a frustrating two years where I wasn’t able to get some consistency but in saying that I still enjoyed my time.

You’re playing at Gisborne next year, is your AFL dream over?

Yeah, I’m playing for Gisborne next year which is where I grew up and where I am living now. I don’t think the opportunity will arise again. I tossed up whether I would continue with the VFL and have another crack at it but at this stage I am happy to just come back and play some more relaxed footy with my friends and get everything off-field sorted with university and work.

Having been through the transition process, what would your advice be to the players who are experiencing the same thing as you?

Maximise the opportunities that arise. A lot of people offer you things once you finish so try and keep an open mind and say yes to as many things as you can and try and figure out what’s best for you. During your time maximise the opportunities you have and don’t just make footy your focus, there are other things to focus on whether that be work experience, planning ahead or some study. Take those things on board because it all helps when the time finishes.