Contributed by: Brett Northey Wednesday, April 27 2005 @ 01:43 am ACST
In yet another coup for Papua New Guinean football, Australian football legend Malcolm Blight has agreed to coach PNG's national side, the Mosquitoes, if they make it to the grand final of the International Cup, in Melbourne this August. The following was compiled with the assistance of Henry Morabang (from PNG's The National[*1] ).
Papua New Guinea are also expecting to have VFL/AFL legends Ron Barassi, Doug Hawkins and John Platten involved at times during the tournament, lending moral support and perhaps an astute eye here and there. All this has come about through the hard work of AFL PNG staff such as Justin Karcher, Scott Reid and others.
Blight has a tremendous record in Australian football. Originally from Woodville in South Australia (since merged with West Torrens during the turbulent era in which the VFL changed to the AFL and South Australia entered its first side in the national league). After winning the Magarey Medal[*2] (best and fairest in the SANFL) in 1972, he was lured to North Melbourne where he was instrumental as a player in the Kangaroos' 1975 and 1977 premierships. Barassi was coach in both years. Blight won the Brownlow medal in 1978, and will also always be remembered for the famous footage of his after-the-siren, match-winning goal for North Melbourne, from what was reported to be 80 metres out (although the commentator at the time said 85 to 90m)!
Blight returned to South Australia and continued with the magical touch that had become associated with him, coaching ever-struggling Woodville to a barnstorming 3rd in 1986, their best finish ever. In 1989 and 1992 he coached Geelong to unsuccessful grand finals - a great effort again at a club without a successful history. His record remained superb but missing the finishing touch of premiership coaching success, until he was enticed back to his home state to lift the Adelaide Crows, who had yet to fulfill their dream of premiership glory after six years in the AFL. Beyond all expectations he not only guided Adelaide into the finals but to back-to-back premierships in his first two years, setting his legend in stone.
Such a record could not continue forever, and in his third season with Adelaide, with the club suffering many injuries and undoubtedly premiership hangovers, the side tumbled down the ladder and Blight retired from football coaching. But in 2001 he unexpectedly returned for an ill-fated stint at Saint Kilda. With a host of talented but un-developed juniors, great things were expected, despite the Saints' poor history. However, as another barren season emerged, Blight was controversially sacked. It seemed Blight's unconventional approach to the game had been untenable for key members of the club's hierarchy, although the entire process remained a mystery. The Saints went on to fair just as poorly the following season.
Blight has since spent most of his time relaxing in Queensland, away from the game, but this has not diminished the aura that surrounds him. There a friendship has been formed with AFL PNG Director and fellow former South Aussie Justin Karcher, hence the invitation to work with the Mosquitoes.
With five PNG boys expected to be playing with Coolangatta, Desmond Kaumu back in Cairns and David Gavara in Melbourne the depth of experience at the higher level for the Mosquitoes should help them considerably. AFL PNG's Scott Reid anticipates Barassi’s unrivalled knowledge of winning finals and big games at the MCG together with Blight’s incredible capacity to note the smallest details and to use that attention to detail to radically improve a team's performance, as he did with Geelong and the Crows, should set the Mosquitoes up to be recognised by all football fans as the best country outside Australia. He urged the members of the Mosquitoes training squads across PNG to be inspired to bigger and better efforts this time round and really press ahead in their training and in raising their levies (required to help fund their trips).
There is no doubt that PNG will raise the bar in 2005 - can Ireland again cause an upset, and can any other nation improve sufficiently to challenge the 2002 grand finalists?