Interview with coach Michael Maguire
It’s not easy to get to know the real Michael Maguire. Win, lose or draw, the coach’s demeanour and mantra tend not to vary. The team is always “working on a few things”, “working for each other” and “growing stronger”. While Maguire might come across as a reserved and private man, his new book, A Year to Remember, a behind-the-scenes account of South Sydney’s road to glory in 2014, provides a unique perspective on the man – as well as the hard work, passion, pain and meticulous planning that saw Souths claim their first premiership in 43 years.
“The reason I wanted to do the book was to share what happened over the year, week in week out,” Maguire said. “It’s about the journey we went through, the ups and downs and how we got there. I’m hoping fans will see the dynamics of what was going on, have a look at those games and compare that to what I was saying and doing as coach, and bring back a few memories.”
Arriving at Redfern in 2012, with no previous connections to the club or the area, Maguire was quick to appreciate the importance of community and culture. “From the community point of view, it’s been special to see how people have grown from hope to happiness. At Souths, it’s not just about a football club, it’s about culture. It’s about people – all the different mixes of life. They can see that, after what the team has gone through, they’ve been able to find success, and it becomes a real symbol for a lot of people.”
After a disappointing follow-up season, for which Maguire himself has shouldered some criticism, the book offers a refreshing reminder of the dizzy days in 2014 and just how much it takes to win an NRL premiership. It’s easy to forget the many bold and high-yield decisions Maguire made on the road to glory: the replacement of Redfern favourite Nathan Merritt with try-scoring ace Alex Johnston, whose try-scoring feats were rewarded with a selection in the Kangaroo team at season end; the ascension of unknown centre from Melbourne Kirisome Auva’a, who proved himself to be a speedy and uncompromising addition to the backline; the replacement of captain John Sutton in his customary five-eighth position with the skilful cunning of Luke Keary adding a new dimension to Souths’ left-side attack.
Possibly Maguire’s most contentious decision was the much criticised signing of the ageing Lote Tuqiri. After a couple of injury-ridden seasons at the Tigers many thought the dual international’s best days were behind him. “Talking to Lote I completely understood where he was at and what he was trying to achieve,” Maguire recalled. “It’s not something an everyday supporter would understand straight away. Coaching is about those little things that happen that supporters don’t always see or understand. It was obvious to me watching Lote playing for Norths [Souths’ feeder team] that he was focused and wanted to do something in the NRL season.”
The most compelling chapter of Maguire’s book is the final one. Having rolled the Roosters, Maguire talks of how important it was for the players to “soak up” the surge of fans’ emotions during grand final week. “There were a massive number of fans at training. The build-up on grand final day all added to the emotion and that’s what drew the emotion at the back end of the game.”
The grand final victory scenes remain indelibly in Maguire’s memory: “To see them crying, and GI and Sammy embracing, it was above footy. The players knew what it meant to everyone, not just Souths people but rugby league all over. It was the story of the fight-back and the return after marching on the streets. To see young Jason Clark, who was at the march, embrace his dad, to see him running around in a grand final team, that’s a special moment for a kid who was brought up in that era and in the area.”
For Maguire the post-grand-final bus trip to Souths Juniors was unforgettable: “The smiles and the celebrations in the streets were unbelievable. After the game, we got on the bus and what was going on around Redfern was absolutely amazing. You have those moments when you can say to the coaching staff and the team, ‘Look at this guys, you created this’. You appreciate it comes from a lot of hard work over a long period of time.”