Son of South Australian legend Fos, Williams has become an AFL heavyweight in his own right. Beginning his career at West Adelaide, he moved to Port Adelaide in the SANFL in 1979 before starting his VFL career with Collingwood, playing 135 games for them and kicking 178 goals.
He’s no stranger to new sides either, having played 66 games for the Brisbane Bears from 1987-1990.
As a coach, Williams won a flag and finished with a positive winning record at Port Adelaide. He’s not slowing either as he begins a new chapter of his life at Greater Western Sydney.
In this exclusive interview, Williams speaks of his feelings about the expansion side’s win over his old team Port, the atmosphere around the club, the role he had in recruiting ex-Port players there and the future that lies ahead for AFL’s most challenging experiment yet.
Dylan Toune: Obviously was a tough game against St Kilda, at half time what did you say to the boys?
Mark Williams: Well first quarter we won the stoppages, second quarter we got smashed in them. I think by half time they’d kicked eight goals to two from stoppages so we made some adjustments there, and by the end of the game, they’d only kicked two more to one. We’d won the clearances by the end of the game, that was great for us.
We changed a few players around, just gave everyone a few targets to work at. In general it was a pretty good game in the second half for our players, given that we were so far down we could have gotten smashed by, you know even more, could have lost by 200 points at one stage there. With not much to play for, it was pretty good.
DT: At the end of your current contract do you see yourself staying with the Giants? Are you enjoying it there?
MW: Yeah, it’s fantastic. With such a great group of young players and I’m really enjoying working with the young coaches too, giving them a chance to develop. You can see in a very short period of time they’re going to be a lot better and become a force in the AFL.
DT: You played for the Bears didn’t you?
MW: Yeah, first side player for the Brisbane Bears.
DT: Has it made you more aware?
MW: Well, I was at Port Adelaide as well, so I’ve been at three start-up clubs, which is a bit unique.
DT: You have a teaching background don’t you?
MW: I’m a phys-ed teacher, I taught for 10 years while I played at Collingwood and also before I started playing as well. That’s what I did, so I really enjoy the skill development and skill acquisition and decision-making training, helping them make decisions under pressure.
DT: Are there any players that have you shaking your head a bit, in terms of acting a bit silly or something?
MW: Well look, if you’ve got 50 players you’re always going to probably have 10% or so that are giving you a bit of trouble, but these guys are terrific and self-motivated. The fact that they’re high achievers and want to be well recognised in the AFL as soon as they can so they come to work, it doesn’t matter if they win or lose – get smashed or not, they’re very resillient. They always want to shake anything bad that happened last week off and improve very quickly, so it’s a great environment to be in.
DT: I just wanted to ask about the coaching dynamics at the club. There’s been a lot of talk that Kevin Sheedy doesn’t actually do much, so I wanted to ask how much of a presence Sheedy actually has down there.
MW: He has a massive presence. In the scheme of things I’m certainly given the opportunity to do most of the coaching, but Sheeds oversees it and he’s on the track to make sure we do what he wants. The individual development and the drills and that, myself and the line coaches certianly spend more time on that than Sheeds, he lets us do what we do best and he certainly does what he does best.
Come match day he runs the show. It works really well for everyone.
DT: The players must love having someone of his experience around.
MW: Yeah, he also plays a major role in the promotion of the club, he’s always off doing things. The club will see they get more bang for the buck for him being there at our meetings and training sessions.
DT: I’m a Lions supporter, I wanted to ask how has Luke Power been around the club, along with the other older guys? Are they good leaders and contributors?
MW: Luke’s good, I didn’t really know him before he came but to get to 300 games is brilliant for him. I wouldn’t say he’s any more influential than James McDonald, Dean Brogan, Chad Cornes or even Setanta O’Hailpin, all of those guys have played a massive role off the field.
Whether they provide feedback to the players, on the field they’re just terrific as far as being able to calm the players and make better decisions while they’re out there. Instead of having to send a runner out there we’ve got coaches on the field who are continually giving feedback to the players and continually trying to change what they’re doing with their thinking in a second, rather than waiting five minutes to get a runner out there.
DT: It must be great for the group dynamic. Just on that point, assuming a few of the blokes don’t go round again will you be looking at picking up more senior bodies and senior players?
MW: That’s what I’ve heard, but honestly I don’t have too much to do with that.
DT: I wanted to ask about Skoda, do you find there’s any sort of home ground advantage there yet? How are the facilities?
MW: (laughs) We’ve won one game there, so no home ground advantage yet, but it’s a fantastic facility. The AFL have done a wonderful job, and the people at Olympic Park there. We’ve just recently purchased the golf driving range, so our training facility is going to be right there.
We’re building a new oval and a new indoor facility with gym, weights, recovery. For those that know where the driving range is, it’s right next to the Olympic swimming pool. So that’ll be great, it’s probably one year away from being totally ready. The truth is that we’ll be based only ten minutes away from where most of the players live, but still be able to surface out to Blacktown where many of our new fans and players will come from in the future.
DT: Speaking of the players, we all know the likes of Toby Greene, Jeremy Cameron and Adam Treloar are fantastic, but are there any you can see that will come out and surprise us next year like these guys have?
MW: Everyone’s seem little glimpses of certain people. Stephen Coniglio’s done some good stuff but its only been spasmodic and I’m sure he’ll have much better gears [in future]. Jon Patton did virtually nothing all pre-season, I mean he could barely walk around the grounds, but to play what he has [been able to] has been fantastic for him.
You’re all aware my daughter goes out with Dylan Shiel, he’s been really good but unfortunately he’s been injured twice this pre-season – he had appendicitis and then had foot surgery which has put him out for the last eight weeks or so. He’ll show some real signs when he comes back.
I think Jon Giles has been the standout in regards to a bloke that was delisted after four years at Port, to show the form he has is a great story for us as well.
DT: Were you a part of getting him to GWS? Assumedly you would have worked with him at Port.
MW: Yeah, very much so. When they talked about who might be the best ruckman I might be aware of I mentioned he played very well at Sturt and so on. He’s played two years up here now, we had a year in the NEAFL and he was certainly our best player last year, so it didn’t surprise us much that he could [perform at AFL level].
We played against the Suns, Lions and Swans reserves so he was against good ruckmen, the likes of [Mike] Pyke, [Mark] Seaby and those sort of blokes played and he played pretty well against those blokes.
DT: He’s been fantastic this year. A lot of people are looking at them trading Brogan to you and with Lobbe and Redden struggling a bit, they can be amazed that he slipped through their fingers.
MW: It’s just great to think that people getting a second chance can shine. We all love people who are underdogs and get second chances. It doesn’t always necessarily work the first time – it might be the circumstance or the opportunity, but this has worked well and he has a bright future in front of him.
DT: Speaking of second chances and people moving up, you got Steve Clifton from the VFL and I’m a big fan of his, will you be looking at the state leagues again?
MW: As I said, I don’t have too much to do with that, but if you look at a lot of the rookies, some of the best players in the AFL, whether it’s [Dean] Cox, [Aaron] Sandilands, [Stephen] Milne, there’s a whole stack of them that have come through as rookies or players who get second chances.
It was fantastic that Tom Logan played his 100th game for the Power and he was a second-chance man from Brisbane.
DT: On the Power, was the win against them a little bittersweet?
MW: Oh, very much so. It was brilliant for our fans and supporters, trainers, all the people who have done a lot of work to get it going, but I have so many good friends and memories with Port that when the siren had gone it was, yeah, to understand the ramifications of that loss to Port, such a proud club, it was pretty hard to watch the other boys and how they had to handle it.
It was the same when I spoke to Chad [Cornes] and Broges [Dean Brogan], the thought of beating Port was exciting before the game but afterwards it didn’t taste that good.
DT: Yeah, I can imagine with Matthew Primus’s reaction, a lot of the Port boys and yourself would have been a bit…
MW: He’s a great friend of all of us – Alan Hinch, our opposition analyst and video man, Jon Giles, the other boys and I, there’s four or five of us that have spent a lot of time at Port and we always keep an eye on what’s going on there.
DT: Just wanted to ask how you guys are interacting with the community, and how you’re finding the coverage out there?
MW: I think the people in the media department have done just a brilliant job, I can’t imagine the amount of publicity we’ve gotten. I was pretty skeptical, thinking we wouldn’t get too much, but we’ve certainly gotten an amazing amount of publicity. I think Israel Folau is the reason for a lot of that, and obviously Sheeds is brilliant as well.
Whatever Israel gets paid he’s certainly been worth it with the publicity so far. He’s gonna take a bit of time with his footy, he’s had a bit of an injury-interrupted season but he’s moving in the right direction.
If the club can keep getting publicity, win a few more games next year and more people jump on board, it’ll certainly take off, just like it did with Brisbane.