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Behind the scenes, Hawks find their coaching bedrock

Hawks Coach Luke Beveridge addresses his players during the 2013 NAB Cup round 04 match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Hawthorn Hawks at Highgate Recreational Reserve, Craigieburn. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
Hawks Coach Luke Beveridge addresses his players during the 2013 NAB Cup round 04 match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Hawthorn Hawks at Highgate Recreational Reserve, Craigieburn. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

HAWTHORN football manager Chris Fagan doesn't mind praising Luke Beveridge and Brendon Bolton, assistant coaches in the club's 2013 premiership triumph.

Both are great examples of what happens when opportunity meets persistence, and another reminder that you don't need a big name to become a big-time coach.

As a player with three clubs in 11 seasons at AFL level, Beveridge signed 11 one-year contracts.

As a young coach, he became the first person in VAFA history to coach a team from C-Grade to A-Grade premiership in three seasons, when he took St Bede's Mentone on an unprecedented path of success between 2006 and 2008.

As a development coach at Collingwood he was involved in 2009 and 2010 when the club reached a preliminary final before winning a premiership. After one year working in “the real world” he came to Hawthorn in 2012, to be part of a coaching staff that has since been to consecutive Grand Finals and won one premiership.

It's a resume that any prospective senior coach would like to bring to the table.

"His enthusiasm is outstanding. He is a deep thinker on the game so he offers a lot up at match committee, not just with the defensive group he looks after," Fagan told AFL.com.au.

"What I really love about him is he is strong on his opinions. He doesn't always offer up what the group-think is. He sometimes thinks in an alternative manner and that is good for the group."

The little know part of the Beveridge tale is that he stared down the barrel of defeat in his first Grand Final as a playing-coach, moving himself into defence as his team trailed Ajax by 48 points midway through the second quarter of the VAFA C-Grade Grand Final played at Trevor Barker Oval.

With two minutes left and the sun's spark dimming as the game heated up, Paul Groves kicked a goal to put St Bede’s in front. It won the high scoring game by one point: 21.12 (138) to Ajax 21.11 (137).

St Bede's Mentone took that form into B-Grade in 2007 and were hot all year under Beveridge, defeating University Blacks by 38 points in the Grand Final.

Suddenly the team was in the unfamiliar territory of A-Grade.

No-one has a bad word to say about Beveridge and the environment he, his assistants (one of whom was Tim Lamb who is now in Melbourne's recruiting department), and senior players created.

Former committee member Blair Hutchinson sums up what many at that club think of Beveridge: "He is a good man and has a good feel for people and was very inclusive."

He is also a competitor.

After finishing the home and away season second on the ladder to Collegians, most expected St Bede's to drop off in the finals. However it won the second semi-final in a shock result, then had the Grand Final as good as won at half-time.

It was a fine effort with half a dozen players playing in all three flags. 

"He is a wonderful teacher of people," former club president Matt Beasley said. "He does not discriminate against anyone. In his mind the least skilled player is as important to his team structure as the talented match winners are."

The club remains in A-Grade, losing the 2013 Grand Final to Old Xaverians, testament to the legacy Beveridge left.

A strong sense of perspective has stood Beveridge in good stead but it also nearly took him away from football.

In 2011, with a young family and football such a huge commitment, he returned to his secure job with Austrac, a Federal Government department that works to identify and prevent money laundering.

However the game came calling again and Beveridge realised his family missed his involvement in football as much as he did. So he accepted a job with Hawthorn at the end of 2011 as a defensive coach.

This year, his backline charges not only won a flag but took out a Norm Smith Medal (Brian Lake) and the club best and fairest (Josh Gibson) with Ben Stratton fourth in the club count.

"He genuinely cares for his players and they know that and that is a big thing," Fagan said. "I think he understands the grind. I think he understands the challenges."

Bolton started even further south than Beveridge, first coming into Fagan's life as a Tassie Mariner way back in the late 1990s when Fagan coached him in 1996 and 1997.

Fagan was the coach and Bolton his competitive, nippy young rover who soon earned a reputation for fearless football.

He became one of the gun players of Tasmanian football, playing in the Northern Bombers undefeated premiership team in 1998 and beginning to develop his off-field career as a physical education teacher at Rosetta High School.

That combination of careers would see him land a coaching gig at the Box Hill Hawks in 2009, the forerunner to his appointment at Hawthorn.

First however, he built an impressive resume as a player-coach, taking North Hobart to the 2005 premiership. He then became a stand-in coach the next season at the ill-fated Tassie Devils VFL team after Matthew Armstrong's emotional departure. He was just 26.

He led Clarence to a preliminary final in 2008, with hamstring problems bringing a premature end to his football career.

The young enthusiast then contacted Fagan to see if he could hang around the Hawks for a week to gain some insight into how an AFL club operated.

Fagan told him that was no problem but in return he would have to present on some learning strategies he had studied in the United Kingdom and put them into practice as a teacher and a coach.

"He really impressed Clarko (Alastair Clarkson) and we contacted him when the Box Hill coaching job came up," Fagan said.

Bolton was appointed coach of the Box Hill Hawks and led the club into consecutive finals series in 2009 and 2010 before Hawthorn made him the midfield coach.

Upon his promotion, Box Hill president John Ure paid tribute to Bolton, saying his strength was to "create a positive environment so that the AFL-listed players actually enjoyed playing at Box Hill."

He's been part of a coaching group that has taken the Hawks from third to second to premiers in consecutive years, one of just three times that has happened in the AFL.     

"He's just been a bloke who has worked his backside off to get where he is and he is really well respected amongst the playing group, really well prepared, has good people skills and is a great teacher," Fagan said.

As coaching and development manager, Fagan is justifiably proud of his charges.