Australian Men’s Olympic Squad

Recently, the Australian men’s team has been selected for the Pan Pacs tournament to be held in Melbourne. According to the AWPI’s media report, it is close to how the team will look in London with the final decision to be made closer to the Olympic games.

By and large, the list is close to who I would select from the currently available athletes. Judging by the list, there is no reason for the Australians not to be successful in London. Their level of skills and experience is on a par with all other leading squads in the world. In comparison, the Australian team that came 4th at the WC in Perth-1998 was not as skillful as the other top teams in the world at that time.

One of the main reasons for this generations’ improvement has been the Intensive Training Centres (ITC) or National Training Centres (NTC) – as they are called now –and the professional coaches who worked there. These centres were established in the early 90s and greatly assisted with the players’ development as most local amateur clubs were not implementing the required volumes and intensity of training to be competitive on the international arena.

Don Cameron, who was the National Coaching Director at the time, was instrumental in the creation of these Centres. Don loved water polo. He is one of those Australians who genuinely cared about the sport’s success more than about himself. Thank you Don!

The coaches who worked in these Centres in the previous 18 years must be credited. Their competent guidance and proper development of the young players, during the crucial period of their formative years, insured Australia’s current status as one of the more skilful water polo nations in the world. Having done an excellent job, some of those specialists were not reappointed in their positions for reasons unknown to me. Further, on top of the excellent skills level, the Australians have good overall international experience – most have played in the top European clubs.

The veterans, Gavin Woods and Thomas Whalan, have been to three OG and are in their 30s. Both have had the experience of reaching the semi-final and final levels of the junior and/or senior world championships. They know what it takes. My experience of working with these athletes has been that when it is difficult they would stand up to the challenge and lead by example.

Gavin and Thomas looked a bit tired during the US series in Sydney recently; the important thing for both is to arrive in London in top shape. They are very conscientious individuals and don’t have to prove anything. A properly structured preparation programme is what they need in the remaining 6 months.

Another experienced group, who went to Beijing-08, are Richie Campbell, Jamie Beadsworth, Anthony Martin and Rhys Howden. For Sam McGregor it will be his 3rd Olympiad. All are in their prime and have good speed endurance. Richie has a world class shot with Sam, James, Rhys and Anthony being reasonable shooters as well.

The remaining players have been on the National squad’s roster for some time, even if they have not participated in the OG before.

Billy Miller has gone through the full four years preparation cycle. After the Rome-2009 WC, he has grown as a player. His patience and composure in the extra-man attack actions in Shanghai, when he was taking upon himself the finishing shots from the right hand outside position, were the telling signs of the maturity and experience that are necessary to perform at this level. Benn Lees coached Miller and Anthony Martin at the Queensland Academy of Sport.

Tim Cleland was brought into the National squad for the first time in 2002. He let the team down in a crucial game at the WC in Shanghai by retailiating against a player and being excluded leaving his team to play man down for 4 minutes. In the USSR’s team of the 70-80s, under such circumstances, a player would have been withdrawn from the National squad for good. But I agree that any person should be given a second chance in life. Hopefully, Tim has learnt from his mistake.

Aaron Younger is the youngest member of the team. Nevertheless, he played well in Shanghai in the demanding centre-back position. Reaching top 4 as a member of the Australian team at the last junior WC in Greece gave Aaron a taste of what can be achieved. Younger’s shot is already world-class. When he gets older, it will improve even further.

An Olympic, European & world championships’ medallist, Andrei Kovalenko, has had a lot to do with teaching Aaron Younger, Jamie Beadsworth and Tim Cleland how to shoot. Andrei was one of the top shooters in the world. It is a mystery to me as to why the Kovalenko and Slobodan Trifunovic’s Olympic medal winning experiences are not actively used by Australian Water Polo in WA. The two centre-forwards – Gavin Woods and Jamie Beadsworth – are world class. Gavin is currently #1 in the Australian team because of his specific CF skills, mobility and better leg-work. Jamie is strong and is difficult to handle one on one when he is in form. Both are fast swimmers, which is important for a modern CF.

Beadsworth has missed a lot of training due to a serious injury. His lack of fitness was noticeable during the series against the US in Sydney. Hopefully, he will be able to get in shape by London. It is going to be challenging for him, as it takes 12 months to make up for 6 months of missed training.

Another specialist CF, Mitchell Baird, has been omitted. It is the coach’s decision but some teams have 3 CFs on their roster.

Samuele Avallone has been selected ahead of Aidan Roach, who – for his age – played well in Shanghai, and Johnno Cotterill – who has significantly improved in the last year. Avallone comes from a strong Italian background. I was watching him in the Australian National League for several years. He is a competent player and a conscientious man, as are Roach and Cotterill. All three are drivers and are on an even keel. The selection decision must be well substantiated.

Anthony Martin and Tim Cleland would have to be considered along with the above-mentioned 3 players. Perhaps, a bigger frame and a centre-back specialization would have played in Martin and Cleland’s favour in the coach’s decision. Cotterill can also play in the CB position competently.

Jahangir Shagaev coached Aidan Roach, Johnno Cotterill, Richie Campbell and Joel Dennerley when they were kids. His decision to select these players in NSW squads, especially Joel who was very inexperienced at the time, has been vindicated.

The goalkeepers – Joel Dennerley and James Clarke – have been playing well in the latest events that I was watching. My experience of coaching Joel Dennerley has always been pleasurable. He is a hard worker who never complained. One of the reasons why the “Wests Magpies” won the National League title in 2008 – being the youngest team who achieved it – is Joel. You want to have a man like this in your squad.

Speaking about goalkeepers, the older they get the better they become. In Moscow-1980, the legendary Hungarian, Endre Molnar, was around 40. It was his 4th Olympiad. In this vein, Luke Quinlivan was the Australia’s main goalie in Shanghai. I watched him. He was not worse than Dennerley or Clark. He is in the “Barbarians” team at the Pan Pacs and will also push for Olympic selection. What the team lacks is the important “cultural” ingredient of winning a serious event or, at least, the confidence boosting wins against the top teams at major tournaments in the last several years. Potentially, the Australian team of the 2004-08 cycle was capable of achieving a medal winning result. It was not worse than the Beijing-08 Silver winning US side.

The Head–coach, John Fox, and his assistants, have been lucky. They were appointed without having to prove themselves as international level specialists. None has built from scratch a successful National Junior or National League team. We are yet to see the quality players who have been developed by them personally.

The current group of players has a chance to rectify the big-time medals’ omission in the Australian senior men’s water polo history. However, it would be unwise to be adding to the “burden of expectations” on these men, some of whom are still young, by repeatedly reminding they must end up on the podium in London. It is better to go there as an under-dog and take one step at a time. Do it first and then blow the trumpet.

We wish this team well! ADVANCE AUSTRALIA FAIR!

About Erkin Эркин Shagaev Шагаев
European, world, Olympic champion, two times World Cup winner Чемпион Европы, мира, Олимпийских игр, двукратный обладатель Кубка мира

2 Responses to Australian Men’s Olympic Squad

  1. Geoff says:

    Who would your 13 be if you had to pick it now??

    • Geoff, thank you for your question! I know you expect a concrete short answer but I cannot say things lightly – it is too important for me! Here is what I have to say:
      Definite: 1. Woods 2. Whalan 3. Campbell 4. McGregor 5. Beadsworth 6. Younger 7. Howden 8. Miller. I wish I could give all 13 names but to make a decision on the others, I would need to be hands on for the last several years to form a firm opinion and make a fully substantiated decision in the best interests of Australia.
      The players, who are in the “Sharks” and “Barbarians” teams at the Pan Pacs, are not the only ones I would have considered. I do not know how the Head- coach and AWPI have been working with ALL Australian potential candidates during the last several years in terms of motivating them. I do not know the reasons for some older and younger players not to be in the contest at all.
      Teams and players perform differently under different coaches. That also would have been a significant factor.
      I would have done many things differently during the last two 4-year Olympic cycles and in particular during 2004-08. These years are interconnected in terms of team building and its culture as well as generational succession process. I can account for every decision I made when I was National senior coach in 1996-98 and 2001-04 periods. Please read the “About” page.
      I welcome comments and discussion on this site. Thank you again!

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