Greg McFadden: We want to be the best in the world

As a relatively young sport, women’s water polo has been part of the program at the last four Olympiads having been included for the first time in 2000. Four nations have won Olympic gold since: Australia in Sydney-2000, Italy in Athens-2004, Netherlands in Beijing-2008 and USA in London-2012.
The coach of the Australian Gold winning team at the inaugural Sydney-2000 Olympiad was an excellent Hungarian specialist, Istvan Gorgenyi. At the Athens-2004 Olympics the Australian team – having gone through a generational change in the previous four years – achieved a respectable fourth placing having lost the Bronze medal match to the United States.

Gorgenyi’s contribution to Australian water polo should not be measured by the Olympic results only. To this day, his legacy features prominently in the positive systemic and methodical changes and innovations aimed at facilitating the development of both athletes and coaches that he introduced during his tenure. After Athens, Istvan Gorgenyi was replaced by Greg McFadden who has since been at the helm of the Australian team, winning Bronze in Beijing and London.

Since his appointment in 2004, Greg McFadden has evolved into a world-class specialist whose understanding and knowledge of high-performance sport is very good. But it is not only his expertise and experience that have contributed to his results with the team. McFadden’s work ethic and forthright approach when dealing with all sorts of issues are among his strengths. (I remember Greg having these traits as a young player in the early 90s when I was coaching him at the Australian Institute of Sport as a member of the national squad). At the same time, the important factor that enabled him to work methodically and systematically over a prolonged period of time has been the relative ‘political’ stability that has existed in Australian Womens Water Polo enjoyed by Greg as coach, unlike the situation in Australian Men’s Water Polo.

Greg McFadden has been reappointed as Head coach of the Australian women’s team immediately after the London Olympiad with the stated objective of winning Gold in Rio-de-Janeiro-2016. We thank him for graciously agreeing to take part in this Q&A interview:


Greg, again congratulation on winning Bronze in London. It is a good result. However, is there anything that you would have done differently or would have wanted/expected to be done differently in hindsight?

Thank you very much for the congratulations, Erkin. It was a great result and I believe that the girls played some fantastic water polo under difficult circumstances at times in London. I am very proud of the way they handled themselves. The passion and joy that they showed while competing on the big stage of the Olympics was a credit to them all. The way they would walk up on the platform when they were presented, you could see in their faces how happy they were to be representing Australia, the water polo community and their families. They all did Australia proud and deserved to come home with an Olympic medal.

In hindsight, it would have been nice to be not so heavily penalised by the referees. In our extra man defence we defended 51/82 @ 62%, in our extra man attack we scored 30/44 @ 68%. These figures are outstanding and were far better than any other teams. Unfortunately, in every game we played the exclusion count was virtually 2 to 1 against us and sometimes close to 3 to 1 in some games. So for us to win our games not only did we have to have such high percentages but we also had to score more field goals than any other team, we achieved this also. We scored 11 more field goals than the closest team, 45 to 34. The only game we didn’t score more field goals was against the USA and we ended up losing that game in extra time.

So for us to win the Bronze medal and to only lose 1 game in extra time was a phenomenal performance which I am very proud of the girls achieving.

What challenges does the women’s squad face in the period prior to the Rio Olympiad? Are there young talented athletes coming up? How many London Olympians indicated that they would want to be considered during the next cycle? Would you consider them?

The challenges we face is becoming better than we were in London. We want to be the best team in the world and to do that we need to continually keep improving. Improving our defence so that we are not disadvantaged so much in the extra man comparisons would help us become a better team.

There are a lot of talented players coming through the ranks, but as you know Erkin unfortunately some players don’t have the work ethic to play international water polo. There has been many talented players who have not represented Australia because they are not willing to do the hard work or make the sacrifices that are needed for them to become the best players they can. So only time will tell if these players are up to being selected in the National squad.

Presently only 3 players have officially retired after London. These being Kate Gynther, Alicia McCormack and Melissa Rippon. These 3 players have been outstanding players for Australia over a long period and have been instrumental in the Australian teams success over the last 8 years. These players experience and leadership will be missed, but I believe that we have players capable of replacing them and taking us to the next level.

Eight of the 10 other players have all made themselves available for the World Championships this year and have indicated that they want to take it year by year in regard to Rio. Jane Moran has indicated she wants to continue on to Rio but unfortunately is not available for this year due to a shoulder reconstruction, while Gemma Beadsworth is having a year off to think about her future. It is great to see Gemma still playing and dominating in the National League presently. All of these players will most definitely be considered, but like the rest of the squad need to seek improvement in individual facets of their game.

The next world championships will be held in July this year in Barcelona. What objectives do you set for your team and yourself?

Once we know the make up of the squad we will then set our objectives, but as always we will go into the tournament with the goal of winning. This is our culture and the Stingers expect to win no matter who we play or the level of experience we have in the team. Our main objective is to be the best team in the world and to do this you have to win the World Championships.

What do you think about current rules and how they are applied/interpreted? Would you change or add anything?

I believe three rules should be definitely changed as they advantage and disadvantage teams greatly.

The 1st one is when a team is in offence and the CF earns an exclusion while the ball is on the perimeter. The perimeter player then passes the ball directly to the CF who isn’t marked and can baulk 2 or three times before he shoots. This advantage is greater than giving a team a penalty and greatly disadvantages the defending team. I believe the rule should be whenever an exclusion foul occurs within the attacking teams 5 metres then the ball should be played on that spot. (Similar to the old rule).

The 2nd one is when there is a turnover by the attacking team. The ball has to get played behind where the turnover foul occurred. This slows down the game and there is no advantage to the counter attacking team. I have just returned from watching the University of Irvine, California NCAA tournament and in the NCAA they play this rule and it speeds up the game.

The rule that annoys me the most is that no players are allowed to leave the bench. We have players who may sit on the bench for three quarters of a game (particularly a GK) and then be expected to get in and win the game. We are the only sport in the world where players are not allowed to warm up while on the bench. You see in all football codes the players warming up behind the posts or up and down the side of the field so that when they do get on the field they reduce the risk of injury and are ready to perform at their best.

We should have a designated warm up area behind the bench that can have exercise bikes or similar equipment which allows the players to do this.

The current world champions, Greek team, did not take part in the London Olympics. What do you think about it? Is there anything else that in your opinion could be done in a different way?

I believe that the World Champions should automatically qualify for the Olympic games similar to the way the Men’s teams do. This then puts a lot more prestige on the World Championships and is a great advantage for the winners. They can start preparing for the Olympics without having to go through the Continental qualification process and also the Olympic Qualification tournament.

The World League winners should also automatically qualify for the Olympics. This would then make the World League more prestiges. More teams would possibly enter the competition with this benefit thus making it a stronger competition.

If the Olympic Women’s water polo competition remained with 8 teams, then the teams that win these competitions could automatically qualify as that continents representative and the other teams from that continental zone would then have to qualify at the qualification tournament. If the Olympic Women’s  competition gets expanded to 12 teams, which I believe should happen as there are enough World Class teams for this to happen. This would then allow the same qualification system that the men presently now have.

If the competition stays at 8 teams I believe that the structure of the competition has to change. I do not understand why the 4th place teams are allowed an opportunity to qualify for the semi finals. In 2004 & 2008 the competition structure was if you finished 4th you did not get the opportunity to qualify for the finals and so you shouldn’t. If you finished 1st in your group you were rewarded by automatically qualifying for the semi finals. This was a fairer system.

For some reason they changed this for 2012. We were so close to being relegated to the 5th to 8th playoff by China in our quarter final game. We could have won 5 out of our 6 games and finished 5th if we had lost that quarter final game, while China could have won 1 out of 6 games and finished 4th.

Why reward teams who cannot finish in the top 3 of their group?

If the women’s competition stayed at 8 teams then I believe a fairer system would be a round robin, 7 games. Then the top 2 teams play for the Gold medal and the next 2 play for the bronze medal. That way you have to beat nearly everyone and the best teams wins. Presently we play only 6 games and with this system we would play 8. The men currently play 8 games, so not that much of a difference.

You were watching the Youth world championships held in Perth last December. What are your comments/impressions?

The Europeans have an advantage over the rest of the world at this age group due to the younger age that they start playing and the easier access to stronger competition. Most of their players have already played in at least 1 or 2 European Championships plus numerous training camps and test matches against other European countries. The other countries don’t have these opportunities and for most players this is their 1st tour or major competition.

Here in Australia the biggest game that some of these girls may have played is a Club Championship. Before the competition I said Australia playing against the Europeans is like U/9’s playing against U/12’s due to the little experience that our players have at this age.

In the past we have been able to bridge this gap, from youth to the junior world championships, but this is getting harder and harder. The switching of the National Championships for U/18’s & U/16’s from a State based to Club based competition has in my opinion made this gap harder to close.

Are you happy with the standard of this Year’s National league competition so far? Is there anything that you would want for the national squad’s preparation perspective?

No, I am not overly impressed with the standard of the National league competition this year. I believe there are too many clubs and not enough quality players to go around so the talent is diluted throughout the clubs.

This year there are 3 strong teams, 6 average teams fighting for the last 3 spots in the finals and 3 teams who are not very strong at all. This is reflected in the table.

For the national team to benefit we need every game to be competitive and tight so that the players learn to play under pressure. This way they can’t afford to make basic fundamental mistakes as they will be punished on the scoreboard.

What are the plans for the national squad in the period leading up to the Barcelona world championships?

We have a camp over Easter which finishes with the National League All Star game. Then the girls finish off the National League Season. After the National League Finals we select our new Australian Squad that will take us  through  the International Season.  We have a two day camp 5th & 6th May prior to heading across to New Zealand for the World League Rounds. Hopefully things will go to plan and we qualify for the World League Finals. We then have a seven day camp at the AIS from 22nd to 28th May before heading to Beijing for the World League Finals 1st-6th June.

After this competition we will evaluate our performance and make changes if necessary to the team for the World Championships. The team will then come together the beginning of July before heading to Hungary for a training camp and to Spain for a tournament. After that we head to Barcelona for the World Championships 20th July to 4th August were hopefully we can have a very good result.

Good luck!

Thank you!

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

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