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We recently caught up with Danny Hay about his time coaching Eastern Suburbs, and what he gained from the experience.
Firstly, thinking back to late 2016, why did you decide to take the role of coaching at Eastern Suburbs a few weeks out from the start of the National League season?
I felt the opportunity to take a National League side, particularly my local club, was too good to turn down. Most importantly the club’s and my footballing values we were closely aligned, I and Eastern Suburbs are unashamedly and ‘noisy’ champions of developing young kiwi talent!
I was also at a point in my own coaching journey where I needed a new challenge, and stepping into ESAFC with very limited time to build a squad certainly gave me that!! I knew we were in for an exciting ‘ride’.
What were the key learnings or take-outs you gained during your time with Eastern Suburbs?
Firstly, I learnt it was of upmost importance to have total belief in the vision I had for the team and club, and that I needed to stay true to that, even in times of adversity. I wanted to field a side primarily made-up of young Kiwi talent and develop a pathway for players within the club. Whilst some questioned this approach, I knew that I had a very supportive Executive Committee behind me which was critical in allowing me to persevere.
Looking back at your time with the Lilywhites, what were the elements you feel most proud of as your Eastern Suburbs legacy...or to put it another way: under your watch, what or where did you make a (the biggest) difference?
The one thing I look back on with pride, is knowing that Eastern Suburbs is in a better place than when I first came to the club. I look at the pathway we have developed within Eastern Suburbs for the players and the aligned approach taken in developing those players from the coaches. Even now when I go to Madills Farm, Glover Park, Crossfields or Ngahue and see Suburbs teams/groups training, the training methodology and approach is very much aligned from team to team or group to group.
Winning the National League was a great day to be a Lilywhite and was the culmination of a lot of hard work by you, your staff and obviously the squad. But putting aside the pleasure of winning the national title aside, what was the most enjoyable part of being part of Eastern Suburbs and coaching at our club?
Without doubt, the biggest enjoyment I had during my time at Eastern Suburbs was the connection with the community. That was summed up by seeing so many young ESAFC players and their families come along in their club colours and support the N.L team during the semi-final and final last season. There was genuine excitement for within the community and showed that there is real engagement with the club, especially when a team representing them does something special.
What were the goals you set yourself when you agreed to coach Eastern Suburbs, initially as the National League squad and then the Director of Football, and did you 'kick those goals'?
Again, I think the biggest goal from a personal level was to create a genuine pathway for the Kiwi player. Having been in a privileged position of working with a number of our top youth sides in the country, I was aware of the type of player we were starting to develop. It had always frustrated me that often those players weren’t given the opportunity at National League level to show what they were capable of, hence my decision to try and change that. To allow for the inclusion of more kiwi and local players in the Eastern Suburbs National League squad I used my role as the club’s Director of Football to facilitate the development of technically and tactically capable players who have a genuine love for the game. Add that to the pathway within Eastern Suburbs, and hopefully long term there will be rewards for players and club alike.
How will your experience at Eastern Suburbs influence you in your All Whites role?
I believe it will help me immeasurably. There are similarities in the fact that I want to change the status quo with the All Whites, just as I did at Eastern Suburbs. As the saying goes, “do what you’ve always done, and get what you’ve always got”. Hence, whilst we’ve had the odd good moment as a national team, I don’t think our approach to the game really reflects who we are as a nation. We’ve primarily taken a negative approach in the past – defend, go long, no risk. Whilst that may have picked up some results, I’m not sure it’s inspired too many. I firmly believe that we can be braver and try and excite the fans, as well as connect with the next generation of players and excite them into wanting to be future All Whites. I’m not naïve enough to think that this will happen overnight, but I also believe we have to try.
Finally, what advice you'd give to any young and ambitious footballer and also a developing ambitious coach who want to develop their game and ultimately make football part of their career and life's journey?
Player: Football at a professional level is a tough business that will come with plenty of setbacks and adversity. That’s why it’s vital to fully commit to the dream. It is about having the mentality to ‘train to dominate’, therefore, making the life decisions that support your dream (nutrition, sleep, preparation, focus, review routines etc ). There are opportunities out there, but you are not competing against the best in New Zealand for professional football contracts, you are competing against the best in the world, therefore your level of commitment needs to reflect that.
Coach: Developing a clear vision and philosophy is vital. That should stem from your beliefs about the game and how you see it being played. The key is to constantly test those beliefs but be very open to new ideas and learning. At the end of the day, knowledge is power so constantly looking to up skill and share ideas is vital. The other key is to create an environment that players want to be a part of. The modern player wants to be empowered and have a voice, so how you manage that, is crucial to getting the best out of the collective.