Written by Nellie O'Shea Carre
Monash Blues senior coaches Mark Passador and Ian Mills have been reappointed as 2021 coaches for the respective Men’s and Women’s senior teams.
Despite an attempted return to training in June, this year’s season was not able to go ahead due to Melbourne lockdowns, but planning is underway for a staggered return to 2021 preseason training.
The Senior Women’s team finished third on the ladder at the end of the home-and-away season last year, and for the past two years have lost in the preliminary final to the team that went on to win the grand final.
Mills has been involved in the club on and off for over 15 years in intermittent assistant coaching positions. He offered to coach the first Blues Women’s exhibition match in late 2016, and has since built the Women’s side up from one team struggling to field a side each week to two teams with around 100 listed players.
“The club gets under your skin a little bit, and it becomes a part of who you are, even though I never went to Monash,” Mills says.
“The thing about working with the girls is that they’re super coachable. They’re all sponges for information and improvement. I think the hardest thing at times is that they want to grow and develop so quickly that there’s so much to take in. But what I like is the fact that no matter what, all the girls want to get better.”
The Blues had been planning on fielding three Women’s teams in the upcoming season, but given the lack of certainty on player’s commitment due to COVID restrictions they will remain with two teams in 2021.
Mills says prior to the second Melbourne lockdown, the team was looking strong in training and the Seniors will be aiming to make the Grand Final this year in order to get promoted to the A Grade VAFA competition.
“The flag’s always going to sit there, but the priority is that the girls have fun, they improve, they feel that each week they’re fronting up to a hard fought contest and that they are really well prepared for that. And if we do that week in and week out, I feel that the collective strength of the group takes you closer to winning a flag,” he says.
“We will have girls play their 50th game of footy this year… that’s a massive deal for me. But I also want girls to play 100 games of footy, I want to generate females that coach Monash Blues, I want one of the girls to step forward and be the first female president of the Monash Blues Football Club. So they’re my longer term goals.”
Captain Ella ‘Statsy’ Stephenson will be playing her 50th game at the Blues in 2021. She says Mills’ ability to build relationships within the club is a big contribution to his success as a coach.
“He gets to know the person, it’s not just ‘see you on the weekend’,” she says.
“He does a lot for people as a person, not just as a player. And I think that because he gets to know people, they really want to play for him.”
Senior Men’s Coach Mark Passador, a former VFL, SANFL and Old Scotch forward, also emphasises the player relationships as his favourite part of the coaching role. Passador is preparing for his fifth year at the Monash Blues.
“I really enjoy trying to help [the players] get better, both on and off the field,” he says.
“Obviously it will be a different preseason up until Christmas, and then hopefully once we get back into things in February it will be full steam ahead. The benefit is that it looks like we will have a pretty consistent group to the previous year, so in terms of how we want to play, most of the guys will be across that which will be good.”
The Men’s team will be looking to improve on their 2019 season after being relegated to C Grade, but Passador says they are hopeful they will make finals next year.
His commitment to the club is an attribute Captain Keegan Mason says makes Passador one of the best coaches he’s had in his football career.
“He invests a lot of time in us, and getting to training early, and he watches all of our games on a Sunday and cuts them up again for us to watch on a Tuesday night, and other bits and pieces,” Mason says.
“I find him a very good listener; I feel like my contribution is listened to. And I think he connects really well with a lot of playing group. But at the same time he challenges us, and he’s a good teacher of football and has plenty of football knowledge too.”
“He’s also just a really good fella and a good leader and he’s someone who you want to play for.”
The Blues will field four open age Men’s teams and an Under 19s side along with the two Women’s teams in 2021. The club is currently advertising for coaches for the Men’s and Women’s Reserves teams.