Came from: Eaglehawk Went to: Castlemaine
First game: 17 Apr 1999 Last game: 22 Aug 1999
Appearances: 16 Goals: 49
Getting the Swans to fly again
To newly arrived Griffith Swans football coach, Paul Eyles, Australian Rules Football is much more than just a game, it's a religion.
His dedication to the game he has played for the past 15 years is limitless - the hunger to succeed, the willingness to improve, the passion to play, the comradeship and the personal satisfaction in knowing that you have given it everything are the driving forces behind the 24-year-old's love of the game he first played at the age of nine.
"I can remember my first kick in football. I was nine playing in the Under/14's and the coach put me in the forward pocket. Stephen Elderfield hand balled the ball to me in the goal square and I turned around and kicked a goal," he said, his memory as vivid as the goal had been kicked yesterday.
The youngest of eight children, Eyles always had plenty of opposition in the backyard matches, with three older brothers, Gary, Chris and Russell, all good footballers themselves, more than keen to serve it to their younger brother.
"We grew up on a farm at Kyneton, and did everything from motor bike riding to horse riding to tennis and judo.
"But ever since I can remember, I've always loved footy," he said.
From the age of nine, Eyles was already heavily involved in his local football club - Hepburn. After playing in the Under/14's, Eyles would run the boundary line for the Under 17 and reserves, and then stay around to watch the senior team in action.
After rising through the junior ranks at Hepburn, Eyles footballing career was starting to blossom, and a move to Daylesford to play in their Under/18 side presented a grand final appearance, but much to his disappointment the team squandered a four goal half-time lead and were overrun in the second half.
"After losing the grand final, the next year I played for the Daylesford seniors and managed to win the best and fairest which attracted some interest from a few AFL clubs," he said.
So in October of 1992, through the club doctor at Daylesford who had contacts at the St Kilda Football Club, Eyles ventured to Melbourne to do pre-season at the elite level.
"I trained with St Kilda for about five weeks and played in five practice matches, but didn't really show too much, so I decided to head back to Daylesford.
Despite having a taste of playing and training with the best players in Australia, Eyles would have to wait another five years before he was to get the opportunity to mix it with the best.
"I played another three years at Daylesford before switching to Eaglehawk in the Bendigo League, where I took over as coach in my second year," he said.
During his first year as coach, Eyles, despite missing six games with injury, managed to force his way into the Victorian Country squad, but again injury forced him out of the team that took the field.
His on field performances at Eaglehawk not only came under notice of the Victorian Country selectors, but officials from the Geelong Football Club were also taking an interest, and the clubs horrendous run of injuries towards the end of the year, they invited Eyles down to play in the final reserves game against Essendon.
Unfortunately a slight hamstring strain kept him out of the side, but the club asked him to join them for a rigorous pre-season, commencing in October.
"I did the pre-season with them from October through February, which I enjoyed, but overall it just wasn't me.
"Being a pretty quiet country bloke, it was a bit too tense for me and the pressure of playing and training at that level was something that I hadn't grown up with.
"It makes you realise what the blokes who play at the top level year after year must go through, you've got to be tough both mentally and physically as well as being super fit," he said.
Eyles said he went to Geelong with the intention of getting as fit as he possible could (which he did), but found it extremely difficult to break into the 'group', resulting in the eventual move to Griffith.
Prior to be appointed coach of Griffith, Eyles enjoyed a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks.
It was in his first year at Eaglehawk where he first had the inclination to pursue a coaching career.
"We had a young bloke called Scott Langan who was only 26 coaching us at Eaglehawk, and I was appointed assistant coach. "He gave me the confidence to be a young coach and I thought if I could do it. During the year he let me take some training nights and it just developed from there," Eyles said.
At the end of his first year at Bendigo, Langan left Eaglehawk and moved to the Bendigo Diggers, paving the way for Eyles to take over the reigns as senior coach.
Being senior coach of a club at just 23 is a big ask for anybody. particularly a country boy who openly admits that public speaking is not his strong point.
Add to the pressures of coaching in a league that is renowned as one of the best in country Victoria, producing many fine players over the years, including current Geelong captain, Leigh Colbert.
"It's not an easy job, you've got the worry of people turning up to training, the expectations of the town and if your not doing well, the first thing people ask is whose the coach - and through all that you've got to focus on playing good footy yourself," Eyles said.
Despite being a quiet bloke, it's Eyles conviction in what he is doing that is the driving force behind his coaching aspirations.
"I get nervous talking to blokes, I'm nervous talking now, but what I tell myself is that I believe in what I'm saying and what I'm doing, and if you believe from the heart then it is going to work," Eyles said.
He added that for that for him being switched on is the key.
"If your switched on with footy and you go there to play, then you just say what comes into your head because you know it's the right thing," he said.
Eyles also has strong views on the role of a playing coach, which is the norm for nearly all country football sides today. "You need good off field leadership, someone who is switched on and can analyse the game and can make the moves during the match so that the coach can concentrate on his footy. "Then at the breaks you can discuss moves and what you think should be happening," he said.
Speaking on Griffith as a football club and as a town, Eyles said he had found everyone extremely friendly, but thought that Australian Rules had a bigger following in the community than it does.
"Back in Daylesford, we really only had two main sports, footy and cricket, so it was a real competition to see who could be the best footballer in the town.
"In Griffith though you got the rugby league, rugby union, soccer and Aussie rules all competing against each other during the winter, so some blokes have to chose which sport they want to play.
"In Victoria there is no choice, which breeds some really good footballers," he said.
Eyles believes that Griffith has plenty to offer in terms of an Aussie rules town, but hopes that as time progresses the game and the club will be publicised more to build up its profile.
He also has strong views on training and the importance of hard training in preparing for the season.
"Training should be enjoyable for everyone, but you need to get numbers on the track to make the exercises more enjoyable. Players only improve if they are prepared to work hard, then the results will come.
"If players work hard on the track, by the end of the year they will become good footballers, and it is a good feeling to know that you have achieved that through hard work yourself," he said.
"All good footballers look after themselves in terms of diet, preparation and generally doing the right thing by themselves so that they can perform at their best on the day".
Eyles hopes that this year will be a learning year for the promising bunch of juniors at the club, because they are the backbone for future success for the Swans.
"There are some good juniors at the club who hopefully will get into the right habits now, because their footy will benefit and so will the Swans," he said.
Eyles's own style of footy he says is based around a tough physically approach backed up by good skills on both sides of the body.
"I would like to think that I play a physical brand of footy, but at the same time I can take a high mark and use both sides of my body.
"If I have a downfall, it's that sometimes I tend to run out of legs because I get so hyped up before a game, but that is just how keen I am about my footy," he said.
Butterflies before a game and even before a training run are par and parcel of the routine for Eyles, and it is those butterflies that will dictate when he decides to give the game away.
"I've spoken to a lot of good footballers who have told me that when the butterflies are no longer there before a game, that is when it is time to give it up," he said.
No doubt that at the age of 24, there are plenty of nervous times in store for this younger generation coach, who will be hoping that those butterflies are worst late in September wearing a Griffith jumper.
Griffith Swans supporters will get the chance to see Eyles in action in his first match for the club tomorrow night against Temora, a game they will be desperate to win to redeem last weeks poor showing against East Wagga-Kooringal.
Story by Ben Casanella - Pictures by David White.
(The Area News, Friday April 16, 1999).