Jarrod Twitt may have missed out on living his AFL dream. Nonetheless, Twitt carved an impressive coaching and playing record with Wagga Tigers, Sturt, Wodonga and Holbrook. The star Bulldog caught up with the Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week.
BRENT GODDE: You were born and bred in Wagga?
JARROD TWITT: Yeah, I made my senior debut for Wagga Tigers as a 17-year-old.
BG: You also played for ACT-Rams as a teenager?
JT: I relocated to Canberra and played for the Rams in their first two seasons in the TAC Cup in 1996-97 and used to come back to Wagga and play for the Tigers under coach Terry Daniher when I was available.
BG: Sydney Swans were the first AFL club to show a bit of interest in you?
JT: I went up and did a pre-season in 1998 with the hope of gaining a spot on the rookie list. The Swans back in those days were entitled to three priority picks and I was in the mix for one of those. In the end they went with Ben Hollands, Ben Mathews and Leigh Marshall.
BG: Adelaide also showed some interest in recruiting you?
JT: Not initially. After I missed out with the Swans an opportunity came up through Jason Mooney who I knew from Wagga with Sturt who were looking for another small midfielder. Phil Carman was coach so I flew over to Adelaide for a practice match.
BG: You obviously made a good first impression?
JT: I spoke to Phil after the match and he said Sturt was keen to recruit me. So I flew back to Sydney and packed up my stuff, drove to Wagga to get all my other gear and moved to Adelaide.
BG: You end up playing 75 matches for Sturt including the losing grand final against Port Adelaide Magpies in your first season in 1998?
JT: It was an unforgettable experience to play in a grand final on Adelaide Oval in front of 45,000. Port Adelaide had a cracking side that season including Peter Burgoyne. I was filthy on myself because I kicked five points in the grand final after having kicked five goals straight in the second semi-final. Port Adelaide Magpies won by nine points.
BG: You also witnessed one of the biggest bumps you have ever seen when Port Adelaide's Tom Carr cleaned-up Nathon Irvin who you played with at Sturt and would go on to coach Wagga Tigers?
JT: It's on Youtube and it's hard to believe Nathon kept playing when you watch it. Nathon had a broken jaw, was heavily concussed and doesn't remember playing the rest of the match but surprisingly still played really well.
BG: I'm guessing he went to hospital straight after the match?
JT: It's unbelievable but the grand final was on Sunday and Nathon didn't end up going to the hospital until Wednesday. Even though we lost he still got on the drink with us and I remember him sitting in the pub with a tea towel and ice on his jaw for the next two days.
BG: Is that the biggest crowd you have played in front of?
JT: No, back in 1996 in my first year with the Rams we played Northern Knights at the MCG as a curtain raiser to the grand final between the Swans and North Melbourne. Lance Whitnall kicked six goals in the third quarter against us and we got rolled and he obviously got picked-up by Carlton.
BG: After playing in the SANFL grand final in 1998, you get picked up by Adelaide in the rookie draft in 1999?
JT: Looking back I wasn't ready to play AFL at the time. I think I weighed about 66kg and just wasn't ready physically to make the most of my opportunity.
BG: Adelaide had also just won back-to-back flags in 1997-98 and boasted a star-studded midfield?
JT: Yeah I knew I was always going to be a long-shot to play AFL because of my size. A prime example is one day against Norwood I was playing against Garry McIntosh who is a legend in the SANFL and won two Magarey Medals. My first match in the SANFL was against Norwood under lights and he got to the ball first and had his head over the ball. I came in to contest the ball and he just picked me up and put me under his shoulder and started running off with the ball while carrying me.
BG: Adelaide delisted you at the end of 1999 so you return to Sturt for the 2000 season?
JT: Essendon showed a bit of interest and I had a few brief chats with recruiting manager Adrian Dodoro. But nothing really eventuated so I headed back to Sturt. Looking back now I rate my 2000 season with Sturt as the best I played in my career.
BG: Yet in 2001 you are back playing for Wagga Tigers and win their best and fairest?
JT: Basically at the end of 2000 I was at the crossroads career-wise. I wasn't working full-time and was working part-time in a butcher shop, I didn't have a trade and was basically just playing footy and living the good life. Dad called me one day and said Jarrod I don't think you can pursue a full-time football career any longer, it's time you moved back to Wagga and joined the real world and got a real job. So that's what I did.
BG: You also won the flag in 2001 with Wagga Tigers?
JT: We boasted a cracking side and Gavin McMahon was the coach and we ended up winning the grand final by about 20 goals.
BG: I think Brett Doswell was one of your premiership teammates that year?
JT: Yeah, Brett was 18 at the time and still at school. I remember on the Mad Monday we went and picked Brett up from school and he spent most of that day and night celebrating at the pub with us in his school uniform.
BG: At the end of 2001 there was also talk of the Wagga Tigers joining the O&M because they were too dominant in the Riverina league?
JT: I understand at the time why it didn't happen because Wagga Tigers rushed their approach and basically tried to join the O&M in under a month. I think the side we had at the time would have been ultra-competitive and a top-three side in the O&M. When the O&M rejected their bid, the Tigers ended up playing in the Canberra competition the following season which I thought was always destined to fail. I lived in Canberra for two years and it was a fantastic standard of football but nobody would go to watch and there was no atmosphere.
BG: In 2002 you ended up at Wodonga as an assistant coach under Leon Higgins. Did any other O&M clubs show any interest in you?
JT: I spoke to Tim Sanson (Lavington) and Paul Spargo (Albury) who were both excellent to deal with.
BG: Any particular reason you chose Wodonga?
JT: As a kid I remember watching Leon playing for the Swans and I also had a family connection at Wodonga with the Hibbersons which swayed me to landing at the kennel.
BG: Your arrival coincides with the Bulldogs most recent dominant era where they finished runner-up in 2003 before winning the flag in 2004 under Richard Bence?
JT: We obviously had a cracking side with Simon McCormick, Ben Hollands, Darren Bradshaw, Matt Shir, Leon Higgins and Brad Thompson running around.
BG: In 2005 Craig Cleary was appointed coach, the Bulldogs underachieve and you find yourself coaching in 2006. It was a controversial decision at the time?
JT: There is no doubting it was controversial. When Craig pulled the pin it was a tough time trying to find a suitable replacement. Col McCulloch was president and I was on the panel helping with the interviews. I remember we interviewed Jason Mifsud and Nathon Irvin and they seemed fairly interested but decided against it for one reason or another.
BG: So you decided to put your hand up?
JT: Not really, I remember Simon McCormick rang me and it was just after Christmas and we still didn't have a coach. Simon said to me 'one of us is going to have to coach Wodonga and it's not going to be me.' I didn't really have coaching aspirations at the time but knew we were running out of time to find someone else.
BG: What led to Cleary quitting?
JT: The short version is because we had underachieved in 2005, there were a few questions being asked. I didn't go on the trip away that year but it came out on the trip a few of the players weren't happy with Cleary as coach. It snowballed from there.
BG: Did you rate Cleary as a coach personally?
JT: I thought Craig and I got on really well. I was captain but had an injury-riddled year with a broken collarbone and broken ribs. So I spent a fair amount of time with Craig in the coaches box.
BG: So you end up coaching?
JT: We had a massive turnover of players that year and from memory there were only five players remaining in the side that played in the final the previous year. I was lucky enough we had some talented kids that come back that season from the Bushrangers who had an impact. I personally thought it was a huge effort to play finals that year considering our list and I was a first year coach who was still trying to find his feet.
BG: A young gun by the name of Jack Ziebell becomes the youngest Bulldog in history to make his senior debut at 15 years and five months late in the season against North Albury?
JT: You could just see by the way he presented around the club and at training he was certainly a lot more mature than a 15-year-old. Jack had already spent a lot of time around footy clubs and to his family's credit was a mature kid, ready-made for senior football.
BG: Were his parents hesitant about him playing senior football at such a young age?
JT: I remember asking his father, Gary, what he thought about Jack playing seniors. Gary just said 'He's ready, pick him.'
BG: I believe Jack's jumper went missing after the match?
JT: We were playing North Albury and we were wearing our white uniforms which was our alternate strip that year and Jack was number two. I'm pretty sure if you were to search Dean Stone's house you might find it there somewhere.
BG: Ha, ha, so Stoney could see Jack had a bright future and his jumper might be worth something in the future?
JT: 100 per cent.
BG: Was there much controversy at the time about playing Jack at such a young age?
JT: Not really. I know he beat Brian Gilcrist's record to become the youngest player at the club. In the lead-up to the match I received an anonymous letter asking me not to play Jack for at least a couple more months which I thought was bizarre at the time.
BG: I believe Jack went toe-to-toe with Wangaratta legend Jon Henry in the 2007 preliminary final?
JT: Obviously Jack was a big part of our attack during that finals series and wanted to make a big impression with it being a final. I remember it was before the first bounce and Jon went to Jack and there was a bit of a show of strength between the two. Jack wasn't having a bar of it so I think there were a few punches exchanged between the young bull and the old bull.
BG: The following season in 2007 you recruit Brett Doswell and Robbie and Chris Jackson from Wagga Tigers. The Tigers president is furious and is quoted as saying 'If Jarrod Twitt has got to put his coaching ability behind a cheque book, well obviously Wodonga haven't got much faith in him as a coach if they are trying to buy all of our players.' He didn't miss you?
JT: My parents taught me if you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
BG: So you don't think the slap was warranted?
JT: Not really when you know the circumstances. Doswell was a long-time friend of mine and he was back in Wagga after being on Fremantle's list and also playing for Glenelg. He didn't have work, the Tigers were playing in the Canberra competition which wasn't appealing to him. So he moved to Wodonga, got a job, was a fantastic recruit and now runs his own business. So it was a win-win situation at the time. I consider Doswell like a younger brother really.
BG: You coach Wodonga to three consecutive preliminary final losses from 2007-09. Do you feel you should have made the grand final in any of those seasons?
JT: Maybe in 2007 we should have beat Wangaratta in the preliminary final but we didn't. If you look back at history we didn't finish top-three on the ladder in any of those years. I felt we probably did well to make the preliminary final in each of those seasons really. But I'm not really into coulda-shoulda-woulda as a coach, you either win or you don't.
BG: Obviously you would have been tagged a lot during your O&M career. How did you handle the extra attention?
JT: I worked a lot in tandem with Matt Shir in that regard in that whoever was getting tagged, the other one could get off the chain a bit, so to speak. But realistically I was never a big accumulator of possessions. My theory was don't count your possessions, make your possessions count.
BG: You initially played for the Bulldogs in 2002 until 2010. What year did you rate the Bulldogs' best line-up and which teammates did you rate the highest?
JT: 2004 was the standout, especially considering we were on brink of a wooden spoon finish in 2002. Ben Hollands arrived in 2003 and we played in the grand final and lost. I rate Simon McCormick as the best player I played with at Wodonga, narrowly ahead of Matt Shir. Benny Hollands could bob-up and do some amazing things.
BG: Anyone who doesn't get the credit they deserve?
JT: I was a massive fan of Adam Williams. I think he arrived in 2007 in my second year of coaching. He was the guy when your phone rings on a Saturday morning that you hope it's not him because 99 times out of 100 when a player calls on match day it's to tell you they can't play for some reason or another.
BG: Darren Bradshaw was a bit of an enigma during his time in the O&M. What was he like to coach?
JT: Darren was easy to coach because you wouldn't see him a lot. In his entire time under me, he didn't cause me any dramas, not once. Darren was great and although he rarely trained on a Monday night, that was the least of my worries. He was always at training on Thursday nights and I probably relied on him too much to be a match-winner. The 2008 preliminary final when he kicked eight was a classic example. For Darren to kick eight and we still lose tells me we didn't have enough other avenues to goal and relied too heavily on one player.
BG: I always liked listening to you at the huddles because most times you would have a bit to say. You didn't mind swearing quite often, did Wodonga ever question you about it?
JT: Col McCulloch did say something to me in my first year as coach but he was good about it. Col said 'Jarrod you keep using the f-bomb as your thinking word, you need to find a different thinking word.' I thought it was quite funny the way he put it at the time.
BG: You decide to head bush and coach Holbrook from 2011-14. Why the Brookers?
JT: My father played for Holbrook before he joined the air force.
BG: The Brookers played in losing grand finals in 2011 and again in 2013. The 2013 loss must have been hard to take after Brett Doswell goes down at the opening bounce with a calf injury and takes no further part in the match?
JT: There's no doubt it's Doswell's fault we lost that grand final (laughs).
BG: You weren't laughing at the time though?
JT: It's funny looking back but I didn't know he was injured and done for the day until quarter time. I remember running around in the first-quarter thinking to myself 'Dos' has been quiet and I haven't seen him get a kick yet. At the quarter-time huddle I say to 'Dos' 'you haven't had a kick, I need you to lift.' 'Dos' turns to me and says 'Hasn't anyone told you yet? I done my calf at the first bounce and am done for the day.'
BG:You were a non-playing assistant coach for Doswell at Thurgoona last season?
JT: It's funny straight after we beat Barnawartha in the grand final, he said to me 'I owe you a flag from that year at Holbrook.'