After winning two best and fairests with home club Benalla and a two-year stint in Perth, Daniel Maher arrived at the Albury Sportsground in 2006. The prized recruit won the Tigers best and fairest in his first season and was appointed co-coach of the O&M powerhouse from 2012-16. The skillful left-footer proved to be a vital cog during the Tigers' dynasty and finished with six flags and 199 matches in the yellow and black. Maher caught-up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week.
BRENT GODDE: You are well-known for your nickname 'Frank'?
DANIEL MAHER: Growing up in Benalla there was a Frank Maher who was well known in town. After he relocated a few people started calling me 'Frank' and it stuck from there.
BG: You were a talented teenager who played for Murray Bushrangers?
DM: I wouldn't say talented and I was a bit of a late bloomer. I think it was in 1999 and Anthony Pasquali was coaching Benalla in the Goulburn Valley league. I had a big pre-season so Anthony contacted Bushrangers coach Kelly O'Donnell and organised for me to have a few training runs with them.
BG: Were you able to force your way into the side?
DM: I was more like a witches hat at training and someone that would fetch the footy's.
BG: There were some big names in the Bushrangers who would go on to have stellar AFL careers?
DM: Josh Fraser went at pick one in the draft and there were blokes the calibre of Chris Hyde, Allan Murray, Todd Brown, Matt Shir, Craig Ednie and Kayne Pettifer. I think there were eight or nine Bushrangers that ended up getting drafted.
BG: You also played representative basketball against a lot of your Bushranger teammates?
DM: I played against Hyde and Ednie and I always like to remind them how much us Benalla boys used to spank them. It's a bit of a joke and their usual reply to me is how many AFL matches did you play 'Frank'?
BG: Were you surprised when Hyde got drafted by Richmond?
DM: I was, especially considering his rig and it looks like he has never been inside a gym . 'Hydey' has got some of the hairiest shoulders I've seen and has got white skin and doesn't look like a footballer.
BG: But he can play?
DM: Full credit to him, just through his work ethic and commitment he was able to play almost 100 matches at the elite level.
BG: Did any AFL clubs show interest in you?
DM: When I was at Benalla I played interleague and was lucky enough to get selected for Vic Country. I had a brief conversation with Peter Jackson from Essendon who asked me if I wanted to have a trial with the Bombers and if I was good enough there was a spot on the rookie list.
BG: You knocked back the offer?
DM: I had already committed to playing for Perth and relocating over there. I had a three month old son at the time and it was too big of a risk to move to Melbourne just to try and get a spot on the rookie list with no guarantees.
BG: You made your senior debut for Benalla?
DM: I was 17 and Anthony Pasquali was the coach.
BG: You may have considered yourself as a 'witches hat' at Murray Bushrangers but you won two best and fairests for Benalla as a teenager?
DM: Ideally I would have loved to win a flag with my home club but winning two best and fairests is something I'm proud of.
BG: You also finished runner-up in the Morrison medal in the Goulburn Valley league behind Jarrod Sutherland in 2002?
DM: I think Jarrod also finished runner-up to Robbie Walker in the Morris medal when he was playing with Yarrawonga and could obviously play.
BG: You decided to head to Western Australia and join Perth in 2004 under coach Stan Magro?
DM: I've got huge admiration for Stan both as a coach and a person. I probably attribute four coaches that were best for my development and they were Stan, Anthony Pasquali, Paul Spargo and Brenton Cooper.
BG: Cooper had a stint at Wodonga during the 1990s and was a prolific goalkicker?
DM: Brenton is a Shepparton United boy who had a stint coaching Benalla.
BG: No doubt it would have been an awesome experience playing in Perth?
DM: It was a real eye opener in regards to my football. I flew to Perth as a skinny kid from Benalla and went to my first training run and I couldn't believe how many numbers were at training.
BG: WAFL clubs had to cut their lists over the pre-season?
DM: That's right, by the time I arrived Perth had already done its first cut before Christmas and were about to do its second cut.
BG: The level of professionalism over there was similar to that of an AFL club?
DM: It was a strict routine with training five days a week plus extra sessions in the gym, access to fitness coaches and weight training coaches. It's probably when the penny dropped for me that preparation is the key to success.
BG: Corowa-Rutherglen coach Peter German was coaching Subiaco at the time?
DM: Peter coached Subiaco to the flag in 2004 and 2006 before joining Fremantle as an assistant coach.
BG: You played alongside AFL superstar Buddy Franklin in your first season at Perth?
DM: Buddy only played one match for Perth because there was a bit of politics surrounding whether he should be playing in the WAFL or stick to playing representative football in the under-18s.
BG: Any favourite memories of Buddy?
DM: Buddy kicked one goal in his only match in the WAFL and I remember it vividly. He took a mark outside 50m and his set shot sailed through goal post height.
BG: Personally, you were in good touch in the WAFL and finished runner-up and third in Perth's best and fairest?
DM: I think the bigger grounds suited me because I regarded my running ability and leg speed as one of my biggest assets and I could find a bit of space over there.
BG: After two seasons in the WAFL you decided to head to the Albury Sportsground in 2006?
DM: Former Albury president Gavan 'Shooter' Schultz was a family friend and had called me when I was at Benalla and Perth to see if I would be interested in playing for the Tigers.
BG: Did you speak to any other O&M clubs?
DM: Wangaratta Rovers and Wodonga Raiders also showed a bit of interest.
BG: Wodonga Raiders were fairly confident they had you?
DM: I think if you ask Jake Kowski and Matt Pendergast who was assistant coach of Raiders at the time that they will jokingly tell you that Albury backdoored them.
BG: What swayed you into signing with Albury?
DM: I knew a few of the guys at Albury but mainly the family connection with 'Shooter'.
BG: Would it be fair to say 'Shooter' was one of the more outspoken presidents in the O&M during his time in the job?
DM: That's a fair comment and is what you want in a president. Gavan wasn't only passionate about Albury but the league as well and only wanted what was best for both.
BG: You made an instant impression at the sportsground and won another best and fairest in your first season?
DM: I feel fortunate to have my name on the honour board.
BG: In 2008 Wodonga's Matt Shir was reported for striking you?
DM: It was funny at the time because Matt and I grew up together in Benalla and were good mates during our school years.
BG: Did he get you?
DM: There was nothing in it really and we were both surprised when Matt got reported and subsequently sent off. I couldn't believe it when he copped one week at the tribunal.
BG: It was a memorable trip away in 2008 after attending Derby Day and most of the players jagging the quaddie?
DM: It capped a huge trip after we put in $50 each for the quaddie and Rebel Raider won the Derby at 100/1 and we had a $45,000 collect. Everyone got $3000 back.
BG: Who decided to chuck Rebel Raider into the quaddie?
DM: It was like 'Weekend at Bernie's' for Luke Carroll who didn't move at the races because he was still drunk from the night before. The only two words he said all day were 'Rebel Raider.'
BG: A couple of well-known Tigers missed out on the big collect?
DM: Jayden Kotzur and Josh Hillary both originally put their $50 in and then decided to take it out and put their own quaddie on which proved to be a costly mistake.
BG: In 2009 Albury went on one of the biggest recruiting blitzes in league history?
DM: It was and certainly a credit to Paul Spargo and our recruiting committee at the time. Firstly to identify who to target and secondly to sign them.
BG: The jewel in the crown of the recruiting blitz was the prized signing of Chris Hyde?
DM: Spot on and I feel Hyde was one of the biggest names in the country Victoria at the time. There was a lot of cream on top when you also add players the calibre of Shaun Daly, Joel Mackie and Andy Carey.
BG: It was the catalyst for Albury's sustained success and playing in 10 successive grand finals?
DM: History says all of those players were a huge part of Albury's golden era and you have to give credit to the club for being able to retain them when they would have been heavily targeted by other clubs.
BG: The recruiting blitz instantly put a massive gap between Albury and the rest of the competition with the Tigers undefeated in 2009 and beating Yarrawonga in the grand final by 77-points?
DM: It may have been lopsided in 2009 but I have no doubt that it helped raise the standard of the competition. Chris Kennedy is on the record of saying that Yarrawonga accepted that Albury had raised the bar and there was no use in complaining about it and they strived to get better and tried to match us.
BG: You have got respect for Yarrawonga and how it responded to the challenge of toppling Albury?
DM: Definitely. The rivalry between Albury and Yarrawonga were the biggest games of footy of the season that were highly anticipated by everyone involved.
BG: Yarrawonga earnt your utmost respect after James McQuillan suffered a serious spinal cord injury which changed the young Tigers life forever in 2014?
DM: James' accident was the most tragic thing you could see happen on a football field. But how Yarrawonga rallied behind James, especially Chris Kennedy, Drew Barnes and Wally Brear, I just have the utmost respect for the club.
BG: The 2010 decider proved to be extra special for you after playing alongside your brother Josh 'Rissole' Maher and also winning the Did Simpson medal?
DM: Playing in a flag alongside 'Rissole' is certainly a career highlight for me.
BG: The 2010 grand final was a brutal affair and a contest during the last term between Josh Merkel and Michael Stevens was one of the biggest hits ever seen in an O&M grand final?
DM: I think it's right up there in the biggest moments of the Albury and Yarrawonga rivalry. From memory we were 12 points up and the Pigeons were surging. But for Josh to put his body on the line like that really galvanised us as a group and is one of the more inspirational acts I have seen.
BG: 'Rissole' wasn't in too good a nick when he first arrived at Albury?
DM: 'Rissole' played in Cairns the previous season and I reckon he was 115kg when he lobbed up to pre-season training at Albury. Most blokes lose weight in Cairns with its hot and humid weather but not 'Rissole' who managed to stack on a fair bit of weight.
BG: Albury travelled to Mulwala for its season opener on Easter Sunday?
DM: There was a massive crowd and a big build-up to the match being the grand final replay from 2009. A few blokes had left over the summer including Jayden Kotzur and I think there may have been five or six new faces in the side.
BG: Spargo was on edge being such a big occasion?
DM: As everybody knows, Spargo is meticulous with his pre-match routine with team meetings and despises anybody who is late.
BG: There was one person missing for the team meeting before the match?
DM: Everybody was in the rooms except for 'Rissole'. Spargo gave me the stare and I said 'I've got no idea where he is.'
BG: Somebody spotted 'Rissole'?
DM: Turns out he was having a dart out the front of the changerooms and Spargo found out. Everyone is waiting and 'Rissole' walks in with his customary head wobble and puts his bag down and chucks his packet of smokes on top. He reeks of smoke and looks up at Spargs without a care in the world.
BG: No doubt there would have been smoke coming out of Spargo's ears by that stage?
DM: We were all waiting for Spargo to go off his nut but he was quite calm and had a bit of a dig at 'Rissole' for being late. I have no doubt Spargo never forgot it though and had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Josh from that day on.
BG: In 2011 Albury completed a hat-trick of flags?
DM: We did but you could sense the gap was narrowing. I think it went from 77-points to ten and then nine.
BG: After 2011 Spargo steps down and Danny Stevens and yourself are appointed as co-coaches for 2012?
DM: Obviously massive shoes to fill but also a huge honour from my perspective to be able coach a proud club like Albury. I had spent the previous five years as an assistant coach under Luke Carroll and Spargo and felt I had learnt a lot during that time.
BG: You injured your knee early in the season in 2012 and required a reconstruction?
DM: I did my knee in round five. It probably changed the dynamics of the coaches box because both Danny and I were both in there instead of me playing.
BG: 2012 also coincided with the arrival of Brendan Fevola at Yarrawonga which is obviously one of the biggest signings in the history of the competition?
DM: It was massive for Yarrawonga but also for the league. I don't think the league could have wished for a bigger drawcard. Some of the matches between Albury and Yarrawonga were played in front of grand final like crowds which was largely due to Fev's arrival.
BG: Do you think Albury and Yarrawonga playing in six successive deciders was good for the competition?
DM: To be brutally honest, I didn't care at the time. Looking back it's probably not ideal for the league but as the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity.
BG: No doubt an awesome experience to play in front of some massive crowds?
DM: It was the pinnacle of country football at the time. You asked if Albury and Yarrawonga dominating ruined the competition but those matches always had huge crowds which is obviously a good thing for the league.
BG: What was your initial reaction when you heard Yarrawonga had signed Fev?
DM: I used to love watching Fev play for Carlton and then to have the opportunity to play against him, it was a bit like when a kid meets their idol. From a coaching perspective I knew it was a game-changer in terms that Yarrawonga now had a side that wasn't just a threat but a genuine challenger.
BG: History says Fev lived up to the hype and was no doubt the difference of Yarrawonga claiming back-to-back flags in 2012-13?
DM: Undoubtedly and let's be honest he should have still been playing AFL except for a few personal issues. When he was up and about, he was literally unstoppable. Especially when he was getting pinpoint delivery from blokes the calibre of Morris medallists in Craig Ednie, Tyler Bonat and Xave Leslie. Kayne Pettifer was also highly skilled.
BG: You were coaching while Fev was at Yarrawonga. What tactics did you use to combat the dual Coleman medallist?
DM: As I said he was basically unstoppable so a lot of our planning just went into limiting the supply and putting as much pressure on the delivery as possible so it wasn't lace out. Fev is such a good finisher that you know he is going to convert more than 80 per cent of the time.
BG: What was the line on how many goals Fev would kick against you?
DM: If you could keep him to four you were half-a-chance but any more than that you knew it was going to be hard to win the match.
BG: Will Smith had the unenviable task of playing on Fev at the sportsground in 2012?
DM: I think Fev kicked 10 that day but I still thought Will did a terrific job. At least half the goals he kicked that day Steven Silvangi wouldn't have been able to stop. The big fella was at the peak of his powers and unbelievable to watch.
BG: Michael Thompson usually got the match-up, how did you see their head-to-head battles.
DM: Michael had a bit of Dustin Fletcher about him in that he would use his timing and reach to try and beat Fev. I thought they had some terrific battles and 'Thommo' rose to the challenge.
BG: Who was the unlucky Tiger you used to play in the hole in front of Fev?
DM: Being coach, it wasn't me I can assure you. Mark Bush got the unenviable task a fair bit and is probably the reason why he has got a crook back now in retirement.
BG: How would you describe the rivalry between the two clubs?
DM: Probably respected hate if that makes sense. I knew a lot of the Yarrawonga players through representative football but it was a huge rivalry and both sides were hungry to be the kings of the competition.
BG: Did you socialise with the Yarrawonga players after matches?
DM: We would always go into their social rooms after a match to show our faces and they would replicate that with us. But I built most of my relationships with the Yarrawonga players during interleague.
BG: A lot of clubs are jealous of Colin Joss and his sponsorship of Albury?
DM: I think people who want to take pot shots at Colin and his success are uneducated. Internally it is not about how much cash Colin sponsors the club for, it's more about player welfare. Colin has done a tremendous amount for the league and not just Albury. A lot of rival clubs can vouch for that and what he has done has benefited their clubs.
BG: What is your personal opinion of Colin?
DM: Colin is one of nature's gentlemen and the most genuine, down to earth bloke you could hope to meet. His whole family is the same which is a credit to him.
BG: How many times have you been in the Joss jet?
DM: Twice, once to see a specialist about my knee and another time when we were trying to sign Daniel Cross.
BG: There is a tradition from 2009 that the Albury players used to catch the bus from the ground after the grand final and call into Colin's family home before heading to the Albury Sportsground for the celebrations?
DM: It was an opportunity as a playing group we were grateful for. It just gave us the chance to chill together as a group and soak up the emotion of what had unfolded in the preceding few hours. We also went back to Col's after the two grand finals we lost in 2012-13. Those moments aren't lost on any of us.
BG: Is it true one year the bus departed and accidentally left behind the premiership captain in Matt Fowler?
DM: 'Fowlsie' did miss the boat one year so to speak but he was quick to get on the phone and we had to go back and pick him up. We joke with him that he had the munchies and was looking for something to eat in Col's pantry and that's why he missed the bus.
BG: What three Pigeons did you rate the highest?
DM: Craig Ednie would be No. 1 and then Fev only because he was at Yarrawonga for a short-time. Xave Leslie is also on the podium. But I could easily name another half-a-dozen Pigeons who are right up there.
BG: Did you have a regular match-up when you played Yarrawonga?
DM: Being co-coach, I just used to stay away from Craig and give someone else the job.
BG: Do you think Craig Ednie was 'The Little Master' at provoking opponents without the umpire seeing and getting them to retaliate to receive a free kick?
DM: There was no doubt he sucked quite a few of my teammates in with the cunning stunt. Being former Richmond teammates Chris Hyde tried to square Craig up whenever he dished out a cheap shot.
BG: Those two had quite a few stoushes on the field?
DM: I used to chuckle to myself when I saw it. It was like two featherweights with stick arms swinging a few punches that wouldn't hurt a fly.
BG: Speaking of fights, big Andy 'Undies' Carey let some fearful punches fly in the direction of Yarrawonga's Corey Greer in the final home and away match in 2014 and was reported?
DM: I don't know what Corey did to rattle Undies' cage but he wasn't a happy camper. I hate to think of the damage if one of the punches connected. I remember there was a photo of Undies with his fist cocked. He mustn't have drunk enough bourbon cans the night before and that upset him.
BG: Albury hired high-profile player advocate Iain Findlay to represent Undies?
DM: We thought he would get a minimum of two weeks which would have cost him a spot in the grand final but the man with the midas touch was able to weave his magic and Undies only got a week and missed the second semi-final.
BG: Undies had an unusual pre-match routine and would often go pig hunting on a Friday night and drop a few bourbon cans?
DM: I remember when Spargo was coaching he would often ask Undies after a match how many bourbon cans he had the previous night. Most times it was between six to ten.
BG: You dropped your brother 'Rissole' for the second semi-final against Lavington in 2014. How did that go down with the bro?
DM: Better than I thought at the time but to be honest 'Rissole' was half-expecting it and it wasn't a total shock. The match was on Corowa's big ground and with Lavington's press we needed leg speed to help combat it which squeezed 'Rissole' out of the side.
BG: 'Rissole' also missed out on regaining his spot in the grand final winning side?
DM: That was a lot harder, telling him he wasn't coming back into the side.
BG: Do you regret the decision?
DM: That's football. I knew when I was appointed co-coach I would have to make some tough decisions whether that involved best mates or on that occasion a family member.
BG: Is there a premiership winning side that you rate the strongest during your time at the Albury Sportsground?
DM: Both 2009 and 2016 are the standouts because we went through undefeated on both occasions.
BG: When you were co-coach, who were the first three Tigers that you picked?
DM: That's probably the toughest question you have asked me after being privileged enough to play with such a talented group for so long. For the record I will go Hyde, Polo and then O'Hara. Followed closely by Mackie.
BG: You finished your O&M career on the ultimate high with a flag against Lavington in 2016 and stranded on 199 matches at Tigerland?
DM: A lot of people ask me if I regret not playing 200 matches and honestly I don't. Winning six flags and being able to coach a powerhouse like Albury means a lot more to me than any personal milestone.