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Gary Ayres locked in for 13th season after ‘huge’ coaching performance in 2019

Gary Ayres started at Port Melbourne in 208. He’s locked in for the 2020 season.

Gary Ayres started at Port Melbourne in 208. He’s locked in for the 2020 season.

VICTORIAN FOOTBALL

Gary Ayres locked in for 13th season after ‘huge’ coaching performance in 2019

Paul Amy, Caulfield Glen Eira Leader

October 9, 2019 10:30am

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When Gary Ayres joined Port Melbourne late in 2007, he didn’t imagine he would become the historic club’s longest serving coach.

The prospect of another opportunity at AFL level was in the back of his mind.

To the disappointment of his many admirers, it never materialised.

What did emerge was sustained success for the Borough, starting with a grand final appearance in his first season.

Twelve years after signing an initial two-year deal, Ayres has agreed to terms for a 13th season with the Borough.

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Football director Adrian Bonaddio flagged Ayres’s return four weeks ago and club president Michael Shulman belatedly announced it on Monday.

“Fantastic news! Sign him up for life!’’ one Port supporter responded on social media.

Gary Ayres during his first season at Port, talking tactics with Johnny Baird.

Gary Ayres during his first season at Port, talking tactics with Johnny Baird.

His record would almost warrant it: four grand finals, the 2011 and ’17 premierships, 245 matches, 161 wins, 81 losses and three draws. A winning streak of 28 games spread over 2011 and ‘12 remains a club record.

“I wouldn’t have thought that at all,’’ Ayres said when asked if in 2007 he had seen himself as a long-term coach of the Borough.

 

“The priority for me, outside of doing the best job I could with Port Melbourne, was getting another shot at the AFL.

“Every year that got more and more distant. So then you turn everything you’ve got to Port. You’re obviously doing that anyway because you want to give the organisation 100 per cent, but what I didn’t know at the time was that I had such a unique and amazing group of players who were doing it on a part-time basis and competing against a lot of full-time players.

“That made the passion I had for the footy club even greater because I could see those guys were totally invested in making Port Melbourne great again.’’

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Is he a better coach now than when he arrived at Port?

“I like to think so … the longer you do something the better you should be at it,’’ the former Hawthorn champion and Geelong and Adelaide AFL coach said.

“I think what’s been important for me is being able to evolve because of the type of personnel you’re dealing with. You can run off an unbelievably select list of players — Toby Pinwill, John Baird, Sam Pleming, Chris Cain, Sam Dwyer, Shane Valenti, ‘Shooter’ McMahon, Corey McGrath — and what they’ve done is challenge me and make me a better coach.’’

Gary Ayres with Nathan Batsanis after the 2011 grand final.

Gary Ayres with Nathan Batsanis after the 2011 grand final.

Ayres is 59. Just as the great Allan Jeans took it week by week, he’s happy to approach his coaching year by year.

He’s mindful of not overstaying his welcome, and of ensuring Port doesn’t slip into mediocrity.

“We’ll see what happens at the end of next year,’’ he said. “We’ll hopefully get some more success and hopefully there’s another premiership not too far away.’’

Dwyer joined Port Melbourne coaching staff this year. He said he believed Ayres had coached brilliantly.

“I think it was one of his better coaching performances,’’ he said.

“We know how competitive ‘Ayresy’ is, and how losing a couple of games can really bring out those competitive juices and he can sometimes react to those results in a different way.

“But this year he understood the demographic of the group and probably the different types of people we have now around the football club. For him to be able to control his emotions through those situations, particularly in the middle of the year where we had that patch when we were playing pretty poorly, was as good as I’ve seen. He finds a way to keep connecting to the kids coming through but also drive standards with the senior guys and demanding and getting the best out of them. Seeing it up close and personal this year, I thought he was huge.’’

Gary Ayres “finds a way to keep connecting to the kids coming through but also drive standards with the senior guys and demanding and getting the best out of them’’, according to Sam Dwyer.

Gary Ayres “finds a way to keep connecting to the kids coming through but also drive standards with the senior guys and demanding and getting the best out of them’’, according to Sam Dwyer.

Dwyer said the development of players had been a feature of Port’s 2019 season.

Meanwhile, Ayres said the Borough’s recruiting focus would be to add height and aerial power to the backline and a another ruck-forward to replace Khan Haretuku.

“The priorities are at least two strong contested-marking defenders to complement the other boys we have in there, and a big swingman type,’’ he said.

“One or two really good kickers off half back would be on the list as well. So there’s probably four or five players we will try to identify to make the club better.’’