By sports editor Russell Bennett
“People never really leave the Power, because you can never leave your family.” – Scott McDougal.
The warm handshake, and that knowing smile from ear to ear as if to say “how good is this!”.
Beloved Gippsland Power identity Scott McDougal has the same outlook to his career in football as the man he’s just succeeded as the region’s talent manager – that it’s the best job in his world.
Former Carlton premiership player Peter Francis forged a legacy over his time with the Power that is, and will continue to be, the stuff of legend for generations to come.
The NAB League club’s revered ‘Centre of Excellence’ in Morwell has long been regarded by many as ‘the house that Pete built’ – and it quite literally is, given that he drew up the plans, acted as the owner-builder, and did the project management on the site that’s now the envy of football clubs Australia-wide.
Following his retirement at the end of the 2019 season, Francis’ office inside the Centre of Excellence – overlooking its state of the art facilities – is now occupied by McDougal, a man who needs no introduction to Gippsland or south east footy circles.
He first arrived at the Power as a line coach for pre-season in November 2009 and has held a multitude of different roles within the organisation in the decade since.
And in each role he’s called his own, he’s left his mark.
Like it was for Francis before him, clearly, the Gippsland talent manager’s role is McDougal’s dream job.
Not only does he get to work in football full-time, but he gets to have a direct hand in helping to develop some of Gippsland’s most prodigiously talented young men and women as people, not just as footballers.
In his playing days, McDougal called Berwick home for more than a decade. But since joining the Power under the guidance of then head coach Damian ‘DC’ Carroll after a stint as an assistant at Frankston, the wide expanses of the whole Gippsland region have been his footballing oyster.
The Iona family man knows full-well what the all-encompassing talent manager’s role entails – having watched Francis so closely for so long – and he’s perfectly-placed to be the one to maintain the standards that Francis set in place in such an innovative football program.
“When you look at Gippsland, out of all the 12 regions (in the NAB League boys and girls), we’ve got the smallest population and the second largest area,” McDougal said.
“If we tried to bring the kids in three or four times per week, it’d just unbalance their lives.
“Part of our role is to make sure we keep the welfare of the player front of mind at all times as our number one priority. They’ve got to have time to do their schoolwork, but also to live their lives. We give a lot of responsibility to our players to do that work away from the club, so when they come in, it’s intense and it’s high-impact work that they’re doing.
“From a coaching and development perspective – we’re turning our young men’s and young women’s strengths into weapons they can use to fire at the next level.”
McDougal’s fingerprints on Gippsland and south east football are everywhere – from clubs in what is now AFL Outer East, to West Gippsland, to the far eastern reaches of the Gippsland zone.
He admits he somewhat took the game for granted as a player, and that’s something he was never going to let happen again in the second phase of his football career.
“Footy had always been there – I just hadn’t respected it the way I should have,” he said, with trademark honesty.
“I probably took the playing side of things for granted a little bit.
“I finished playing at 36 and all of a sudden it was ‘what am I going to do now?’
“I just promised myself I wouldn’t take my coaching for granted.”
Since joining the Power, McDougal’s resume over that decade-long period is nothing short of staggering. He’s served as a long-time assistant of the NAB League boys’ side; the inaugural coach of the NAB League girls’ program; the coach of the under-15 Power program; an assistant in the Vic Country under-18 program; and a mentor in both the Victorian Young Guns program, and to Gippsland Power and community coaches. He also has more than 20 years’ experience in the construction industry to his name – having managed his own business, and worked as a construction project manager.
“At the Power, we call ourselves a family because we are,” McDougal explained.
“We see enough of each other and, like any family, there’ll always been disputes but we treat each other with respect and care, and we want the best for everyone.
“People never really leave the Power, because you can never leave your family.
“What we pride ourselves on is giving everybody who’s involved in our program the ability to get the best out of themselves. Good people really do make good clubs.”
And McDougal’s outlook shows exactly why the Power is in such safe hands.
“We all have our bad days, but when you come to this place – the Centre of Excellence – it’s a place to let go of that bad day you might be having and walk in with a fresh start and chance to improve yourself physically and mentally, and to engage with people from other areas and other walks of life,” he said.
“These kids walk into the club from all over the place and get the opportunity to make a best mate for life. That bond they share is incredible.
“We have a winning culture at the Power, we absolutely want to win and our players compete to win, but as coaches our number one goal is to develop both footballers, and people.
“We hope that we’ve coached some real resilience into our guys, and the knowledge that being drafted straight out of the NAB League isn’t the only pathway.
“There’s going to be some disappointment along the way for a lot of players – but it’s not the end.
“It’s about getting some feedback, and figuring out where you can improve to the absolute best of your ability.”