Written by Jarryd Barca
He played 224 games for North Melbourne across a playing career spanning 12 seasons and has spent time as an assistant coach with successful AFL clubs such as Hawthorn and Richmond.
It’s fair to think that the demanding rigours of AFL football – where the ultimate goal is to win a premiership in a winner-takes-all competition – and its professionalism is the level you need to reach to find real enjoyment in the footy industry.
But it’s at the Calder Cannons where head coach Ross Smith is re-establishing a similar joy he had whilst coaching his sons in the Under 12s and 16s at Aberfeldie many years ago.
One of those sons – Jesse – who was also a part of the Cannons system, was drafted by North Melbourne in 2004.
The NAB League being more about development than results is an aspect the 54-year-old is relishing.
“Absolutely, it’s probably the biggest joy,” he said.
“Seeing kids become more responsible and seeing their skills improve and leave here hopefully better people – they’re all the joys.
“It was really enjoyable coaching the Under 12s and 16s when I coached my two boys (and) this is very similar to that with a few more responsibilities here.
“The focus is taken away from winning a little bit – we all want to win when the game roles on and players are no exception to that – but the main focus here is to develop players and get as many drafted as possible.
“Second to that is making sure we develop our players to become better people.”
Smith – who has coached the Cannons since the start of the 2018 season – jumped at the opportunity to join his good friend and former teammate Alastair Clarkson when the four-time premiership coach dialled his number prior to 2005.
“I started off as opposition analyst and then was a coach for the next six years,” he explained.
“I spent seven years at Hawthorn with ‘Clarko’ and learnt an enormous amount there.”
Smith recalled a significant moment of the 2008 grand final which may or may not have spurred the Hawks to an unlikely victory against a red-hot Geelong outfit in the big dance.
The Cats had lost just one match for the entire season and were clear favourites going into the match in their bid to win back-to-back flags.
“It’s funny because I speak about how you look at what’s written on a white board before games, they do a lot of work during the week obviously. But you look at our white board before the grand final and it had nothing on it,” Smith explained.
“Alastair wanted a shark on the white board, so we just super impose one up and I traced it. Alastair came back into the room and thought I was an artist!
“But that’s all he had on the board for the grand final. Geelong were the shark and it was about stopping it – that was the reference.”
After being left out of the North Melbourne premiership side in 1996, the ’08 flag slayed a few personal demons.
“Collectively to win a flag coaching with Alastair – a very good friend of mine and doing it with some great people – it was just amazing,” Smith said.
“(It was) an amazing day really, we were under dogs against the Cats who were unstoppable. We obviously rushed a few points – it wasn’t deliberate – and they missed a few as well and that helped us.
“Everything just went right for us on the day. It is a different feeling for a coach than it is a player but in some ways there are similarities as well.”
Following his Richmond tenure which ended in 2016, Smith worked at The Social Golf Club in a year out of footy.
But the opportunity to come to the Cannons as a full time regional coaching director in 2018 was one that Smith couldn’t pass up – and the club is better for it.
“We’ve been extremely fortunate having Ross here, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and has been invaluable,” Football Operations and Admin Coordinator Matthew Burton said.
“One of his strengths is education and development which is perfect for this competition.
“He brings a level of both professionalism and enjoyment and I know not only the staff but all the players enjoy having him here.”