‘Hardest years of my life’: Roo reveals toll of Crows rebuild
Mark Ricciuto is one of the most polarising figures at the Adelaide Football Club.
As a club director, past premiership player, captain and Brownlow Medallist, he's now also a prominent media figure in the football industry.
While there has been a clean-out of personnel at the Crows in recent years - following the turbulent fallout of the 2017 Grand Final loss and subsequent infamous Gold Coast training camp - Ricciuto has remained an influential figure at the club.
He sat down with chief football writer Mark Robinson to discuss everything from the Collective Mind camp, juggling his media commitments with his club responsibilities, rebuilding the Crows, to the departure of Hugh Greenwood, rift with Andrew McLeod and the performance of Matthew Nicks as coach.
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MARK ROBINSON:What question are you mostly asked: What happened at the camp or what happened at the Ramsgate?
MARK RICCIUTO: It's changed over the years. The Ramsgate was quite common and in fact I got asked about it yesterday and I declined to answer. And for the past couple of years there's been a bit about the camp and I think people are done to death with that as well. Both of those questions are on the decline, thank God.
Robbo: There were massive changes to all the major positions at the football club. Why are you the last man standing?
Roo: Some people decided to go, ala Don Pyke and Rob Chapman and Andrew Fagan, and other people were asked to go. I haven't been asked to go, and I've chosen to stay in my position because there's unfinished business. The reason I got on the board is because I wanted to make the footy club a better footy club and to win another premiership. Over 2015, '16 and '17, we made a lot of moves to get there and didn't quite get the job done on Grand Final day. No doubt there's been some mishaps after that. A year-and-a-half after that Grand Final it was quite clear we needed to rebuild. I'm not one to quit halfway through a job and that's why I've chosen to stay. It's probably been the two hardest years of my life.
Robbo: Describe hardest.
Roo: I don't think I've ever felt pressure like I have before. I love the football club and I want nothing more than this football club to be one of the most respected clubs in the AFL in the way it conducts itself and how it performs on the field and how it connects with the community. That's the way I played. I always gave time to members and supporters, as did all of my teammates. We had a lot of pride about the way we performed and we had a lot of respect for the way we conducted ourselves off the field. The past couple of years that's been questioned and that hasn't sat well with me. I can understand why people have been critical. There have been a lot of difficult circumstances to deal with publicly and a lot privately as well, with former players, staff, media people, supporters. So, absolutely no doubt it's been difficult for lots of people within the football club.
Robbo: You have six kids, you're a businessman, you do Triple M breakfast, you have the footy club … how have you been sleeping?
Roo: I sleep very well because I'm very tired when I go to bed.
Robbo: Seriously, did you ever consider stepping away?
Roo: No, not at all. There's no way I would step away half through a mission.
Robbo: Why so emphatic?
Roo: Because I thought I was the best person to do that role. If anyone told me I wasn't, I would've said, 'no dramas'. As I said before, I don't walk away from a challenge. Anything I've done in my life I've done at 110 per cent. It would've been a pretty weak act by me to walk away in the last year or two.
Robbo: You did an interview on Fox Footy last year and you appeared to get emotional. Can you talk of the emotional levels you have experienced?
Roo: I love the footy club and I don't mind saying I've shed more tears in the past couple of years than I have in my life. That's how much it means to me. We're not doing it for fun because it's a long road to do a rebuild, but everyone has agreed to it. We have a plan and so far it's heading in the right direction. But, unfortunately, it requires patience.
Robbo: The Crows were lambasted mostly all of last year and there were queries about how you would keep your players. Nine players have recommitted in the first seven rounds this year. What does that say about the plan?
Roo: It's a credit to Matthew Nicks and the relationships and culture he's building, Adam Kelly who has been put in the footy managing role and it's a credit to Andrew Fagan and the role he played. And everyone else. Players don't sign if they are not comfortable with where the club is going.
Robbo: You've overhauled the footy coaching department. Nicks came in as coach. Scott Burns came in. Nathan van Berlo came back from West Coast, James Rahilly came from Geelong. Marco Bello came from Hawthorn. It really was a complete transformation.
Roo: We always wanted to put the best footy department in place that we possibly could to give the players the best chance to be as good as they can be and sometimes the opportunities present themselves more than they do at other times. It was an important part of our progression. We had to have some tough conversations over the past two years … and from what I hear at the club, it's a really good place.
Robbo: Were any of your personal relationships affected by these "tough conversations''?
Roo: I've had more blues in the past couple of years than I've had in my entire life. No-one likes to hear things we don't want to hear about ourselves, me included, and there's been some really tough conversations with lots of people in the footy community. But I don't think you get anywhere in life unless you're prepared to have them. Unfortunately, the club had to make them, we made them and the proof will be in the pudding if they were the right calls or not.
Robbo: Matthews Nicks has coached 24 games. What has impressed you about him?
Roo: His ability to form relationships with the players. When you recruit a coach you have to do a huge amount of groundwork on them. I couldn't find a bad word from anyone about Matty Nicks. I've got good relationships with Port people, but I even had phone calls with Port people who I don't have great relationships with and they all wanted to give Matty Nicks a great reference. I thought I was getting set up (laughing). But as time went on and more research was done by the committee, it was universal. He comes across in the public as potentially too nice at times, but I can promise you, when it's time to say what's needed to be said, he doesn't back away from it.
Robbo: Can a football director be great friends with the coach, or does there need to be a distance personally?
Roo: I don't become great friends with them because I don't spend enough time with them. My position is fairly removed as footy director. I'm sure people think I'm down there 40 hours a week and that's not the case. All I do is give them my bit of advice and it's up to Matty and the guys to do what they want to do. I wouldn't say we are best friends, but certainly there's a lot of respect for Matty from my end.
Robbo: The club is building through the draft and development. Is it time to load up for a free agent or even recruit mature bodies to aid the kids?
Roo: We'll be happy to add the right mature players at any time, but there's the right time for a free agent and I don't think we're quite at that point yet.
Robbo: How do you feel when see Hugh Greenwood playing like he is?
Roo: I'm happy for him. Hugh is a great fella and I thought it was a great opportunity to go to the Suns and also financially it was a great decision at his age to get as good a contract as he could get. As I said, there were tough decisions we had to make and I think Hugh understood that.
Robbo: How's Andrew McLeod and the Crows faring?
Roo: Andrew McLeod and the Crows haven't got an issue. I haven't got an issue with Andrew McLeod at all. He nearly came back to the club to present a jumper pre-game three weeks ago, then he had a family issue and couldn't come. I touched base with him a month ago and said 'let's have a coffee' and we haven't got around to it, but it needs to happen. Andrew McLeod and the footy club have always loved each other. He disagreed with how the club was going for a little while and I understood his perspective, but it won't be long before he is back where he should be. The Adelaide Football Club is a better club with Andrew McLeod being part of it, so that's absolutely a job that needs to be finished and I can't wait for it to happen.
Robbo: In every interview involving you and Rory Sloane and Tex Walker, they call you Rupert. Why Rupert?
Roo: Tex is always up for laugh, the big Texan.
Robbo: He's been enormous and is one of the most popular players in the AFL.
Roo: He loves a laugh, he's a country bumpkin and everyone relates to him. It's a real credit to him that he's been able to turn back the clock four or five years. It's full marks to him and Rory Sloane and Rory Laird, Brodie Smith, those sorts of players, to do what they did (in terms of training) over the off season.
Robbo: The kids are grabbing the attention: Thilthorpe, Sholl, Rowe, Butts …
Roo: Will Hamill, Andrew McPherson, Nick Murray, Ned McHenry, Chayce Jones is struggling to get there but he will get there. We've got Luke Pedlar who you haven't seen yet. He looks like a young Garry McIntosh. There's Brayden Cook, there's Josh Worrell knocking on the door, there's (Sam) Berry, (Fischer) McAsey and (Harry) Schoenberg and more. What I'm pleased about is the coach has had the courage to play them.
Robbo: Rory Sloane finished a game with a detached retina. You've played with plenty of players, where does Rory sit in terms of toughness and commitment?
Roo: When I started my captain was Chris McDermott. He was the toughest bloke I played footy with, a great captain. He wasn't the most talented and he won't mind me saying that, but he was an inspirational captain. Rory is an inspirational captain.
Robbo: The Showdown is …
Roo: Hang on … don't underestimate what Rory and Tex have been through on a private level. You can't underestimate how much of an impact that had on their lives and everyone is just so happy to see them have two beautiful healthy boys to appreciate. You should get that photo …
Robbo: Have seen it … it's a warm and loving photo.
Roo: You know the one? It's one of the best photos I've ever seen in footy. Myself and my wife are lucky enough to have had six healthy kids and, you know, you just appreciate how lucky people are to have healthy kids. And when I saw that photo … I know what Tex and Sloany are like, they are family-first people. A lot of footballers are football first and family second, they're not. I commend them for that.
Robbo: What is Showdown week for you?
Roo: I love it because I know what the players get out of it and what the supporters are thinking. It's a great week in football. It's great that it's on 7.10pm on a Saturday night. Port is the better football side, there's no question about that … but both teams will come out understanding totally that contested ball, clearance, ground balls are what wins the tough games. I think it's going to be a bruising encounter.
Originally published as 'Hardest years of my life': Roo reveals toll of Crows rebuild