SPORTING DECLARATION: Fire in the Belly

SPORTING Declaration had massive respect for Craig Bellamy long before I finished reading his newly released book, Home Truths.
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Part of that stems from his remarkable achievements at the helm of the Melbourne Storm.

Regardless of your opinion on subjects such as the salary cap scandal and the grapple tackle, it is undeniable that Melbourne have been the NRL’s benchmark team for almost a decade.

That they have been able to survive in an AFL stronghold – let alone prosper – has been a mighty feat in its own right.

Other clubs have had highs and lows but the Storm have been constant, and come the business end of the 2013 season, they will surely once again be heavily involved.

The other reason I’m a Bellamy fan is that my first two years at the Canberra Times coincided with his last two seasons as assistant coach at the Raiders, during which time I became acquainted with him.

My main impression of Bellamy was that he was an easy-going, likeable bloke – the complete opposite of the fiery customer the TV cameras seem to capture in the coach’s box on game day.

Nonetheless, I learned from first-hand experience what a fierce competitor the man they called ‘‘Bellyache’’ can be.

Each Wednesday the local media types would play touch footy against the Raiders coaching staff.

It was the only good thing about living in Canberra.

Invariably, they would towel us up – no surprise when the likes of Tim Sheens, Mal Meninga, Dean Lance and Bellamy would supplement their ranks with the odd player returning from injury, like Bradley Clyde, Steve Walters, David Furner or Ricky Stuart.

Anyway, one day we were copping our usual 20-0 drubbing when this columnist flummed an intercept.

As I set sail for the tryline at the speed of a startled snail, I had delusions of scoring my first-ever try. Certainly none of the opposition seemed interested in chasing me, presumably out of sympathy.

But out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a blur of movement from the far side of the field.

It was Bellamy, who not only realised yours truly was so slow that (even with a large head start) he could run me down, but was determined enough to do so.

Sure enough, he rounded me up and ruined my day. Good job we weren’t playing for sheep stations.

Anyway back to Bellamy’s new book, which, for the record, was one of those rare reads that I just couldn’t put down.

I really related to his no-nonsense philosophy, how he can accept a bit of ego in his players but prefers them to remain humble and treat outsiders with manners and respect.

In particular, there were a couple of pages that struck a chord.

The first encapsulated his refreshing attitude towards dealing with the media, in an era when most sporting organisations are becoming increasingly paranoid and basically encourage their athletes to give nothing away.

‘‘I will tell my guys: ‘You get asked a question, well, tell them what you think.’ They should stand up on their own two feet and have the courage to be themselves – that’s what I encourage my players to do,’’ Bellamy writes.

Another theme that resonated was his preference for an honest appraisal rather than one that has been sugar-coated.

‘‘A lot of people say I am not a positive person, and I probably agree with that,’’ he writes.

‘‘Sometimes the ‘glass half empty’ adage applies to me, but I think some positive people can have a false positivity. Others can look on the darker side a bit too much.

‘‘I like to think that I am pretty realistic. Sometimes people will take that as negative or positive, but I am in the middle somewhere; I am a realist.

‘‘I don’t like being negative for the sake of it, but I don’t like being positive for the sake of it either. I like to play the percentages.

‘‘If things are wrong, I am not going to pretend it is all rosy.

‘‘I could not do that, even if I wanted to.’’

Hear hear, I thought.

Give me home truths, however blunt, instead of positive spin any day of the week.

● Sporting Declaration would like to wish a long-time workmate, Grant Sproule, all the best after leaving the Newcastle Herald in search of new challenges.

Grant’s talents have livened up this page many times over the years. As I’ve told him on the odd occasion, I believe he is the finest graphic artist in Australia, if not the world.

Good luck, Sprouley, champion.

It’s been a pleasure working with you.

Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy.

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