HM: I was told that your love of sport, in particular football, compromised your education at secondary school.

LB: Yeah, that’s true — it’s quite common, I think, and there’s no doubt that it did. A great mate of mine, Anthony Lance, who’s a physiotherapist now, would do the yards and give me his notes! He was a big help.

HM: We’ve all got one of those mates. You said as a player you “survived rather than prospered”. Does that help you as coach to get more out of those who don’t quite have the talent of others?

LB: Maybe, yeah. Over the journey you always ask yourself questions that you can’t answer. I think understanding the struggle, as well as recognising the players who are more the marquee types, helps a lot. I think I’ve always had a pretty firm grip on that. You’ve got to identify personality traits, and have an understanding of how to bend and sway with each individual. It’s an exercise in people management as much as coaching.

HM: Creating happy environments to create successful environments?

LB: We all need to have a conscience in what we do, and a care for other people, whether they are players, people working at the club, or fans. It helps because it establishes a strong base to work from, and then others can choose whether they want to buy in, or not. I had a sliding doors moment in my second year as player. I’d had an OK first year as a debutant (won best first year player at Melbourne), but during the first game of the 1990 season, when we were playing the Kangaroos, I bounced the ball awkwardly. I went back to get it, and as I did, one of the North boys then cannoned into me, and as a result I actually got a hernia and missed most of the year. I often think about that bounce, because for me, it was a real “what if” moment. What if I hadn’t missed that second year … what would have happened to me as a player? From a coaching point of view, I’ve had so many sliding doors moments, but it seems the gods just keep smiling. It’s been incredible.

HM: You were involved with three clubs as a player — Melbourne, the Dogs and the Saints — and, as a result, a series of coaches. Which coach did you click with the most?

LB: I loved playing under John Northey. The tactical side of the game was still evolving at this stage, but he was still able to get the best out of the players he coached. He had a really emotional edge to his coaching, and he was able to click with the group and assess their vulnerabilities. I felt that he had an ability to care about us, not just as players, but as people. He never had the team to win it, but I feel that if he did, his club would have won the whole lot.

HM: Three clubs, traded twice. What does getting traded do to you emotionally?

LB: There’s definitely a feeling of rejection that’s tough to ignore, but at the same time, there’s also another club that wants you. I felt needed, and wanted, going to the Bulldogs, and likewise at the Saints the second time. I definitely tried to focus on that, rather than dwelling on the opportunities that had dried up elsewhere.

HM: Footy’s an emotional game. You grew up idolising Trevor Barker, often taking speckys on your bed, pretending you were Barks.

LB: It was actually on Mum and Dad’s bed! I needed a double, they were big hangers!

HM: What was it that you loved about him? The spectacular?

LB: I think so, but also the flamboyance, the blond locks and the no.1. He took some unbelievable marks, Trev, and you couldn’t help but be drawn to that. His looks as well — he was a good looking man! He had incredible courage. It was also his figure and ability to do his job as an undersized player at the back end that was under siege all the time. I got to wear his no.1 guernsey in my last year of U/11s. I just loved him.

HM: He was coaching the reserves in 1996, which was your first year at the club.

LB: Yeah, that’s right. I started the year with him in the 2s, and we had a great win against the Kangas. A couple of weeks later, he passed.

HM: You went to his funeral, and I’m told you got very emotional.

LB: Yeah, I was very emotional at the funeral. It was just that build-up of emotion from me idolising him as a kid. When I arrived at the footy club, he and I spent a lot of time together. He had a relationship with Dad as well, so he always wanted the best for me. He was very sick and often fragile, and had clearly lost a lot of weight. It looked like he should have been in a wheelchair, but he wouldn’t lie down.

HM: He was at the place that he loved the most.

LB: Yeah, he was, and who knows from a succession planning standpoint what would have happened if he was healthy. Whether Trev would have coached the club beyond Stan, I’m not sure. I think that’s the journey he was on, though: he wanted to coach the football club.

HM: When was it that you first wanted to become a coach?

LB: I reckon it was halfway through 2005 when St Bedes were 0-7 and really battling. I decided to pull the boots on again that year, and try and help. I’d taken them for pre-season, and they’d lost a lot of players. Russell Barnes, who was coaching them, had asked me to come down to help. He was struggling with a team in B-section who weren’t anything like the team from the year before. Initially, I felt that the only way I could help was to play with them, but at the end of the year I thought it was time to get out of my comfort zone and try it on.

HM: You became senior coach the following year, and you won three grand finals in a row, going from C-grade to A-grade along the way. The first was against Ajax, and at one stage in that game, you were 48 points down. Not many teams win from there, and rarely in the last game of the season!

LB: It was an incredible game. I’m not sure how many stoppages there were, but it was just turnover after turnover after turnover. They were a very talented side, Ajax. I’d planted myself in the backline, and just hearing the voice from the players, I never got the feeling that anyone in our team thought we couldn’t win it. You could tell by the emotion on the field. We kicked the last four goals of the first half after we’d got ourselves that far down to give ourselves a sniff at halftime. We had momentum from there onwards. The first quarter was a train wreck. We had a player sent off, and they kicked the first seven or eight goals.

HM: Was the thrill of that premiership — your first in amateurs as a coach — any less emotional or rewarding than the Dogs win last year?

LB: It wasn’t any less, no. The enormity of an AFL premiership can’t be denied, but the intimacy of a community-level premiership is felt differently. Because I was playing and coaching, I’d put a lot of pressure on myself. As a coach there’s pressure, but for me, the pressure is felt far more as a player and a coach. I felt that I needed to be the best player, as much as to play well.