The Werribee Football Club holds a special place in new coach Michael Barlow’s heart.
It is where he stood out on the football field and got a shot at AFL level.
Werribee welcomed him back both on field, and as an assistant coach the past two years, when his AFL playing days were over.
Now, he steps into the head coaching role with Mark Williams heading back into the AFL system.
“More recently I’ve grown more fond of the club,” Barlow told Star Weekly.
“The first opportunity helped me get onto an AFL list and I made lifelong friends.
“Then in a wholesome role in the community that has shaped my life beyond AFL football.”
Since retiring from AFL, Barlow has put in the work behind the scenes to achieve his aspirations of becoming a VFL coach.
He said while many coaches aim to get into the AFL system, the flexibility of the VFL system was something that attracted him to the competition.
“There’s an element of excitement, nerves, a bit of anxiety, all good feelings,“ he said of taking on the role.
“It’s something I’ve had aspirations to do since I finished playing AFL.
“This just hasn’t fallen in my lap. It’s something I’ve been angling for, for the last two years.”
Flashback to three months ago, Barlow’s 2021 football season was looking very different.
He was appointed playing-coach of Western Region Football League side Yarraville-Seddon Eagles and was to oversee the club’s whole coaching program.
Barlow said the decision to step away from that role was harder than it appeared.
“My life was turned upside down,“ he said of the possibility of coaching Werribee.
“They were two really good roles to consider… It wasn’t as easy as it would suggest.
“I was preparing to coach in the WRFL for at least the next season, possibly the next two years.
“I live three minutes from the oval. I was really enjoying the challenge, coaching my own program at Yarraville-Seddon. It’s a bit disappointing to step away after doing it for three months.”
Barlow said he would help the Eagles with the transition into a new coach and would still look to be involved with the club in some capacity.
“There’s a huge upside and talent and excitement.”
One person Barlow is full of praise for, is his former coach Mark Williams.
He’s the first to admit he wouldn’t be in the situation he is now without Williams.
“Chocco was phenomenal as a person and a coach,” he said.
“The stuff that he implemented at the club has fast-tracked the club 12 to 18 months. I’m fortunate to take over the role.”
Despite so much familiarity stepping into the role, Barlow faces a number of new challenges.
Werribee is part of a new-look competition, the VFL and East Coast Second-Tier competition, which will feature teams from Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
With it comes new rules, including some age restrictions in place and quotas on having younger players in the team.
Barlow said he was a little anxious how that would play out.
“Where does it leave the mature players and whether it allows the best team in the competition to win the premiership?
“It’ll be the team that adapts and has the best strong core of players. Our young players who are under-21 are bullish about them.
“There’s a bit of motivation with the opportunity to prove themselves.“
Having been appointed late in the piece, most of the club’s re-signing and recruiting had been completed by the time Barlow was appointed.
“Huge credit to the established list that was initially going to play in the COVID-19 year, especially with salary caps and remuneration slashed.
“Michael Sodomaco and Tom Gribble put their hands up straight away. It makes my job more fulfilling that they’re doing it for the right reasons.”
Former Geelong and Port Adelaide player Wylie Buzza has joined the club.
Connor Menadue (rookie listed by North Melbourne), Matt Munro and Dane Mcfarlane are the three key outs.
One name that isn’t part of the playing squad, is Barlow himself. He said his playing days with Werribee were likely over.
“Playing isn’t something I’ve considered,” he said. “With the new rules it’s forced my hand a bit.
“There’s limited opportunities for other guys and I have to be mindful of that. Unless we get light on as the season goes on, my playing days at Werribee are finished.
“I still have the bug to play and I’ll never lose that competitive bug. Potentially I might play at Yarraville Seddon, depending on the draw.”