New Bulldogs coach John Hickey has boldly declared that the side will win a long-awaited premiership this season – if he does his job properly.
Controversially picked to steer the side this season over incumbent Sean Hayne, Hickey made the prediction in response to concerns that he wears too many coaching hats to devote enough time to the Bulldogs.
The full-time coach, 61, regards his role as Swimming Gunnedah’s head coach as his “job” but he also trains triathletes and sprinters and mentors Gunnedah’s women’s sevens side.
The Bulldogs’ last premiership was in 1998. Hayne, who played in that side, coached the Bulldogs to a narrow grand final loss to North Tamworth last year. Hickey said his players “should have a premiership under their belt” – and he wanted to convert that potential into a title
“And I think we’ve got a team to do it,” he said.
And I think that if I coach properly, we’ll have a premiership by the end of the year.
Hickey returned to Gunnedah at the end of 2017, in time for the birth of his first grandchild, with little Reggie Stewart’s entry into the world preceding his birth as a Gunnedah-based, full-time coach.
A former long-standing owner of a Gunnedah real estate agency, Hickey became a full-time coach when he left the town in 2015 to coach young Indigenous athletes, across multiple sports, in Ngukurr, the Northern Territory.
“I just wanna coach, and so I’ve made myself a full-time coach – it’s what I do,” the former Bulldog said. “It’s not as though I’m stressed about having too much work: this is what I’ve wanted to do all my life.
“I wouldn’t have put in for it [the Bulldogs job] if I didn’t have the time and I didn’t have the energy … I know this rugby league team, and I know the players in it – I know what they can do. And I’ll give them the opportunity to prove it themselves.”
Hickey said he would be a game-day coach – focusing on the “management side of it and the psychological side of it and talking to players”. “But all these guys know how to play. They all know how to train,” he added.
“Really, my job is making sure they bond as a team, and we’ve all got the one thing in mind, and that’s winning a premiership – there’s nothing else for us to do.”
Hickey, an elite triathlete in his age group, has formed a player leadership group so his charges take “ownership of their season”. He said the group – consisting of Matt Brady, Reece Jaeger, Aaron Donnelly and new signing Matt Baker – was responsible for “the type of training” the side did and “how often we train”.
Baker, a Bulldogs junior, has returned to Gunnedah after playing first grade for Central in Newcastle. He is the son of former Bulldog Les Baker, who was a top winger and a former teammate of Hickey’s.
Hickey has earmarked Baker for the front-rower. “He’s a big, strong, uncompromising young man, too,” the mentor said.