By David Nagel
If experiencing wonderful highs and devastating lows are the hallmarks of a fulfilling career – then David Main has every right to be content after stepping down from the Cora Lynn coaching role for the 2022 season.
Main, who hands over the plum role to his assistant-coach Shaun Sparks after six years at the helm, has experienced every emotion possible in almost 25 years in the game.
A four-time premiership player, including one as coach, have been balanced out by a handful of hurtful grand final defeats that have tested his character to the core.
The 37-year-old, who played a valuable leadership role in the Cobras’ three-peat of premierships – from 2014 to ’16 – leaves the Cobradome with a heavy heart…but with a treasure-trove of great memories.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about stepping away from club land, there’s no doubt about that, and what I’ll miss most is the banter, camaraderie and mateship,” Main told the Gazette.
“To win and lose grand finals, by big and small margins, they’re the real highs and lows of football and I’m glad I was lucky enough to share those experiences with some great people and great friends.
“There are definitely more lows than highs during a football career, and I think that’s why we treasure the special moments so much.
“I’m content with my career, but it’s time for a different voice and it’s right for me to put some more time into my kids (Iris, 12 and Ollie 9) with their sports.”
“I knew when I recommitted for this year that the time was almost right, and the stars aligned with Shaun (Sparks) wanting to take the next step with his coaching.
“With the kids, working in the city, getting up at 4.15 every morning, and the planning, meetings, phone calls and time that’s required for coaching, it’s a pretty big load to bear.
“Shaun picks a part a game really well, understands the scenarios, and has good footy smarts, so I’m excited to see where he takes the club moving forward.”
Main began his football journey in the ROC under 15s, at a time when Officer was only a slither of the burgeoning township that it is today.
Being a small town, nestled between the larger communities of Beaconsfield and Pakenham, saw his junior club in a constant struggle for numbers, and subsequently success.
Main would play all his juniors at ROC, playing in just one elimination final along the journey but showed enough talent to see him selected in the Gippsland Power squad of 2001.
As a bright-eyed 18-year-old he then played under Steve Pursell in the Kangaroos’ 2002 senior premiership win over Warragul in the West Gippsland Latrobe Football League (WGLFL).
The venue that day…his future home ground at Cora Lynn!
“It’s funny how things work out but all of my greatest memories in football have all been related in some way to Cora Lynn,” Main said.
“My first senior game was against Cora Lynn; that 2002 senior premiership with ROC was played at Cora Lynn; and then I played in three premierships with Cora Lynn and coached a premiership there as well.”
The talented tall – who mainly spread his time between forward and ruck – then tried his luck with VFA club Springvale in 2004 – a club where his dad Graeme is a life member – before returning to ROC until the conclusion of 2009.
It was then, as a 26-year-old, that he made a decision that would have a massive impact on his career, moving to Gembrook Cockatoo in 2010 to pursue his dream of coaching.
“At that stage it was probably the hardest decision I’d ever had to make, to leave ROC, but I did it because I knew that one day I wanted to coach…but I also knew that to do that I would have to test the waters elsewhere,” he said.
“At that stage I didn’t have a relationship with Travis Marsham or Ricky Clark, I’d only played against them, but they were both at Gembrook and were coming off a very successful era at Narre Warren.
“Given their credentials it seemed like the obvious place to go to learn a bit more. I got a phone call from Trav and I ended up making the move.
“It was the toughest decision at the time but ended up being the best decision that I ever made.
“Everything that eventuated after that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t take that chance when it presented itself. And that was Trav’s advice…just to take a chance and see how things worked out.”
Main, as an assistant coach to Marsham, would experience the heartbreak of two narrow grand final losses, to Woori Yallock (8 points) and Upwey Tecoma (13 points), in 2010 and 2011 respectively, before a 35-point loss to Woori-Yallock was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
With shattered dreams, Marsham, Main, Ricky Clark and Nathan Muratore would head to Cora Lynn for the 2014 season after finishing in last place with the Brookers in 2013.
“Gembrook was a great club, with great people and I made some life-long friends like Steve Goodie, the Clark’s, the Marsham’s, from that experience,” Main recalls.
Marsham was then appointed coach of Cora Lynn for the 2014 season…and he had a committed and desperate ally in tow.
“I told him from the start that if he got the job I wanted to go with him as an assistant because it felt like we had some unfinished business to sort out,” Main said.
“Ricky Clark had moved house to Bunyip, he came as well, and Nathan Muratore was the fourth of us to move from Gembrook to Cora Lynn that year.
“I wanted to be there from the start and help build a culture of success and implement change, just like we did at Gembrook…but ultimately without success.
“My perception of Cora Lynn wasn’t great, that they had an endless money tree and tried to buy success, but it was the complete opposite from the moment we walked through the door.
“You meet the people and players and quickly fall in love with the place and it’s one of the most unique football environments to be around.
“Trav was a great leader and drove a message of team success and the players totally bought in from the start.”
The Cobras, who had themselves lost three preliminary finals in a row, would defeat Kooweerup by 78 points in the 2014 decider to end a horror run for the club – and its new recruits.
“That was a huge monkey off the back for the four of us (Clarke, Main, Marsham and Muratore) and was an amazing first year, to have a goal and to achieve it straight away was unbelievable,” Main said.
If 2014 was the ultimate relief, then 2015 was pure perfection with Marsham leading the Cobras to an unbeaten home-and-away season – 16-0. The unconquered run continued in the finals series that year and was rubber stamped with a 75-point victory over Bunyip in the big dance.
“We were all in and committed, and it started on a real positive note with Trav having everyone signed within a week of winning the 2014 premiership,” Main recalled, before explaining why that particular season was so important for his own personal development, coaching the club’s under-18s.
“Terry Dillon and Trav thought it would be a good idea for me to coach my own side, to get to know the young blokes and to deal with everything that comes with coaching, and it was the best thing I did, I absolutely loved it.
“There was a bit of juggling involved, coaching in the morning and then playing in the afternoon, but it worked out really well.”
Main had one of the best years of his playing career in 2015, finishing third in the club’s best and fairest award in what was arguably the best Cobras’ team of all-time.
He still had appetite to coach but was keen to wrap up his fast-finishing playing days first.
“I was adamant that I wouldn’t coach in 2016 but Terry (Dillon) was persistent and kept hounding me to jump on board,” Main said.
“But what really changed things was the attitude of the players, they wanted me to coach, and that support, from players like Ricky Clark, Jack Allen, Nathan and Ryan Gillis, Tim Payne – those guys really encouraged me and that’s what made me reconsider.
“We had a really strong core group of players and they didn’t want anyone else to coach…that was good enough for me.”
With Main finally at the helm of his own senior group for the first time, the Cobras had an interrupted pre-season, losing some valuable members of their back-to-back premiership-winning sides.
A round six loss to Bunyip, by 53 points, had Main losing sleep and questioning his own decision.
“I already felt so much pressure to live up to Trav’s achievements, and that Bunyip loss was a real kick in the guts,” Main says with typical passion.
“But Trav gave me some great advice, he told me to just keep being me and that was very comforting. He’d been there before, knew my emotions, and he made me stay focussed and kept me grounded.
“Terry also had my back, he was always in my corner, and helped me through those times as well.
“And I knew the players I had. (Ricky) Clark, (Jack) Allen, the Gillis’s, they were all fantastic. I lacked confidence at times, but I knew these guys had my back.
“A guy like Ryan (Gillis) is the perfect example. He might be loud and over the top at times, but never judge a book by its cover.
“Internally he was such a good guy and instilled confidence into everyone…including me.”
Key players would return during the 2016 season, in Jackson Dalton and Nathan Langley, and the Cobras would finish on top to earn a tilt at a third-consecutive premiership.
They would march through to the grand final but face a fearsome foe in Bunyip, who led by almost three goals mid-way through the final term.
But the Cobras clawed their way back to give Main a premiership in his first year of coaching and give the club the rare treat of three premierships on the trot.
“The first premiership (2014) was pure relief, and the second was incredible, being premiers and champions, but the third premiership had more personal significance than the other two,” Main explained.
“Just the way we came back, the slow start to the season, to win three in a row, and do it the way we did, they’re memories that none of us will ever forget.”
Main played on in 2017, his last year as a playing-coach, with the Cobras falling short against eventual premiers Inverloch-Kongwak.
The Cobras would have four cracks at the Sea Eagles that season, and would fall short in them all, including a 95-point loss in the 2017 decider.
“That was pretty embarrassing for us as a club and I think the general feeling around the competition was that it was the end of an era for us as a club,” Main explained.
“Ricky Clark and Jack Allen had retired, Nathan Muratore and Anthony Giuliano had moved to Kooweerup and we had a few new faces around the club.”
Ahead of the 2018 season Main lost three of his premier weapons up forward with Nathan Langley (79 goals) moving to Beaconsfield, and Ryan (54) and Nathan Gillis (25) to Somerville.
The focus quickly turned from being a playing-coach in 2017 to developing a young list that included players from Main’s under-18 team from 2015 including Brayden Weller, Lochie Peluso, Rylan Smith and Tristan Fernandez-Phillips.
“That was probably my best year of coaching,” Main says honestly.
“We knew the kids had talent, and we wanted to bring them along quickly, but we even surprised ourselves with some of our results that year,” Main said.
“We were a way better side in 2017 but couldn’t defeat Inverloch, and we beat them twice in 2018 with those young kids coming through.
“And the best win I’ve ever been a part of – apart from grand finals – came in the elimination final that year. Inverloch had finished fourth, but level on points with the top team, and we were a fair way back in fifth.
“The kids dug deep and ground out a great win that day, probably the best I’ve been a part of. We lost to Nar Nar Goon the next week but that win against Inverloch gave us confidence heading into 2019.”
The Cobras recruited well in the off season, with Nathan Langley returning and Cranbourne pair Nathan Gardiner and Troy Tharle adding further grunt to a very dangerous forward line.
The Cobras would engage in a two-way fight for the title, with eventual premiers Phillip Island. The pair played out a thrilling draw at Phillip Island in round nine to set up a mouth-watering finish to the season.
“We recruited well and felt like we were back in striking distance, really strong, and had a great opportunity that year,” Main said.
“My memories of the grand final are that it was wet and windy and our guys took time to settle and gave up a pretty big start.
“We ran and linked up really well in the second half and a lot of people have told me that with another five minutes we would have had them.
“But we had the ball in our forward line for a lot of that last quarter and their defence stood tall…so full credit to them for that.”
The Cobras would go down in a classic – 9.11 (65) to 9.7 (61) – before just six months later a worldwide pandemic – Covid-19 – would shut down local football for the first time in 75 years…since World War II.
REFLECTIONS AND THE FUTRE
“I’m sure it’s the same for other coaches, but coaching through Covid has been really hard for me,” Main explained.
“I can’t access my players and I’m a face-to-face type of guy, I prefer that than phone calls. I invest time in one-on-one conversations and having that taken away has been really hard.
“It’s also the unknown, training, playing, then bang, we’re out of action again.
“As coaches we say we can only control the controllable’s, but it’s made it hard to manage and control things.
“We’ve tried to stay positive, but it’s really hard to do that when things get shut down so quickly.”
The Cobras finished the Covid-shortened 11-game home-and-away season of 2021 in fifth place, with eight wins and three losses, but are unlikely to play another game this season under Main’s command.
The most recent Covid-lockdown, and subsequent rise in positive cases, makes the immediate future more uncertain than ever.
Main said it is surreal to think that he is a four-time premiership player after fulfilling his child-hood dream.
“Dad (Graeme) is a life member at Springvale, and they were super-strong when I was growing up watching them on a Sunday, and so was ROC on a Saturday,” he recalled.
“I think witnessing success really sticks with you and I remember watching players walk up with their kids to collect their medals and thinking ‘I want to do that one day’.
“I look back now and they were such crucial learnings for me. To witness the excitement and the passion of winning at such a young age was infectious…and I’m just so grateful I could achieve those goals as well.
“I played in eight grand finals in 10 years, so I’m definitely one of the lucky ones.”
And Main said it is surreal to think he is on a very short list of premiership coaches at Cora Lynn.
“Some of the coaches we have had before, like Joey Lenders, he has an amazing reputation as a coach,” he said.
“Chris Toner, what he did at Cora Lynn in 2008 and then Narre Warren, his legacy is secured, and then one of my best mates in Trav (Marsham), to see him be a two-time premiership coach, the only one at Cora Lynn, what a huge honour that is.
“It’s a bit surreal and it’s hard to believe that I’ve coached a flag with the club and in some small way can be put in the same category as those blokes who I admire greatly.”
Main said the love of his family had made his journey all the more complete.
His dad Graeme’s influence is obvious, through his connection with Springvale, while his mum Therese has been there for every single step of the journey.
And his wife Emily and his brothers Liam and Shaun have also bought in to David’s football career.
“Emily and I have been together since a young age and I’m just very fortunate that she understands the demands and time that it takes to play and coach football,” he said.
“Just the running around she does with the kids, to free time up for my football, they’re the things that are always appreciated.
“My brother Liam was my runner this year, and mum looks after his kids (Blake and Evan) while we’re having fun coaching. It’s a real family effort and local footy is all about building memories…and our kids are building the same ones that I remember from when I was a kid.”
Main said he won’t be lost to the game completely.
“I can’t cut the cord but I’m not sure what my involvement will be just yet, and I’m not ruling out coming back to local football one day…you never say never” he said.
“I’m just looking forward to the freedom of being able to go and watch Cora Lynn, Gembrook or ROC…but I won’t be lost to football that’s for sure.”
In signing off Main wanted to thank the band of volunteers at Cora Lynn for their amazing support over the last eight years.
“There are too many names to mention, but they know who they are, there’s a small band of volunteers that are the heart and soul of the footy club,” he said.
“They’re the people that make Cora Lynn so unique and such a wonderful place to play football.”