Chloe McMillan, one of Pakenham’s very own, lives and breathes footy and is now immersed in its elite coaching pathway as the new head coach of Collingwood’s VFLW side. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and one her dad – the legendary Andrew ‘Andy from Pakenham’ McMillan – would have loved to witness her grab on to with both hands.
Andy was the first ever subject of the ‘Beer O’Clock’ column – when interviewed by its creator, and his great mate, David Nagel – but he tragically lost his short battle with an aggressive cancer in February 2017.
For Beer O’Clock this time around, sports editor RUSSELL BENNETT sat down with Chloe for a chat at the Cardinia Club, where Andy and his great mates from the punters club, the ‘Slow and Heavy 14’, would attempt to solve the world’s problems over a few cold ones…
Russell Bennett: I had the absolute pleasure of sitting here, Chlo, with your old man – in this exact spot – and enjoying more than a few beers. The three things he’d talk about most were footy, horse racing, and yourself. Now, you’ve got a new role with Collingwood and you’re having a chat about it in your father’s corner of the Cardinia Club. That must feel pretty right…
Chloe McMillan: Yeah, it really does – it feels like he’s just sitting next to us now, which is unbelievable. Over this whole journey I just feel like he’s coming along for the ride with me, and whatever I’m doing he’s doing too. Days like these, when I come back to the club, are pretty special.
RB: You must feel really relaxed and at ease when you come back here and you’ve got guys like Pom and Mushy (two of Andy’s great mates Ron and Matt Bright) here to say g’day and give you a hug…
CM: Oh, 100 per cent Russ. It still feels like home. Although dad’s not physically here anymore, he still is in a way – particularly when you can look up at the his plaque on the wall above the TAB machine. That brings back great memories.
RB: How did your own footy journey start? Like the rest of us, your old man was a footy nut, and you fell in love with the game too?
CM: Even early on I used to run around the backyard in Pakenham with my brother, Tom, in a Richmond jumper, thinking I was Richo (Matthew Richardson) kicking goals after the siren!
I progressed through the under-age groups and I’d always see dad in the crowd with this enormous grin on his face. He’d try to give me these little tips here and there, but he’d leave me to figure it out for myself too.
I was pretty fortunate with my playing career – I played at state level in the under-age groups but once I started a full-time role at Champion Data it meant I couldn’t really commit to footy at a high level after the age of 20, because of the weekend work involved.
RB: Explain what your role was there, Chlo…
CM: It’s basically coding games, packaging them up for AFL clubs to use, and having them using our software and analytics for their reviews. I actually got into my coaching through that path. My coaching journey has been a pretty rapid rise, really.
I’ve been at Collingwood for four years, and now I get to say I’m a full-time coach.
That’s pretty exciting.
RB: You say it’s been a rapid rise, but I know it’s probably been a while coming when you look at your entire footy journey. Do you have to pinch yourself when you think that you’ve finally got full-time role at the head of your own side?
CM: Oh absolutely, Russ. I’d feel so lucky and privileged to even walk through the doors at Collingwood, given the history of the place. To now say that’s where I work full-time – every day I wake up wondering how I got here. I’ve got so many great people in my corner, which has helped a lot.
RB: But let’s be honest here, Chlo – as much as your old man would have loved to see you in your current role, part of him would have been filthy it wasn’t in the yellow and black…
CM: Oh, a big part! (laughs). When I was growing up, dad always used to say “if you’re not a Tiger, you’re not welcome!”.
RB: And now you’re sitting where he used to sit, wearing a Collingwood polo! He absolutely would have called in to ‘The Soapbox’ on ‘The Run Home’ with Marko and Ox (former SEN radio hosts Mark Allen and David Schwarz), with that one…
CM: He’d be so filthy at that! Look, he’d be pretty happy with where I’m at now with my footy and being able to live my dream of working in footy. Ever since Tom and I were young he’d be on us to play sport and he’d always tell us about how good he was at cricket – which I doubt! (laughs). We just carried that love on, I suppose…
RB: And when you started at Collingwood it was under Wayne Siekman – who was the senior AFLW coach there, and another footy product of the south-east…
CM: Yeah I worked with Wayne really closely in the under-age pathways and when he got the position at Collingwood they opened up a scholarship position for a young female coach and I was lucky enough to be it so I’ve been there ever since. I’ve been there four years now, so I’ve been there since the start of their women’s journey. I’ve been really lucky – I’ve seen a lot of things and experienced a fair bit already, and people like Wayne are a huge part of the reason I’m still there now. He’s a fantastic person.
RB: When you look at the broader landscape of women’s footy at the moment, how excited are you about the possibilities of where it could go?
CM: It’s seriously amazing. When you talk about opening up footy as a market to absolutely everyone – now there are little girls growing up who can see their idols playing footy, and one day replicate them. It’s not just something they can do for fun anymore – it’s something they can be rewarded for. To be a part of that is something that’s pretty special.
Going back five or six years ago when I was playing, we used to play at 9am at Casey Fields and we’d literally be kicking the dew off the ground. We had to get out there with brooms and sweep it away sometimes before we could even play.
Now we’ve got women playing at AFL venues – in elite facilities with elite coaching and staff behind them. The growth in every player is massive.
RB: So, in your mind, where’s the biggest room for improvement in the women’s game?
CM: The girls know how to play footy – it’s probably just getting them used to being in an elite environment, and perhaps changing some habits. Most of these girls would have been playing a couple of years ago just to have fun. Now they’re on the national stage, receiving criticism and attention that they’ve never been exposed to before. It’s just part of the industry now, but as a female you probably get more feedback on the way you look than some of your skills. That’s a bit different, but if we could get more people talking about the skill of the players – based on their actual ability – the game itself will come a long way.
RB: What, exactly, does your role entail at Collingwood now?
CM: Part of the full-time role as coach of the VFLW team is still being a backline assistant for the AFLW side. Once that season’s done, the VFL kicks off straight away.
Being a head coach is going to be a challenge, but there’ll be some great times along the way as well.
RB: What excites you most about the role, Chlo?
CM: Probably just having my own side to be able to lead, Russ, and being able to my own little flavour on coaching. To make it in the industry you have to be able to coach your own team and do a good job of that. Hopefully one day I can be an AFL coach and this can be a stepping stone.
RB: Now that you’re in footy full-time, you want to stay there for as long as humanly possible…
CM: Absolutely. Sometimes the coaching industry can be a bit fickle, but the longer I stay in it the better, for me. Footy has been my life for as long as I can remember.
RB: And clearly footy was a place to turn when things got pretty tough for you in a personal, sense…
CM: I love being around that team environment of a football club, because you’ve got mates in your corner at all times. I always felt happy, and had a smile on my face, whenever I walked through the doors. Even when Dad was so sick in hospital, he’d tell me to go to the footy and enjoy myself.
RB: Do you think he knew you’d have people there who’d support you, no matter what?
CM: I’ve got no doubt. He probably didn’t want to let me see how bad things really were with him, or let me see him suffer, but he was always looking out for other people – that’s just who he was. He always wanted to make sure Tom and I were happy and looked after.
RB: Looking ahead to this season – it’s all going to roll around pretty quickly for you after Christmas…
CM: It sure will. We start pre-season in the first week of January and while we’ve got a number of our AFL girls playing and training during that time, we’ll slowly integrate them with our VFL-listed players too. The start of the VFLW season is in May, so we’ve got a bit of time with the AFLW season in between, but once that finishes it’ll all heat up pretty quickly.
Coming off a flag last year for the VFL Pies, there are some pretty high standards to live up to but I hope we can maintain them and stay at the top.
RB: And despite his Tiger allegiance, I reckon Andy would have been hoping for that too. Cheers for the chat, Chloe…
CM: Thanks, Russ.