Glen Jakovich thought his career was over at halftime of the 1991 qualifying final against Hawthorn and he was sure of it soon after the game ended.
Playing in just his 13th AFL match, an 18-year-old Jakovich committed a cardinal footballing sin.
He broke team rules – something that Mick Malthouse simply won’t abide.
The future AFL Hall of Famer and dual-premiership centre half-back took a mark just before halftime at Subiaco and spied fullback Andrew Lockyer running off champion Hawks forward Jason Dunstall.
Lockyer had a ton of space to run into if Jakovich could get the ball to him quickly, so rather than go back and settle over his kick – as demanded by team rules – the youngster tried to kick it around his body.
He slipped and succeeded only in shinning the ball to Hawthorn onballer Ben Allan who kicked a goal to put the Hawks 11 points up at the break.
“When I look back now, I really should have gone into the changerooms last but I was only a kid who didn’t know any better so I went in first,” Jakovich told AAP.
“Mick was waiting for me. He grabbed me by the jumper and had me up against the board in front of everyone. It was an intense moment.
“He told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t play his way I wasn’t going to play at all. I sat on the bench for the remainder of the game.
“We lost by 23 points and Mick went through us all in the rooms after. He gave me the other barrel after his halftime blast and told me in front of everybody that if I couldn’t play finals footy I wasn’t worth a cold pie to him.”
Jakovich was consoled by teammates in the aftermath, but he couldn’t dwell on the experience for long.
Sunday’s loss meant the team was back at training the next morning with a six-day turnaround before taking on Melbourne in a cut-throat semi-final.
Malthouse summoned Jakovich to his office as soon as he arrived at the ground, firstly asking him if he was ever going to make the same mistake again and, secondly, if he was up to the task of playing in the ruck on Jim Stynes.
“There was not even a hint of an apology but what he had said was even better as far as I was concerned,” Jakovich recalls.
“It was a big job but I was given all the support I could’ve possibly needed from Mick and everyone around him to help me do it.
“After what had happened there was absolutely no way I was going to let him down.
“In one instance he ruined my confidence but then – and this is a key part of his legend – within 24 hours he’s shown faith in me to give me an assignment to play on a guy who would go on to win the Brownlow Medal that year.
“That 24-hour period is still vivid in my memory because it was the most important in my development as a player and even as a person – there’s aspects of it that I still use in my business life today.
“It made me understand how passionate Mick was about the club and the game. It’s about doing the little things – the right things – the right way the whole time.”
Jakovich had already played State of Origin football before he was drafted by the Eagles and arrived at the club with a big reputation. He believes that Malthouse knew he could handle such confrontational feedback and perhaps even needed it at that stage of his fledgling career.
Nearly 24 years later, such a scenario is almost unthinkable, but in a VFL/AFL playing and coaching career spanning 44 years, Jakovich’s story is one of countless Malthouse tales that have gone down in footy folklore.
As a player Malthouse went from being a St Kilda discard to a Richmond premiership player in 1980 to having his collarbone broken in the infamous Francis Bourke fitness test on the eve of the 1982 grand final.
He experienced similar highs and lows at Footscray in his first coaching job a year after retiring at the age of 29.
He took the Dogs to a preliminary final in 1985, but it was at West Coast that he confirmed his reputation as an elite coach.
“Mick changed the whole dynamic of football in Western Australia,” Jakovich says.
“He knew how the Victorians operated, how it all worked, and he brought a hard-nosed edge to our organisation.
“He’s an intimidating figure but it’s what makes him so good at what he does.”
Jakovich says Malthouse’s innate ability to understand what makes each of his players tick is one of the keys to his longevity and what has made him such a revered figure at every club he’s coached.
The emotional scenes after Collingwood’s loss to Brisbane in the 2002 grand final are just one example of that, with the sight of a tearful Malthouse comforting a distraught Paul Licuria one of the more enduring images of his storied career.
Jakovich wasn’t surprised when Malthouse spurned Eddie McGuire’s succession plan at the Pies and was pleased when his old mentor went to Carlton, where he’ll pass Jock McHale’s record to become the longest-serving coach in VFL/AFL history on Friday night.
“It’s an amazing feat,” he says.
“But Mick’s always been very humble, it was never about him, it was about ‘we’.
“He’s never wanted to win a popularity contest, he really couldn’t care less what people think about him.
“But there were a lot of us at our football club who could unashamedly say that they loved Mick and I’m one of them.”