Former Melbourne defender Neville Jetta has revealed how the club could have lost the trust of premiership forward Kysaiah Pickett early in 2021.
Pickett returned home to Western Australia for a number of weeks after his mother passed away but ultimately didn’t miss a match in 2021, including the Grand Final victory over the Western Bulldogs.
In August, the AFL announced that each club will be required to employ a full-time Indigenous liaison officer.
Chairman Richard Goyder indicated the soft cap on football department spending would be loosened to accommodate the role, and clubs could be sanctioned if it isn’t filled.
Now a development coach with Collingwood, Jetta underlined the importance of the position.
“(It’s a) support network you need to have,” he told SEN Drive on Wednesday.
“At Melbourne we had Matthew Whelan who was our liaison officer, and he did a great job being able to take the responsibility off the players.
“But (he also had) the cultural awareness the club needed. He was there, liaising with me and Steven May.”
Jetta says the Dees could have lost Pickett’s trust had they not been as sensitive to his culture and circumstances.
“He lost his mum, and had to go away for six weeks,” he recalled.
“Because of the border restrictions, but also from her passing away to the funeral was three and a half weeks, and he had to be there the whole time.
“The club didn’t really understand that and they didn’t really want him to go away, because this was in January, but to have someone like Matthew there, myself and Steven…
“We could almost have lost Kozzie in three weeks, or we could really gain his trust, and the love that he would have had for the club only grew from that point on.
“People like that within the club definitely help. That’s probably a role that (hasn’t been) filled within every club.
“So I’m rapt for the next generation coming in, knowing they’ll have people in clubs to help them through whatever they need.”
Jetta offered more detail on the developmental duties he has taken up with Collingwood, where the coaching panel has been turned upside down in mere months.
“I’ll be assisting (head of strategy) Justin Leppitsch with the backline and helping the young players down there, a bit more one-on-one with those guys,” he explained.
“Creating consistent habits, both on and off the field, and trying to fast track their progression to becoming consistent AFL players.
“And playing VFL, I’ll be able to coach the stuff we’re talking about during the week. It’s an exciting time.”
Jetta also confirmed he spoke with Greater Western Sydney forward Bobby Hill when the 21-year-old pursued a move to a Melbourne-based club earlier this month.
“I know Bobby pretty well from back home,” Jetta revealed.
“Once I heard Collingwood were interested I had a quick yarn with him to see where his head was at.
“Obviously there was a lot to get through with the trade period… it would have been great to have him.
“I’m sure the Giants are doing everything they can to support him and his family, especially having a young one on the way.”
Jetta played 159 games for Melbourne, and won Dees fans’ hearts as a close-checking defender capable of blanketing the game’s most dangerous small forwards.