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Leader of the pack

Ben Collins and Adam McNicol  March 20, 2013 4:28 PM

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Matthew Boyd of the Bulldogs leads his team onto the field during the 2013 NAB Cup round 01, week 01 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

It has reinforced amongst the group the guys who have been identified from an early age as having leadership qualities, and it has also given a forum for other quieter guys to have their say.

The Western Bulldogs are the only AFL club without an official leadership group but captain Matthew Boyd believes the Dogs in fact boast the league's biggest leadership team.

Boyd, the only leader nominated by the Bulldogs, revealed that the new system, which involves more discussion in small groups, ensures every player has his say in the club's direction.

The third-year skipper and coach Brendan McCartney hope the program will fast-track the development of leadership, and onfield performance, particularly among the Dogs' abundance of youngsters.

It has already achieved strong results, Boyd said, with some of the Dogs' typically more reserved characters making valuable contributions.

Neither Boyd nor the Bulldogs have yet placed a timeframe on his reign as captain, but he said the leadership program would also help to identify the club's next skipper.

McCartney said the Bulldogs had been contemplating changing their leadership model for some time", revealing that the off-field incident late last season involving young midfielder Tom Liberatore, who received a club-imposed four-match suspension, was a factor.

"You don't want bad things to happen in your club, but sometimes they give you a starting point to go forward and get better," McCartney told AFL.com.au.

"It wasn't just that, it was a recognition that our age demographic has changed a lot and we had some great, experienced people and this big bank of young people.

"In the end, whatever process you have, if it leads to good decisions and your club getting better and people feeling they can make a difference, then it's got to be a good thing."

Last year the Bulldogs' leadership group comprised five of the club's more experienced players: Boyd, Daniel Cross, Daniel Giansiracusa, Robert Murphy and Dale Morris, none of whom was younger than 29.

McCartney said the impetus for change was initially driven by the players, and guided by the coaches, football manager James Fantasia and, in particular, strategic football operations manager Ben Graham, before receiving the support of CEO Simon Garlick and the club board.

"I'd like to think we've got the biggest leadership group in the AFL, not the smallest," Boyd told AFL.com.au.

"The program is a bit different – we haven’t heard of any other sporting organisation doing it.

"We just wanted to engage everyone and demonstrate that you don’t have to be in a leadership group to lead. It's about generating discussion and teaching leadership.

"It will only get better over time. It'll help us develop leadership quicker and hopefully get to where we want to go a bit quicker too.

"It's been working really well, and it's been fantastic for our young and middle-tier players to step up and take some ownership of the group."

Boyd said working in smaller groups tended to make younger players more comfortable to share their views. Over time, he said, the program would expand to incorporate larger group discussions.

"All young players need a certain amount of coaxing to get them out of their shells, especially coming into an environment where there are a lot of experienced people around, which can be rather intimidating," he said.

"But the program encourages them to voice their opinions, and they're starting to find their feet.

"It has reinforced amongst the group the guys who have been identified from an early age as having leadership qualities, and it has also given a forum for other quieter guys to have their say."

As a consequence, Boyd's workload has increased slightly, "but not in a bad way", he insists.

"I've got a lot of good people around me who are helping out too," he said.

"I've just been really enthusiastic to help implement the program and embrace it as much as I can because I believe it can have great results."