Mal Barnes to step into coaching role at Nathalia

By Alex Mitchell

Murray Football League powerhouse Nathalia has found its new permanent coach, with assistant coach Mal Barnes to step into the lead role.

Barnes, a lifelong Purple, takes the reins from caretaker Jason Limbrick, who had replaced Phil Carroll in a temporary capacity after the latter’s resignation in early June.

Nathalia president Dean Limbrick said Barnes had taken on more responsibility as the season had progressed, and was at a point where he was confident to make the permanent step up.

"With Mal already as an assistant coach it seemed a logical step, so we initiated discussions with him," he said.

"He took on more and more responsibility to see if it’s something he wanted to do, but there’s been no pressure on him, he’s been able to have time and work closely with Jason, who’s extremely well respected in our club.

"He’s had the time to assess it now, it’s fairly time-consuming and can be a stressful job, so he had to make sure he’s comfortable with it.

"(Jason) will still work closely with Mal and we’re pretty lucky to have a few experienced heads around. Mal has his brother Drew and others around to lean on for support, but he’s been able to have some time with Jason in charge to really find his feet."

Limbrick said Barnes’ commitment was for the remainder of the season, with next season’s coaching situation to be assessed moving forward.

The new coach was rapt to get the chance to test himself with the extra responsibility, but understood the club’s immense winning culture would provide the ultimate support network.

"It’s a great opportunity and I’m really excited for it," Barnes said.

"There’s a lot of older people around the club and I’ll get plenty of support, so I’m excited.

"(The support) is unreal, personally I’ve been able to work really closely with Jase the last few weeks, but there’s always people there to help and always someone you’re able to call if you need to."

Nathalia sits second on the Murray league ladder despite just one loss for the season, and after this weekend’s general bye will face 12-1 Echuca United in what shapes as comfortably the biggest game of the home and away season.

But while he will step up from assistant to head coach, Barnes said business remained as usual.

"It all just rolls on really, not a lot changes," he said.

"The playing group doesn’t change, it’s all just about driving home the message of how to beat the opposition on the day.

"(The season) is going good, we’ve obviously had a few injuries recently but all that means is an opportunity for younger guys to step up.

"There’s always room for improvement and we’ve got a big week coming up against Echuca United next week, that will show us what we need to work on and it’s a big test."

Nathalia has won nine of the last 14 MFL senior premierships, and is aiming for its fifth consecutive flag this season.