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New Cup coaches of 2023: Comerford at Cutters

Nine clubs will go into this season's Hostplus Cup with a new coach at the helm, in one of the biggest turnovers in recent years.

With the addition of the Western Clydesdales - and kick-off to season 2023 right around the corner - the Queensland Rugby League is profiling our 10 new coaches, whether they're coming from a different club or are completely new to the Cup arena.

In this edition we talk to Mackay Cutters mentor Michael Comerford about his journey as a young coach and the expectations he has for season 2023.

Coaching history

After suffering back-to-back ACL injuries, Comerford retired from playing at the young age of 24, having notched up 51 games for the Mackay Cutters. Having already started coaching at the schoolboy level with Mercy College and St Patrick's College in Mackay, Comerford was quick to try his hand at club coaching, taking over as A grade head coach at the Souths Sharks in 2014.

He was with the club until the end of the 2016 season, which is when he came on board as the Cutters' Cup assistant coach. In 2018, he was made coach of Mackay's Hastings Deering Colts team and maintained this role until COVID-19 hit in 2020.

After this, Comerford took another head coaching role at the A grade level, working with Mackay Brothers, leading to his return as a Cup assistant coach in 2022 under Dave Elliott.

Comerford was announced as the Mackay Cutters head coach in August last year.

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Q&A with Michael Comerford

How does it feel to be promoted to the role of head coach of the Cutters' Cup team?

It’s something I’ve always had an ambition to do and I’ve had to be patient for that opportunity. I’m kind of glad I’ve had to wait as well. Being a young coach, things can happen quite quickly and this is one job that you realise you have to be prepared for it. Although it was unexpected to come when it did with Dave going down to Brisbane, the path to get there has set me up well.

What is your coaching philosophy?

I suppose coming from a teaching background, with any opportunity I have, I try to impart knowledge on to the players. Sometimes you have to put the teacher voice away but I want to always have an environment where the players and staff are learning, developing and reflecting on their performances, with the ultimate goal of trying to be better every time you walk through the door.

Who would you say is your mentor or strongest influence in coaching?

I played under Anthony Seibold and when I did my ACL... I was quite fortunate to spend the rest of the season in the coach’s box with him or on the sideline on the radio. As a 23-year-old at the time and a first-year teacher, you reflect back on that and see it as things happening for a reason. My mindset was 100 per cent to come back and play but the experiences I was able to have by not playing at that age, the people I was around, I was quite fortunate. Troy Rovelli, who is now at Norths, was the football manager at Souths in Mackay and he gave me my first opportunity as A grade coach. I’m indebted to him for taking a punt on me at 25 to coach a highly successful club in a high-pressure job. At the Cutters, I had Paul Bramley. I got to play under him in 2010. And then it’s funny how things come full circle because Kim (Williams) was coach when I finished playing and now he's the head of football here and we work together everyday to prepare this team and club to be the best it can be. You look over those I’ve spent time with, including being an assistant to Steve Sheppard and Dave Elliott, and they are people who have had success in their own pathways and part of what I try to do is pick the best parts of all that.

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How is your first pre-season going as head coach?

We’ve made a point of challenging the players mentally. There’s only so many ways you can run up and down a footy field and get fit so we’ve tried to add that element of challenging them mentally. We reflected on that being an area that let us down in big games last year. We could knock off top four teams but lose to bottom teams. That’s how you end up 11th on the ladder. We were inconsistent. You don’t forget how to play football week to week. It’s upstairs that has an impact on that so we’ve been challenging the players there.

What are your goals for season 2023?

I’m not big on setting goals in the traditional sense. The thing we haven’t shied away from is we need improvement on the ladder. However many games we win this year, it has to translate to an improved standing on the ladder. If every player and member of the coaching staff are trying to be better everyday, it should result in improved performance and an improved winning record and that pushes you up the ladder. That’s how we break it down and what motivates us. We know what the standard is. We’re at the point where we have an established group of players and we need to translate that to a winning record.

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Who within your squad will make their mark in 2023?

Garrett Smith is returning to us this year from his stints in NRL systems with the Cowboys, Knights and Warriors. That experience he has from within those NRL systems is showing at training and he is bringing standards a cut above this level. I have seen the intensity he brings. He’s imparting that to the other players in this squad. He’s one player people will be looking at this year. He has a profile now and he has to live up to that and I’m sure he will. He’s passionate about playing for the Cutters and plays his best footy in an environment where he’s well supported with coaching staff that have a lot of faith in him.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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