TWO years ago at AJAX’s Best & Fairest evening, the club unveiled former AFL premiership coach Mark “Choco” Williams as their main man for the next two seasons.
The club had been a mainstay for half a decade in B-Grade, following its promotion on the back of the 2011 premiership triumph. They had to try something bold to break the shackles and take that elusive next step.
At the time, Williams and AJAX were a good fit. The club was long yearning for the promised land and Choco had all the markings of the Messiah.
And 10 rounds into Williams’ tenure, the Jackas’ faithful began to believe a drought-breaking B-Grade finals berth was imminent.
Choco’s charges were sitting two games inside the top four at the halfway mark of the season, having knocked off former A-Grade premiers St Bernards and taken it right up to the other finals-bound teams.
David Fayman and Jake Lew were wreaking their usual havoc up forward, WA import Zak Fleisher brought a hard edge to the midfield, while first-year captain Nick Lewis was clearly a better player for the added responsibility.
Promoting youth will be remembered as one of the hallmarks of Choco’s legacy at the club, and in year one it was Toby Lipton, Ward Williams, Charlie Hamilton and Guy Vadas who seamlessly found their feet at senior level.
The compass quickly turned south for the Jackas (who are now staring down the barrel of relegation) when a core group of senior players exited their playing posts for a few weeks to compete at the Maccabiah Games.
Consequently, the Jackas lost all three games during that period, and eventually missed out on finals by one game and percentage.
And since round 10 last year, they’ve lost 17 games and won just six, three of them this season.
A major contributing factor to this has been an untimely exodus of vital senior players through retirement as well as an unprecedented and vicious wave of injuries, many of them significant.
Williams was brought in to create an A-Grade culture, which he most definitely has.
“The training disciplines and team unity instilled by Mark will have an enduring benefit to AJAX. Mark’s strong commitment to a development program across both the senior and junior football clubs has been a game changer, not just for our playing group but for our coaches too,” AJAX president Ronnie Lewis told The AJN.
Lewis also confirmed that the decision to part ways was “100 per cent mutual”.
“We collectively felt that given where we are … it wasn’t the best use of his services. He’s a winner with a great track record and he can’t do it with where we are now. We brought him in to have success … the club is in a very different position now.”
With the club’s 2019 fortunes still at a crossroad, the search for a new senior coach hasn’t commenced. But Lewis did rule out former Carlton premiership star and ex-St Kilda coach Ken Sheldon who has been overseeing the Jackas’ under 16 and 17 programs this year, a critical partnership the senior club does not want to disturb.
Williams will have a few more huddles to address before the season is out but in a final message to the community, he said “I have really enjoyed coaching the AJAX FC in amateur footy and thank all the players, coaches, staff and supporters for their efforts, support and friendship”.