As North Tamworth coach, Brad McManus was an unflappable sideline presence guiding the side to three premierships and the 2014 Clayton Cup. He stood down last year after the Bears won a fourth straight premiership, and now coaches the club’s under-7 side, which includes his son, Angus. He spoke to The Leader about life after top-grade footy.
Brad McManus laughed when told his cameo appearance as a trainer for North Tamworth in a first-grade clash against Kootingal-Moonbi at Jack Woolaston Oval this month was reminiscent of a champion racehorse being brought out of retirement for an exhibition gallop.
It was the first time the 36-year-old married father of two had been sideline at a Bears game since he coached them to a fourth consecutive premiership at the same ground last September. It was the second straight title with him at the helm, and the third overall, including the 2014 season when he also steered Norths to the Clayton Cup – acknowledging them as the NSW country first-grade side with the best record that year.
McManus had seemingly been a cool breeze on the sideline, showing little emotion beneath a raffia hat. But the chance to live a less stressful existence, and spend more time with his family, prompted his decision to hand over the mentoring duties to Norths captain Scott Blanch, a former Manly signing who has maintained the side’s imposing presence.
As part of McManus’ new less-stress world, he is coaching the Bears’ under-7 side, which includes his son, Angus, and the progeny of other well-known league identities, such as former Australia and NSW star Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, current Bears centre Richard Clegg and ex-Bear Shaun Ferguson.
“It’s good to just watch [first grade] now without any stress,” McManus said. “Sort of, you know, just kick back and watch it.”
He added: “I just said to them [Norths] that I’d be interested in doing it [coaching under-7]. They said, ‘If ya want to do it, you can do it’, sort of thing. So yeah, that’s how it all come about.”
Coaching under-7, he said, was similar to coaching first grade, only he explained things in a way children could absorb. “Instead of grown men, they’re seven-year-old kids … Some of the grown men can act like seven-year-olds at times, too,” he added.
The irony of going from coaching one of NSW country’s most dominant top-grade outfits to coaching under-7s, in his first stint as a junior mentor, is not lost on the man affectionately known as Spitter. “So yeah, a big step back from first grade,” he said. “But it’s a lot of fun and they’re a good bunch of little kids.”
Angus, 7, started playing league when he was five. If he develops into the player his dad was, he would be a handful.
McManus, Norths’ president in 2015 when he took a break from coaching, was a Bingara boy who settled in Tamworth in 2001 when his NRL dream ended after a stint with the Newcastle Knights. He had joined the club as a 17-year-old raw-boned prop and played SG Ball Cup and Jersey Flegg Cup.
“Sometimes in life things don’t go the way you want it,” he said, in response to being released by the Knights. “So I moved back [to New England] and made a bit of a career playing bush footy.”
First, he played with West Tamworth in 2001. Then in 2005 he joined Norths – winning four first-grade premierships as a player with the club. He then captain-coached the Bears’ reserve-grade side to a premiership, before taking over as top-grade coach in 2013. That year the side made the grand final from fourth place, but lost to Wests in the finale at Scully Park.
An assets supervisor at Essential Energy, McManus said “never say never” when asked if he would coach first grade again. “Maybe it could happen, I don’t know. But at the moment I’m just enjoying what I’m doing.”