O’Dell king of the Lions

Craig MacKenzie spoke to Preston Lions coach Andy O'Dell about his time at the club.

By Craig MacKenzie

Andy O’Dell and Preston Lions are marching to the same beat as they edge closer to the State 1 North-West championship.

For O’Dell it would be his 10th league success as a player or coach, and for Preston it would be the next step in a remarkable resurgence that has delighted the football loving Macedonian community and once more drawn impressive crowds to B.T. Connor Reserve.

Preston was staring down the barrel of financial ruin just a few seasons ago faced with a mounting Australian Tax Office bill that would have crippled most clubs.

A scheme of repayment was agreed some time back and the lifting of this burden has coincided with O’Dell’s appointment and a now 13-game unbeaten run which has catapulted Preston to the top of the league ladder.

“It’s a massive game for us this weekend against Cairnlea at their ground, and if we win we go five points clear,” O’Dell said.

“We beat them 4-1 last time but they’ve got two British boys up front who are very, very quick.”

There’s more pressure than usual on O’Dell as Preston is keen to apply for a place in NPL1 next season.

“To do that we’ve got to win the league,” he said.

“We’ve got every other part of the structure right (for NPL1 entry) with our juniors and the girls teams and next year we’ve got new lights and a new stand getting done so it’s all down to the senior team now.”

And at the helm of that team is the man from Hull, with decades of experience as a player and coach.

O’Dell’s football journey started in England when he played for Hull City boys before being apprenticed at Grimsby Town, for whom he made his senior debut at 18 against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Rotherham, Torquay and Darlington featured on his CV before he joined Willie Raynes and Phil Stubbins in the Terry Hennessy-coached Heidelberg side that won the 1988 State League title.

Fawkner, Morwell Falcons, Perth Croatia, Croydon, Mitcham and Chelsea were other ports of call before O’Dell became assistant to Stubbins at Whittlesea in what was an excellent springboard for a coaching career.

O’Dell had stints as senior coach of Richmond and Northcote before assisting Toby Paterson at Dandenong Thunder, becoming senior coach at Coburg then joining Sunshine George Cross for the 2008 season.

He left Sunshine in 2010 after a 6-0 loss to Altona Magic and replaced Goran Lozanovski at Bentleigh, avoiding relegation that season by a solitary point.

The next year he was sacked after a round 7 loss to Richmond and coached Fawkner in 2012 and 2013.

He replaced Melbourne Knights legend Josip Biskic at Preston earlier this season with the senior team in second last spot and only three points to its name.

“When they approached me I just fancied it. I knew they used to be a big club and that they could be a big club again,” O’Dell said.

“Structurally they were hopeless from my point of view. I mean when I coached Fawkner we beat them 7-0 and 5-0 and they were a shambles.

“Players turned up and did their own thing so I just went in there, got people fit, got them organised and the players loved it and adapted to it right away.

“There was no magic wand in fact it was pretty straightforward really.”

The fans loved it too and picking up points on a regular basis was a powerful magnet for them.

“We’re getting 1000 plus to our games now and the run we’ve been on has got people really interested. It’s a happy place right now and I’m loving it to be honest,” he said.

It helps when you have quality players at your disposal and when O’Dell first walked into the Preston dressing rooms his eyes lit up.

“I saw Marty John, Tony Sterjovski, Pece Siveski, Robert Dolevski and Luka Anifayolin and I started thinking ‘bloody hell mate they’ve actually recruited some decent players, guys with VPL experience and a decent base for a team’,” he said.

“And from day one I made a decision to do things my way. If that meant that I lasted one week in the job then so be it.”

While that hard edge underpins O’Dell’s coaching he claims that he has mellowed with experience and his new approach to both players and match officials seems to be working.

“I’ve changed a lot. I know I have. I’m not as loud or as aggressive as I used to be,” he said.

“Especially to linesmen and referees. I just watch them now and when I have to I get my point over quickly and quietly.

“Plus I can’t afford to pay the fines. Seriously though it’s been a few years now since I’ve been sent off.

O’Dell raised a few eyebrows when he took the Preston job given the lengthy round-trip between his home in Sandringham and B.T. Connor Reserve and he couldn’t resist a dig at his detractors.

“There still are people out there who say things like ‘O’Dell is only in it for the money’ but I know coaches in my league who are getting $600 and $700 a week which is a lot more than I’m getting believe me,” he said.

“I just love the game. I love being around football and being involved.

“I don’t know where I’ll be next year but I do know that I’m happy here at the moment.

“I just want to win this thing for the committee and the supporters to give them a chance of getting into this NPL set-up because I know their hearts are set on getting back where they belong among the big clubs in Victoria.”

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