GEOFF Toovey, immediately after every game, phones daughter Georgia. It is always his first call. Sometimes, the only call.
A conversation that has nothing to do with the Manly Sea Eagles — and everything.
“Because even with all our drama,’’ says one club insider, “it doesn’t come close to the challenge that’s raising your child alone”.
Yep, this is why Manly keeps winning.
Why despite the infighting, AVOs and superstars wanting out, still their premiership odds stay firmer than those cheerleaders celebrating another Sea Eagles try. It’s Toovey.
Single dad. Sea Eagles God. A fella who, as that right boot of Adam MacDougall will always attest, has the head for absorbing any crisis.
In ‘Tooves’ you have the grandson of a World War II infantryman who, as father Kevin recalls, would remain unmoved after being smacked as a child. Glaring at the old man as if to say ‘really, that all you got?’.
He’s the Belrose Eagle who was always too small to play footy, but won nine premierships anyway. The father who, after an early marriage breakdown, continues raising Georgia, now 17.
And as for his own top grade achievements weighing 70kg ... well, think the Milky Bar Kid with shotguns.
So drama? What drama?
“With Geoff Toovey, you’re never dead,’’ insists Manly icon Steve Menzies. “No matter your odds, your problems, your lack of numbers on the scoreboard ... Tooves can always tell you how to get up and win.”
He will do it again on Friday night.
This NRL coach all dinged head, cauliflower ears and voice resembling a pushbike on gravel, standing inside those Brookvale sheds and, like every other day since Glenn Stewart wasn’t offered a contract renewal, unifying his mob.
Forget actually trying to solve this Rubix Cube of NRL infighting, what we really want to know is how Toovey continually negates said ****fight to keep winning games.
Asking how, with Wests Tigers resembling One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, and Newcastle dropping their bundle in the Rise For Alex round, Toovey manages to negate more divisions than found in a pub debate on blondes, brunettes and redheads?
“It’s mental toughness,’’ says Sea Eagles premiership coach Bob Fulton. “Geoff has an ability, even in the most adverse conditions, to extract the best from those around him.”
Head strength and conditioning coach Don Singe agrees. Reminding you how no one thought Toovey would succeed after taking over from Des Hasler, either.
“But the first day Tooves walked out for training,’’ Singe recalls, “there was something different in the way he moved.
“When he walked, it was with purpose.”
And while much of Hasler HQ has, wisely, been kept — the tracking cameras, hyperbaric chambers, even the Brazilian Jiu-jitsu coach — players are now being given more ownership, more freedom to play what they see.
Under Toovey, there is less video. More opposed work. Andrew Johns also employed to get their left edge sizzling like that right side attack so often used by Hasler.
Elsewhere, Toovey is a stickler for detail. Often re-watching Manly’s 2012 premiership capitulation, beaten 40-12 by Melbourne in the preliminary final, hoping to discover something new.
Better, he’s also mastered, as one insider puts it, “the art of managing egos”.
Back in the 1980s, Jack Gibson showed his players an NFL film called Symbiosis; the crux being dissimilar groups can still form a relationship of mutual benefit.
And so it is now on the northern beaches.
So what if the fullback is off with the halfback? The old bulls the young bucks and the NSW forward his CEO? All of you want to win an NRL premiership ... and, together, this is how we get it done.
Toovey had the chance to learn from the best in legendary coach Bob Fulton.
Of course, Toovey is also blessed with a playing group harder than Chinese arithmetic. A mob of tough nuts whose senior members, including Anthony Watmough, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai and the Stewart boys, are steeled by more than years of playing euchre together.
Says Manly stalwart Peter Peters: “If you cannot see how our senior playing group has not only rebuilt the culture but carried it, you don’t understand rugby league”.
Yet still, we’re talking a culture already epitomised by Toovey back when Choc was in primary school.
And while Peters, a close ally of Glenn Stewart, believes the Manly coach could’ve handled his departure better — “played politics a little more” — he insists the 45-year-old maintains the respect of his charges.
“Because you imagine not putting in,” the 1970s forward says, “then having to explain yourself to the toughest man who ever played”.
Importantly, this is not a Manly thing.
No, speak with residents the length and breadth of league and, universally, the ‘toughest’ gong goes to the playmaker who, on debut, had Peters exclaiming for 2GB: “It appears Manly have just sent out their ball boy”.
Yet, largely, Toovey remains mysterious.
He is, says one Manly board member, a “Lone Ranger”. An enigma who, we can tell you, boasts all the smarts of an NRMA board member, the family values of a man whose parents attend every home game and the work ethic of a coach who lives closer to the Narrabeen training facility than anyone else in their history.
Oh, yeah, he also boasts more humour than you’d expect of a chartered accountant.
“Loves a good time, no doubt,’’ insists Singe, who roomed with Toovey for those seven years he played understudy at Manly. “But still, do your f ... ing job. You don’t and Geoff will come looking for you.”
“Well, if you want an autograph, a photo, even a chat with Tooves, say please,’’ Singe adds. “He absolutely hates bad manners.”
Truly? And still he survives at Manly.
The bloke really is a genius.
NICK WALSHAW THE DAILY TELEGRAPH AUGUST 01, 2014