Sweet and never sour: Luca Macnab the relationship builder
Luca Macnab is Sandringham's vice-captain in 2022. He is a key ingredient in the Dragons' culture, respected and liked within the club. This year is his overage year and his first year out of high-school. Jonty Ralphsmith from Sandy Media will track his progress.
Sweet and never sour: Luca Macnab the relationship builder
Luca Macnab likes everyone. And most people like him too.
You could throw him in any room with a bunch of strangers and he would click.
Christian Carnovale, head coach at Tiger Sports Australia saw that last year.
He invited Luca to an academy photoshoot as he considered the 18-year-old for a position in his coaching academy.
At the start of the shoot, Luca knew no-one; by the end of it, he had chatted to everyone.
Not that the scenario was designed to be a test, but if it was, he passed convincingly and his warmth and pleasance reinforced Luca’s character qualities: charisma, courtesy, approachability, respect.
“No-one had any idea who he was because he hadn’t been ‘signed’, but he smiled and went above and beyond rather than just doing the minimum,” said Carnovale, also a Sandringham Dragons futures coach.
People are drawn towards Luca’s energy and mates are comforted by his loyalty.
There is always an infectious smile on his face, ever ready for a joke or conversation.
Luca is the archetypal extroverted alpha-male that revels in and is at the heart of footy club banter.
He’s the sort of kid that those within the club say “if you could have favourites, Luca would be right up there.”
“I could go on about him for hours”; “he’s a great one to stitch up”; “plenty of stories on him” are some of the responses at the mention of his name.
Luca loves a good time but knows his limits: he values the concept of balance.
“There’s a difference between being full-blown arrogant and being confident to lift the room and bring smiles to people’s faces,” coach Wayne Cripps said of Luca when announcing him as vice-captain at the 2022 season launch.
Fresh out of Brighton Grammar, whose firsts he co-captained last year with Will Ashcroft, he is playing as an overager and his white-collar footy journey through an APS school fits so many before him.
He has been part of the Dragons fabric since the u16s national championships.
Although those closest to him will tell you that his swagger is as much a part of his DNA as surfing, his Italian heritage or blind support of Collingwood, he was unsure of his position in the side 12 months ago.
He has always had a decent kick and good rebound and ground level skills but in a squad chock full of 12 players that would be drafted, round one selection was what fuelled preseason leading into 2021.
“Getting told that I was playing round one was amazing – it was the best feeling I had in my short footy career at the moment,” Luca said.
He grasped his opportunity and turned 2021 into a consistent season as a dependable running halfback to show he was at the standard without expressing his skillset as much as he could have, by admission.
He played six games for Sandringham – all the games he was available for - and averaged 17 disposals.
“I was playing consistent footy, but I could take it to another level and show my flare, back my kicking and break the lines a bit more,” he said.
Luca was not spoken to by any AFL clubs last year so knows that he has work to do if he wants to get to the next level.
The East Sandringham and East Brighton junior feels this could be his coming-of-age year.
2019 was his first year in the program and first time he had played at a level above club footy, causing some intimidation and a perception that he needed to prove himself.
Then there was the Covid-wreaked 2020 and learnings from last year.
He wants to have clean hands, be better one-on-one and back himself to impact offensively in 2022.
“I’m much more confident this year because I’m more senior and I’ve developed as a player.
“I’ve put on a bit of size and matured so I don’t want to panic as much with the ball in my hand – I want to make the right decision.
“I came out of my shell last year and while I’m still there to win – that’s my absolute priority – I want to show my weapons and show off what I can do.”
The coach has forecast that Luca will spend more time on the wing in 2022 in a show of faith to his skillset, and also endurance.
“We want to see what he can do from an offensive point-of-view and he did a lot of study around how to play that role and he’s been super at it so far, he’s played the role really well," Cripps said.
"I think he sees the game quickly. The ball’s in his hands and out of his hands really quickly – he makes really smart decisions and just takes the right option every single time.
“Hopefully he can grow in that role and grow in confidence.
“When he does go back to defence, we want him to play that attacking defender, rather than the lockdown defender role."
Cripps also referenced that Luca could spend some time in the engine room to showcase his competitiveness and ball-winning ability – a role he played in three games for Brighton Grammar last year, forming an intimidating combination with Ashcroft.
Carnovale was involved in Brighton Grammar’s coaching ranks in 2021 and believed Macnab had the fundamentals to impact on the ball.
“He has a nice left foot and has some contested attributes,” Carnovale said.
"He distributes well with his hands and also feet, has some speed and also leadership: he talks to his teammates on the field.”
At the preseason testing day, he ran a 20.2 yo-yo, just below the club average - running tests have never been a strength of Luca’s and naturally, he always lists it as being among his priorities for improvement.
But he says he is match fit.
Luca’s running numbers on match-day belie his raw running data.
He finds another gear to go to when he’s wearing the bright orange boots on match day: he is comfortable being uncomfortable.
Richmond mindset coach Emma Murray delivered some talks to Brighton Grammar throughout 2021 and Luca related it to his footy.
It kept him present and disciplined when on the field.
“She just taught me how to focus my mindset onto something that would better myself,” Macnab explained.
“Rather than focusing on the negatives or what I haven’t done in a game, I can look into the future and think about what possible things I can actually do to help the team.”
“It gives you that extra drive to keep going and not staying in a slump for the whole game but actually finding a way to impact.”
Murray delivered those speeches to the entire year 12 cohort entirely unrelated to sport but Luca considered her words through a footy lens.
That’s the way Luca operates; most things in his life relate back to footy.
His Instagram bio is currently “De Back”, a homage to his favourite footballer, Jordan de Goey’s rich start to the season.
At university, he is studying professional communications, hoping it will lead to a career in sport.
Then there is his aforementioned coaching at Tiger Sports.
He coaches a handful of late-primary – early-secondary aged kids and Carnovale gets continual positive feedback from the parents.
“He’s really loud and vocal and engaged in the group,” Carnovale said.
“When he’s coaching or training, there’s nothing else is on his mind – he’s just thinking about footy and his mates around him.”
The coaching supplements Luca’s other great love: people.
When he is not in the footy environment – and when he is - he is helping to connect people, wanting to see others flourish.
He spends two days per week back at Brighton Grammar, as an Indigenous ambassador, helping to integrate Indigenous kids from the Northern Territory into the school culture.
It follows on from Luca having an Indigenous student, Troy, live with him for two years, providing him with an insight into the difficulties that come with being away from home and immersing in a new culture.
That experience has him well placed to help at his old school.
As much as at any time during an extended chat, Luca speaks with energy and care when discussing why he wants to see them achieve success and how he defines their success.
“They’ve been given this opportunity but they need a bit of guidance,” Luca explained.
“I feel like I’m a good person for that – I just communicate to them how school works: you’ve got to be polite, little habits that will help them in everyday life.
“They’re always learning and they’re awesome, they’re the best kids – you can have a gag or chat to them about anything – literally anything!
“As long as they do their best day-by-day, that’s all I care about – I don’t really care how they do, as long as they give effort.”
So far, he has the balance right of work, footy, university, coaching, and being a teenager.
Cripps said he has ticked the boxes in preseason and his round one performance, 14 touches and good running patterns in his first game on the wing, has given him something to build off and indicates that he is on the right track.
“He’s the sort of player you want to build your culture around. He drives high standards – he leads by example and he’s a good communicator during training and on the field
Of his game, Cripps added: “It was four quarters of effort from him.
“He played his role really well, he did everything we asked of him: he competed hard and every time he got the ball he did something with it so he was just reliable on the day for us.”