By Russell Bennett
With a nickname like ‘General’, it’s only fitting that Dean Blake is looking forward to his first role in charge of a group of senior players.
The former Pakenham captain and playing-assistant has taken the senior coaching reins at the Nar Nar Goon Football Club from next season and – together with a group of new recruits – is hell-bent on driving the side forward to finals success in the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition.
Blake, 31, has taken on the role strictly as senior coach, but he has no doubt he’ll have itchy feet about playing when it gets to the pre-season.
When he finished playing at Pakenham, he admits he initially wasn’t certain he wanted to head down the senior coaching path – particularly after a trying 2017 campaign – but he took on the role at the Goon and can’t wait for the next chapter of his footballing journey to begin.
“With 2017 being a tough year I thought maybe that’s it, maybe I don’t want to coach,” he said.
“Maybe it was just something I wanted to do while we were going alright, but then this popped up at the Goon and I wanted to do it and my partner Elisha said I may as well give it a go otherwise I’d do her head in at home!”
Blake said the Goon felt like the perfect fit.
“They’ve set a pretty good culture here, I think, and everyone I’ve spoken to on the phone has bought into it and staying on,” he said.
“We’ve lost a couple, who’ve actually gone to Pakenham, but it is what it is. That’s footy – you can’t twist their arms.”
At this stage, Cooper Sheppard and Jordan and Zac Stewart have headed to Pakenham, while Beaconsfield’s Troy McDermott, Pakenham’s Jake Smith and Sam Blackwood, and Doveton’s Jake Blackwood have all come across to the Goon. McDermott, Smith and Sam Blackwood all played SEFNL interleague in 2017.
“I really love the way Jake Smith plays,” Blake said.
“When he’s got the footy he never likes to waste it. He’s always looking to use it and use it well and he’s kicked the most goals in SEFNL interleague the past three years in total, so he’s a good player and looking to take that step into the midfield a little bit more now instead of just being a forward pocket coming into the midfield.”
Blake said Sam Blackwood is “all class”.
“He very rarely gets beaten and is another one who makes sure he uses it extremely well by foot.”
Blake is also particularly excited about the prospect of Jake Blackwood playing off a half-back – particularly off a standout year with Doveton – while former Beaconsfield star McDermott is set to add a whole new dimension up forward for the Goon.
“He’s just got so much experience and is a natural leader,” Blake said.
“He’s played interleague regularly and I know playing against him when we were at Pakenham, apart from Scotty Meyer he was one bloke we’d always put a lot of time into.
“It’ll be good to coach a side with him in it instead of having to figure out ways of stopping him!”
Former Goon champion Matt Wade has also been strongly linked with a move back to the club, but Blake wouldn’t be drawn on the speculation.
When it comes to the current group, and the tightknit culture at the club and the local community, Blake said he’s already started to witness its affect.
“It’s all been good signs for me, and the relationship with the netball club is a big one as well and they seem to be on track there too,” he said.
His kids even go to school in the town.
“Dropping them off at school people tell me they’ve heard I’m coaching and it’s still that small town. It’s really good and it feels like that family club,” he added.
“As I said – I’m really looking forward to getting started, mainly starting the pre-season so I can see all the boys, get into it, and see how we go from there.”
Coming across from the SEFNL, Blake – who is being mentored on his coaching journey by local footy legend Michael ‘Jock’ Holland – said he was particularly looking forward to being involved in a competition as even across the board as the WGFNC.
“That was a huge positive, and probably the country feel to it as well,” he said.
“When I first started playing footy it felt like this. It was the old West Gippsland league back then and this is the same sort of feel.”
Blake is already looking forward to working with hard-nosed Goon skipper Brent Hughes, and added he and the existing group had already got around the new recruits.
“We haven’t started training so it’s a little bit tricky, but you’d probably have to say that mateship at Nar Nar Goon is a big thing,” Blake said.
“That stands out to me, head and shoulders above everything I’ve seen.
“The new boys got together with the boys we’ve got already the other night and had a couple of beers, and the players organised that. Seeing that happen is reassuring and speaking to the recruits too, they’re rapt with it – that the other boys got around them straight away. You’d have to say mateship will be the biggest thing with us.”