Usually, when a team loses the Grand Final, they go back to the drawing board and aim to only change one or two areas in preparation for the following season. All of course in the hope of getting back to Grand Final day, the following year, in search of redemption.
At Old Brighton, in William Buck Premier, they’ve been forced to fill the biggest and perhaps most unexpected of changes. The position of the coach.
Long-serving coach Greg Hutchison made the decision to step down from the role as coach of the Tonners, a decision made public only a handful of days after the Grand Final loss to St Kevin’s.
Starting in 2015, Hutchison goes out with a winning record of 65% with Old Brighton (81 wins, 44 losses and 2 draws). A record that includes the 2017 Premiership in Premier B (Beating Old Scotch by 36 points) which put the club back in William Buck Premier.
They have stabilised in William Buck Premier, finishing in the top four in 2018 before losing the Elimination Final, fifth in 2019, top three in 2021 before the season was abandoned, and only the clubs second Grand Final appearance in the VAFA’s top flight across its 55 year history.
How does the club replace someone of Hutch’s ilk?
They go out and source Dan Donati. The man who arguably has one of the best coaching and football CV’s in Victoria.
Success follows Dan wherever he goes.
Donati has had a highly successful football career as both a player and coach, having won 10 senior premierships across six different clubs in the VAFA, VFL, Eastern Football League and the Bellarine Football League.
Tom Clarke, Old Brighton assistant coach was part of the interview process with Donati, “When you speak with Dan, you get this overwhelming sense of how passionate he is and how much he cares for his players, not only as footballers but as people.” he told VAFA Media.
“We got a real sense of the type of person Dan is and the positive impact he would have on our group both on and off the field.” he continued.
At his disposal on the field, Donati has one of the strongest midfield brigades in the competition with 2022 Woodrow Medal winner, Harry Hill. Hill’s best mate Tom Fisher, Max Kennedy accumulates the footy with relative ease. Adding to that Alfie Jarnestrom and Darby Hipwell, it’s hard to not get excited as a fan of the Tonners.
“We have a young, exciting group and Dan will do everything he can to create an environment for them where they can be themselves, learn to be better people and play some great footy.”
You can already picture under Donati, the continued license and freewill Anthony Zimmerman, and Michael Karayannis will have to roam freely across the forward line, encouraged to be creative, use their flair and take the game on.
“Dan brings a wealth of experience and success he has had at strong football clubs we have huge respect for.”
“When he is in, he is all in”
Already holding an introductory session with the players, one man Donati will be hoping to get on the park for a full pre-season is Lochie Filipovic, the clubs number one ruckman who missed all but two and a half games in 2022.
The young, brash, confident lads of Brighton Beach Oval were ranked #1 in areas you would expect them to be ranked #1 in: contested possessions, clearances, hard-ball gets, tackles, one percenters, smothers and forward 50 tackles.
If Will Lewis is a regular in the Old Brighton side in 2023, he’s likely to start at full back and no doubt there will be a focus on bolstering up the defence of the Tonners over the off-season to support him. There may be other personnel changes as clubs recruiting drives start to ramp up ahead of the pre-season starting but overall the forecast bayside is sunny skies and the expectations will point towards another top four finish in 2023.
Donati’s football journey in the VAFA started at Toorak Park with Old Xaverians, playing in two Premierships across six days in 1996, one in the under 19’s followed up by the first of the six straight the senior team won. He was drafted out of the VAFA by Robert Walls and the Richmond AFL side, he earned himself a senior debut in his first season with the Tigers. His one and only game.
He returned to his old side in 2018 taking up a role as an assistant coach, before moving on at the end of 2021 to coach Barwon Heads.
Now he’s back in the VAFA, and traded the red and black for the red and blue. A move Clarke says suits him to a tee “That (his ties to Old Xavs) was quickly forgotten when we saw how good he looked in the Old Brighton polo!”
“It was clear that coming to Old Brighton was a big deal for him, and that he really cared about and respected Xavs and their people, which is a testament to the person he is… but Nuttsy is a Tonner now!”
It will make for a mouthwatering contest when these sides meet for the first time in 2023, Old Xaverians will be out for redemption after the Tonners knocked them out of the running in 2022, while for the Tonners, they’re out for redemption after falling short to the might of St Kevin’s on Grand Final day.
And, Dan Donati might just be the tonic they need to go one step further.