Grace reunites with mates at Footscray
It’d be no easy task taking the reins of the defending Peter Jackson VFL premiership team, but new Footscray senior coach Steve Grace has the confidence of people in high places.
Grace has been friends with 2016 Western Bulldogs premiership coach Luke Beveridge since the two played junior football and cricket together at St Peters-East Bentleigh. He also attended university with the club’s Coaching Performance Manager Chris Maple and had Western Bulldogs assistant coaches Daniel Giansiracusa and Steven King on his coaching panel while head coach of the TAC Cup’s Oakleigh Chargers in 2010-11.
With Footscray flag mentor Ash Hansen moving on to become the AFL team’s forward line coach, Grace seized the opportunity to reunite with a good mate.
“Luke (Beveridge) and I go a long way back,” Grace said.
“Over the years we’d always discussed when a possible opportunity might come up where we’d be able to align our coaching, and then the timing was right – my contract was up at Collingwood and there was an opportunity created at the Bulldogs.”
Grace arrives at VU Whitten Oval after three seasons working under Magpies senior coach Nathan Buckley, where he oversaw the development of the likes of Jamie Elliott, Alex Fasolo and Darcy Moore as Collingwood’s forwards coach in 2015-16.
Grace was also a development coach at Fremantle from 2011-13 under Mark Harvey and later Ross Lyon. He worked closely with Nat Fyfe in the Dockers superstar’s early AFL years and took “great pleasure” in being able to help Michael Walters turn his initially-struggling career around.
Grace said those experiences have shaped the type of coach he thinks he’ll be at Footscray.
“The most important thing I learned is that nothing beats solid and thorough preparation – that’s number one,” Grace said. “Number two is that your method and processes have got to be rock solid.
“Overarching all that is interpersonal skills, and if those skills aren’t at a premium and you’re not aware of the areas which you’re deficient in and you can’t improve them, then you’re probably not going to be the coach you need to be at the level.
“Building relationships is certainly one of the pillars of my coaching philosophy. I see that as a strength of mine.”
A previous football relationship with triple-premiership-winning Sandringham coach Mark Williams resulted in Grace celebrating the Zebras’ 2004, 2005 and 2006 flags as an assistant coach. He occasionally took over from Williams on game day and said seeing players such as Nick Sautner and Chad Liddell become household names was one of the most enjoyable memories of his first involvement in the VFL.
However, Grace’s senior coaching journey began in 1996 at the tender age of 26 when he was a playing coach for Phillip Island in the West Gippsland Football League. He’d previously missed his opportunity to graduate to the AFL while captain of St Kilda’s U19 team – another experience that has since moulded his coaching style.
“Knowing the shortfalls I had as a player and what I saw in the coaches around me and perhaps what I needed from them – those are the things I try to draw upon now and then,” Grace said.
“It’s just to remind myself of how difficult the game is as a coach. It’s a players’ game – it’s not a coaches’ game – so how much easier can you make it for the player?”
Grace first spent time with many of his new players in an unofficial capacity in the lead-up to and week following last year’s Grand Final, gaining respect for Ash Hansen’s “organised and very process-driven” approach.
Faith in his own processes and philosophies should help Grace rise above “a little bit of chiding” from his mates – now colleagues – about the pressure associated with taking over at the reigning premiers.
* Photo: Steve Grace coaching the TAC Cup's Oakleigh Chargers in 2010
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