Q & A with new Senior Coach Daniel Donati

Football Director Brendan (Cuzza) Curry recently sat down with new Senior Coach Daniel “NUTS” Donati to ask him about his football journey as both a player and coach. Daniel or “NUTS” also outlines some of his coaching philosophies and what it is about Barwon Heads that attracted him to take on this appointment. Nuts has been busily having conversations with players, support staff, key sponsors and important figures around the club. Hopefully this Q and A provides a quick insight to the man coaching our club in our 100th year in 2022.

Cuzza : Welcome to Barwon Heads Football and Netball Club. What has been your first impressions from the many phone conversations and face to face meetings (when allowed) so far ?

Firstly Cuzza, thanks so much for having me. I feel very humbled, and fortunate to have been selected to Coach the BHFNC, even more special being in its 100th year in 2022. My first impressions? Hard not to be really impressed to be honest. The calbre of individuals that I’ve already spoken to or had interactions with, have all been so positive and genuine. All have spoken so highly of the club, the people within it, and the community that surrounds it. It certainly makes one feel welcomed and confident that the club has strong foundations in which to build something pretty special in coming years.

Cuzza : Tell us about your playing journey.

Again, really fortunate to play footy at some great clubs over my journey. I am a Xavier College boy, so my first year out of school I played for Old Xaverians in the VAFA. I managed to play in two premierships in 4 weeks that year! The Under 19’s first, before being plucked to play in the Senior A Grade Prelim final the week after. That day went pretty well from memory, and I found myself playing in the GF the next week, where we won by a kick! So, two flags in a month and 6 weeks later, I got taken in the 1996 AFL Draft to Richmond. I managed just the 1 senior game at the Tigers in my two years, but played in the AFL Reserves Premiership on the G in front of 98,000 fans in 1997! I followed my brief AFL journey with a stint in the VFL for Sprigvale in 1999 where again, I was blessed to play in another Premiership. I then took off to Adelaide and played a couple of years in the SANFL for West Adelaide, and whilst I loved it and the footy over there was fantastic, I did eventually wake up to the fact that I needed to get a job and back to the real world! So, I moved back to Melbourne and played out the rest of my days at Noble Park FC in the Premier Division of Eastern FL. We played in 4 GF’s in my time there, won a couple more premierships, I captained the club – which was a huge honour, and then I ‘retired’ in 2008. I had one last crack as a playing assistant coach in the GFL for Lara in 2009-11, which was great fun and a wonderful few years, although rupturing my achilles in a pre-season game in 09 had me thinking twice about why I came out of retirement!

Cuzza : Your first Senior Coaching Appointment was with Balwyn Football Club in the very strong Premier Division of the Eastern Football League. How was that 5 year period and perhaps outline the initial challenges you faced ?

Well history would suggest that the 5 years in charge at Balwyn were pretty amazing Cuzza. We played in 5 straight Grand Finals, for 4 Premierships, twice going back to back in 2012/13 & 2015/16. From the outside, it may have even looked ‘easy’.  But for those at the club throughout that period, and those closest to it, know and understand otherwise. Nothing great comes easy, and that 5 year journey was anything but. Extraordinary, yes. Easy, no. Without going into too much detail (as I could be here all day!), the initial challenges of coaching Balwyn were immediate, as the club itself was mourning the devastating loss of one of their young footballers, Shaun Bergin. Shaun was struck down in a football incident in Balwyns final game of 2011, the Elimination Final. Shaun went down halfway through the last quarter, and heartbreakingly so, would never wake up. The impact on the club, its supporters and families, and of course the players, left a heavy burden on many. As one could imagine, off the back of such an incident, the club turned over a number of players for a variety of reasons just as I had walked in the door to take over from then coach Daniel Harford. In 2011, the club had played 37 players in their Senior side. I was left with just 13 of them for 2012 to try and rebuild a club around. So that’s how that 5 year journey started, and as they say in the movies (and as I mentioned at the beginning), the rest, really is history.

Cuzza : What is your knowledge of the Bellarine Football League and the fierce rivalry which exists between the 10 clubs ?

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert (yet!) on the competition, but having played in the GFL for three seasons, and having one of my best mates coach in the BFL (Torquay Coach Dom Gleeson), I am more than aware of its strength as a competition, the improving standard year on year, as well as some of the rivalries that exist. I’ve heard a fair bit about ‘The Battle of the Bridge’ and actually read recently that Ocean Grove FC saw the 2021 game as one of their biggest wins as a club in recent memory. So, I’ve already banked those comments for when the time is right and look forward to trying to get that mantle back in 2022!

Cuzza : What characteristics do you look for in your players and when supporters and sponsors watch your sides play, what do they recognise as key trademarks ?

I think first and foremost, I just like meeting genuine boys. We all have our differences, and I like to embrace that, but if you’ve got a good heart, you’re humble and positive, hard working and competitive, then you can go a long way in our game. I expect this side will have a genuine willingness to compete, be always in the contest, play hard, fast and an exciting brand of football. I’m hoping that our Team 1st and selfless ethos will come through for all to see as the year wears on.

Cuzza : What is your connection to Barwon Heads and how important is community in your thinking / teaching with our club now being strong in Netball, Women’s Football and Junior Football ?

I have a genuine passion for community and togetherness Cuzza. I firmly believe that ‘together’, you are so much stronger. I’d love the entire community to come along for this ride with us. Be involved in all of our teams, please come and introduce yourself, come into the rooms, listen to pre-match or post match talks, join the huddle at qtr time, anything. Bringing the community spirit across all of our sporting teams is of really high importance to me and I can’t wait to get stuck into that. Whilst being from Melbourne, my connection to the area stems back 30+ years. Summer and Easter holidays were mostly filled with trips to Barwon Heads and surrounds, and most of my childhood and early adult days are littered with the fondest of memories from down here. I have close friends who live in the area and have personally wanted to relocate for years, and am now in the process of doing just that! (Although that is proving a little difficult to do with properties being in such high demand!) I’m sure I’ll get there eventually and look forward to calling the place home.

Cuzza : Have you got a message for our members / sponsors / past players / supporters ?

It’s been a testing couple of years for so many. We all have a story to tell about 2020/21, but 2022 is the year we can rebuild and get back to our passions as we have always known them. I’d love as many supporters, members and sponsors to come on this journey with us next year and beyond. I love history, and will be leaning on past players of the club to return and stages to provide their stories when appropriate as the season builds also. The boys and girls that represent the BHFNC will put in the work, they will play in the right spirit, and you will all be proud of how they go about it. That’s all I can really ask of them.

Cuzza : Finally, the club’s favourite son Mitch Herbison will continue to be heavily involved in 2022 with yourself.

I couldn’t be more genuinely excited to have Mitch Herbison continue in a coaching capacity to be my Senior Playing Assistant Coach for next year and beyond. None come as highly credentialed and as well regarded as Mitch does. I am super pumped to be working with him and hope to lean on him for his experience with the current playing group, his knowledge of the competition and the game, and of course his prowess as an on field leader of our football club.