By Russell Bennett
WARRAGUL’s stunning transformation from Gippsland League cellar-dwellers to finalists has been in no small part due to the work of senior coach, and former Narre Warren great, Steven Kidd, and he was recognised recently at the AFL Gippsland Coaches and Community Awards.
Kidd was named Senior Coach of the Year and was also judged by the coaches association as Coach of the Year for the Gippsland League.
The Gulls finished last on the ladder in 2015 with just two wins from their 18 games but this year made the top four with a 9-9 record before going down by two goals to local rival Drouin in the elimination final.
“When I got there I probably didn’t quite understand how far back Warragul was,” Kidd explained with trademark honesty.
“We were coming from a long way back and there wasn’t a lot of genuine excitement around the place.
“It was tough to unite the club but the players really dug in and there was a lot of support from the parents.
“We played a lot of Under 18s in year one.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Kidd, who turns 40 in January and has played over 300 senior games – the bulk of those at Narre, said it was clear to him that he had to be a player-coach to start off his tenure at the Gulls.
But he retired from playing with two games to go this year. He knew it was time for the youngsters to step up.
He paid tribute to one of Warragul’s guns, Nate Paredes, adding: “He’s just so hard at the ball, and he’s still only 21. He’s a real role model for the players to look up to.”
But he didn’t stop there – heaping praise on another player particularly familiar to South East Football Netball League (SEFNL) fans, Brad Scalzo.
The relentless on-baller took home the Trood Award and Rodda Medal as the Gippsland League’s best and fairest player this season, and Kidd said it was just reward.
“It was hard for him to go through those heavy defeats (at the start), but he’s the best trainer and listener at the club and his second efforts are just incredible,” Kidd said.
The Gulls coach also praised skipper Chris Carey’s work in the ruck, and forwards Brayden Fowler and Matt Rennie – while also adding that the likes of Nick Stevenson, Jake Hughes and Tom Axford had really stepped up to the plate and stuck at it.
Kidd, who at Warragul is in his first senior coaching role, said the future looks particularly bright for the Gulls.
“We haven’t lost many players and we don’t want to add too many either,” he said. “We want to continue to give the kids a chance to develop.
“When I got there, there was nothing holding back the group to create their own culture.
“That was the major thing at Narre – the guys sticking together through those hard times, and then the young kids who were in the Stingrays coming through to learn from the senior players.
“That’s what I’m focussing on here.”
Kidd said boosting the professionalism at the club would continue to be a focus moving forward, adding the focus would be year-by-year.
“We’re taking baby steps, but we’re making real headway,” he said.
“I’ve absolutely loved my time at Warragul so far, and the (playing) group has been a massive part of that.
“They listen, they’re prepared to learn, and they’re really respectful.”
Kidd said the support he’d received from his family and friends had been fantastic, with his parents originally from Warragul.