Those who doubt the progress the Warragul Industrials are making on their quest for sustained success in the brutally competitive West Gippsland Football Netball Competition really need to think again.
Piece by piece, they’ve built a rock-solid foundation to launch from – and they’re not hanging their hopes on fleeting, short-term success.
They’re building the right way – for sustained success – under the watchful eye of one of the most respected coaches anywhere in community footy, Harmit Singh, and dual footy directors Nick Gooden and Dylan Smith.
Singh was unveiled back in late June in what was a spectacular pick-up for the Dusties. Gooden and Smith were the architects of the move.
Singh is no stranger to Gippsland footy circles – having coached Morwell to back-to-back Gippsland League flags in 2013 and 2014.
He then took on the challenge at Northcote Park and led the Cougars to the finals in both 2015 and 2016, before stepping up to lead Eastern Football League powerhouse, Vermont.
It was there that Singh, who has also previously served as the Gippsland League senior interleague coach, elevated his already stellar reputation to incredible new heights, guiding the Eagles to grand finals in each of his three years there – including back-to-back flags. Over his 60-game stint in charge at Vermont, he led the Eagles to 54 wins in one of the most competitive divisions anywhere in community footy.
Those who aren’t familiar with his background absolutely should be.
Having previously served as the community manager at one of the biggest clubs in Australia, Collingwood, he also had a stint as an assistant coach for the club’s AFLW side.
He then took on the role as academies manager at the Pies’ famous rival, Essendon, where he’s been for the past three-and-a-half years.
To cap it all off, he’s also an AFL Level 3 high performance coach.
The Gazette asked him about how he’s found the Dusties since signing on midway through the year – in a season abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s been challenging in the sense that I was new to the club, however, I was fortunate in meeting the majority of the list early on and in person, and getting some sessions in small groups done,” he said.
“Coaches have had to evolve, and using platforms such as Teams and Zoom made it easy to connect and build relationships with players.
“With me signing early on in the piece, we were able to get on to list management and our football operations team fortunately was able to retain almost the whole list, as well as adding some exciting talent to the club.”
Recently, the Dusties announced the signature of former MPNFL star and former Bulldogs VFL forward Anthony Bruhn, who has close to 350 goals to his name in the Mornington Peninsula competition.
Bruhn has three senior flags to his name at Frankston YCW, in addition to representing that league at interleague level.
“We’ve been incredibly lucky that the depth we’ve added since the end of the 2019 season has given us not only quality on-field playing talent, but also on and off-field leadership,” Gooden explained.
“Having recruited guys with links to the football club or local community has meant the boys have hit the ground running.
“We haven’t lost a single senior player from our 2019 list, and we think that shows the commitment the guys have to the club and they see the vision we are trying to build and are fully committed.
“We’ve added some midfield polish, firepower up forward, and some defensive leaders which we identified at the end of 2019 were crucial for us heading forward.”
Smith said the transformation at Western Park has been a dramatic one.
“We knew what we were getting into when we signed Singhy, but to see the immediate change and intensity lift amongst our playing group has been nothing short of inspirational, particularly with the challenges we have faced this year,” he said.
“Of course, we knew the players were capable of it – we just needed a few more troops – and with Singhy coming on-board, the platform is now there to have a real crack at the top four next year. I am so excited for 2021.
“The 2021 season is already shaping up to be exciting for the entire club – the netballers have started their tryouts for juniors and seniors, and have had a massive turnout so far.
“We recently put on a junior development camp with young kids, which was a huge success, and the female footballers have squeezed in an end-of-season trip to Darwin and upon return will possibly field two teams. So, all in all the club is in a great space and ready to jump into season 2021.”
Smith said Singh’s impact so far had been “nothing short of remarkable”.
“From the elite training sessions, to the one-on-one time he puts into every single player on our list, including the juniors, his attention to detail is simply is out of this world,” Smith said.
“You can see why he has had so much success in his coaching career. In the short time we’ve had him we already feel like we are capable of winning it all. The amount of belief our lads have in themselves already, alongside the elite AFL-style drills we’re running, makes Nick and I very happy football directors to say the least, and we can’t wait to show our Dusties diehard supporters what all the hype is about.”
But of course, in late July, the Dusties were rocked by the sudden, heartbreaking passing of their brightest star, Tyson Bale.
It sent shockwaves throughout the broader Gippsland community and truly put footy into perspective as his team mates, friends and family from far and wide came together to grieve.
“Tyson’s passing really shook the club and its foundations, and we are still feeling the effects of it today,” Smith explained.
“Tys was such a massive part of our club, and I don’t think we will ever get over it.”
But through the darkness has shone a light – one of hope, and of raising awareness for mental health issues, particularly in young men.
The broader Dusties family combined to staggeringly raise more than $4800 for men’s health causes through Movember.
The initiative was led by the Dusties players at first, with a great friend of Tyson’s – and many of the players – former Bunyip senior premiership player and current Sydney Swans star forward Tom Papley also throwing his weight behind it.
“As a football director I don’t like to shy away from talking about suicide or any issues facing our men and women, as a club we wanted to show Tys’s family and friends our support and raise awareness for an issue that is close to us and many others in the community,” Smith explained.
“Movember was the perfect opportunity to have a bit of fun and raise some money for a great cause.”
For those battling the challenges of this period of physical distancing and physical isolation, remember it need not be a time of social isolation. Reach out to your loved ones – your family and your mates. You will not be judged. You are loved, and you are valued.
Those seeking help should contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or by visiting www.lifeline.org.au; Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or www.kidshelpline.com.au; or MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78.