By sports editor Russell Bennett
The inaugural senior premiership coach of the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition has returned to the nest.
Ben Soumilas, one of the most widely-respected coaches ever featured in the Gazette’s Football liftout, is back at the helm of the Inverloch Kongwak senior side for 2020 onwards after stepping away for 2019 to allow the group to freshen up under a new leader.
Soumilas’ Sea Eagles stormed to a massive win in the 2017 WGFNC grand final over Cora Lynn, and his most recent game as coach of Inverloch Kongwak came against the same opponent almost 12 months later – this time a home elimination final loss to the Cobras by just seven points.
The inaugural WGFNC senior interleague coach, Tom McQualter, took the reins at the nest for 2019. The Inverloch local guided the Sea Eagles to fourth on the ladder before another elimination final loss – this time to Kooweerup in a season hampered by injuries to key players including the likes of Andy Soumilas, Ben’s younger brother and the first ever winner of the WGFNC senior best and fairest.
At the end of the 2019 campaign McQualter had to step away from the senior coaching role due to work commitments – given his position based out of the Cardinia Shire Council’s Officer headquarters.
Sea Eagles president Peter Butcher praised the work McQualter had done at the club, and told the Gazette just how excited he is to have Soumilas back at the helm.
“Tom did a really good job – it was just unfortunate that his job position changed,” he said.
“Just with the time constraints, travel and his new position he couldn’t do the job again for next year.
“He was just as disappointed as the club was.
“I thought it was really important – with such a young group coming through out of our thirds – to have someone to nurture them, and Ben is the right person to lead the club again.”
Soumilas has stepped into a coaching team that includes former Sea Eagles under-18 coach Shane Bertacco in the reserves role, former senior best and fairest winner Chris Terlich in the thirds coaching role, and Simon Mullin coaching the fourths.
Soumilas said, in all his years of coaching, he’d never been involved in a coaching panel that was so capable and so club-first.
Soumilas is in the unique situation of stepping into a role that he’s already completely familiar with – he knows his players, he knows the club, and he knows the competition and the challenges ahead.
He can’t wait to get stuck in once again.
“Working through the list now, everyone’s having a break, we’ve got some fresh ideas, and I really love the other appointed coaches,” he said.
“The four of us have met already and have spoken about whole club plans – essential IK standards that we’ll promote across all four grades.”
Soumilas even said Terlich and Bertacco will also step from their respective roles into the senior coaching panel on game days – allowing for an even smoother transition across the grades.
He told the Gazette that his reasons for stepping down at the end of 2018 had nothing to do with other commitments, feeling as though he’d lost the players, or that his time in the role was up.
“When I finished the reasons were more around how much I’d enjoyed being with that particular group of boys and we’d come on a long journey,” he said.
“I’d been there for six years and I felt at that time that the group deserved continued success and an opportunity to create what might be looked back on as a golden period in the club’s history.
“Perhaps they needed a fresh voice to help them achieve that.”
He said, under McQualter, he could see the group getting a kind of mental freshen up.
“When they picked Tom in the role, I was pumped,” Soumilas said.
“It was wonderful – I’d assisted him at interleague level, I’d coached him, and I’d even played against him so I knew what we were getting.”
Soumilas stayed around the club in 2019 – in a game day role with the fourths – but respectfully kept his distance come reserves and senior game time in the afternoons.
In fact, he only saw six quarters of senior IK footy for the year.
But he couldn’t be more excited to step back into the role.
“My job now is to make sure when I come back people don’t feel stale,” he said.
“If we want to be strong again, we have to do some interesting stuff to get us there.
“But I think there’s still plenty of upside for us. We have to look at where we can find the advantage where everyone else is trying to gain one.
“All the tools are already in the shed – I’ve just got to make sure I sharpen them.
“I’m walking into this awesome workshop and I’ve just got to restore it all.
“I always think the best time at any club is when you’re on your way up, and I think we’ve got a team and a club that’s very, very capable of being near the top – and we’re not yet – so we get to experience that ride together.”
Soumilas has coached six senior sides to grand final berths for two premiership wins. Prior to his first stint at Inverloch – from 2013 until the end of 2018 – he’d held senior coaching roles at Garfield and Drouin, and has coached all three to multiple grand finals.