Damian Truslove spent the past three years honing the skills of the GWS Giants' talented playing group.
After three years as development coach with the Giants, Truslove wanted to take up a senior coaching role and that led him to central Victoria and the vacant La Trobe University Bendigo Pioneers' position.
Determined, committed, with a passion for developing young people, at first glance Truslove has all the makings of a successful NAB League coach.
In his first week in charge of the Pioneers, Truslove sat down with the Addy to talk about his football career, coaching philosophy and the AFL future of Bendigo boy Jye Caldwell.
The last time Truslove stood on the QEO he had BFNL greats Jamie Bond to his right and Matt Aston in front of him.
He was wearing a black and white Maryborough jumper and was a rebounding half-back flanker for the Magpies.
The best part of two decades later, Truslove returns to the QEO as the new head coach of the Pioneers.
Ironically, one of the players under Truslove's leadership in the Pioneers' squad is Lachlan Bond - Jamie's nephew.
"I remember (Kyneton and Gisborne goalkicking great) Steven Reaper used to walk past me every time we played them and he'd tell me that he was going to kill me,'' Truslove said.
"Bondy used to look after me when he played centre half-back. He made you stand a bit taller.
"It was the back end of my playing career, but I really enjoyed my two years at Maryborough. The club was terrific and I met some wonderful people.
"I was there after they won their flags, but there was still some great players at the club.
"Bondy, Matt Aston, Rick Andrews and Brendon Tranter were still running around then.
"Steve Thomson was the coach and I still keep in touch with him."
After getting a taste of coaching through an assistant coaching role with Bulleen late in his playing career, Truslove had coaching stints with Point Cook under-18s, West Brunswick seniors and development roles in the VFL with Carlton and Richmond.
That led to his stint with the Giants where he worked under senior coach Leon Cameron.
"I was in charge of skill development and worked with the entire list,'' he said.
"Particularly in the pre-season there was a huge focus on skill development and I got the chance to build some strong relationships with the players.
"Working at that level of sport you get the opportunity to deal with people who have fantastic knowledge in strength and conditioning, management and coaching.
"You're always learning and you're always being challenged to be better.
"I coached in the Giants NEAFL side with Adam Schneider where the main focus was looking after the first to fourth year boys.
"I did some work with the midfielders alongside Lenny Hayes. On AFL game day I would be there as a support and an assistant to Lenny.
"Through the week it would come back to a strong focus on the individual development of skills."
Truslove was former Golden Square and Bendigo Pioneers' midfielder Jye Caldwell's duty of care coach in his first season with the GWS Giants.
Selected by the Giants with pick 11 of the 2018 AFL National Draft, Caldwell made his debut against Hawthorn in round 21 and played against the Bulldogs in round 22 before being left out of the senior side for the finals.
Truslove said Caldwell made a big impression on the coaches and players in his first season with the Giants.
"We eased Jye into the system because of the challenges he had with his body,'' Truslove said.
"He didn't do a huge pre-season, but as the year wore on, and he got fitter, he just kept getting better and better.
"He's a huge talent, he's so clean with the ball and so tough. If he has a good pre-season I'm pretty confident he'll start in the senior side next year.
"The players love him because he's such a down-to-earth kid and he's so tough on the field.
"He's a pretty driven kid and he just wants to succeed. He has a lot of respect from all the coaches because he's so powerful and clean around the stoppages.
"Leon (Cameron) is keen to get him in the senior side because the club rates him highly."
The departure of Rick Coburn as coach of the Pioneers was good timing for Truslove.
He was keen to return to Victoria for family reasons and wanted to expand his coaching experience.
"I was really keen to coach a side and run my own program,'' Truslove said.
"The last five years I've been in a development team at AFL level and now I'm really keen to have a crack at coaching.
"I know the district and really like the area after going to school at Assumption College and playing some footy at Maryborough for a couple of years.
"After talking to Steve Sharp about the progress the Pioneers program has made there's potential for it to go even further, which is really exciting."
Truslove's time with the Giants had a heavy focus on skills.
He hopes the experience he gained with the Giants will help improve the skills of young footballers in the region.
"You hear a lot of coaches talk about strategies and tactics, but unless your fundamentals are good you've got no chance,'' Truslove said.
"A huge focus in our pre-season will be individual skill development and line skill development.
"Training will be engaging, fun and enjoyable with a big focus on skills.
"We'll do some strategy work post-Christmas, but we have to get the fundamentals right first.
"It's really hard to change kicking technique when players get to 17 or 18. What I try to do is put players into situations at training that are similar to what they'll experience in games and repeat that.
"That way they can still be efficient and play within their means.
"There were players at the Giants who would kick down the line and play it safe because that was their talent. Other players could take the game on more with their kicking.
"I don't like to change the natural technique of a player much. It's more about putting them in situations where they're efficient and predictable to their team-mates."
Truslove is not interested in weighing down players with too much information.
He wants the Pioneers to play an attractive brand of football.
"We'll play a free-flowing style of footy that's an exciting brand for people to come and watch,'' he said.
"I'll let the kids play. There'll be some parameters around where they're playing and what they have to get right and some basic structures, but I want them to know that they have the support of the coaches to take the game on and play with freedom.
"There'll be a defensive element to get the balance right, but there'll be opportunities for forwards, midfielders and backs to play with flare."
After spending most of this week meeting the Pioneers' representatives in Mildura and Swan Hill, Truslove will head to Echuca next week.
His first pre-season training session with the Pioneers will be at Epsom-Huntly Recreation Reserve on November 25.
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