DANNY O’Keefe knows the value of preserving grassroots relationships.
The Warrnambool export is on the fringe of snapping a 17-year premiership drought as coach of TAC Cup powerhouse Geelong Falcons, but his links to home remain air-tight.
Although swamped with a hectic schedule, O’Keefe has kept a close eye on the Blues’ Hampden league fortunes in his first season as a TAC Cup mentor.
“My little brother, Wil Woolstencroft, still plays for them in a junior competition,” O’Keefe said.
“I follow his footy and I keep up with the seniors and how they’re going. Josh Walters and I also linked up a few times this year for the junior pathways program at Warrnambool.”
“Warrnambool will always be close to my heart. I had a wonderful time there and we’ll always be linked.”
O’Keefe stepped into coaching after a persistent back injury forced retirement while playing at Geelong Football League outfit Newtown and Chilwell.
As the Falcons’ youngest-ever mentor, he said the club shared emotions of nervousness and excitement leading into the TAC Cup decider at Etihad Stadium.
“There a lot of emotions running through both myself and the club – we’re anxious, nervous and really excited,” O’Keefe said.
“(Making the grand final) is purely a reward for effort, for the players, coaches and staff.
“Some of the staff at the club just have a smile on their faces. That excitement gives you joy. It’s great to see some of the old buggers who haven’t smiled all year show their teeth.”
The Falcons stormed into their first TAC Cup grand final since 2000 with a 13.14 (92) to 7.11 (53) preliminary final win against Dandenong at Simonds Stadium last weekend.
O’Keefe said the triumph was a mark of the culture the Falcons were building.
“We’ve had a wonderful season. We lost three games in the middle of the year when we had 10 of our best players out due to the Futures Rounds, but it’s been fantastic.
“A winning culture is integral for the development of players. We set a common goal at the start of the season, to go deep into finals.
“We find the more team success there is, the more individual success derives from that. That’s automatic, without thinking.”
Warrnambool Football Netball Club chairman Simon Perry described O’Keefe as a “fantastic support” to the club’s junior players and coaching staff though his ambassadorial role.
“Danny will be coming home in the off-season and offering his time to set up our coaching programs for the junior pathways program, he said.
The TAC Cup grand final will take place on 7.30pm on Sunday.