WARRNAMBOOL is celebrating a major coup after landing a former VFL coach to lead it in 2023.
Dan O'Keefe, who took Carlton to the finals this year, will return to his home club on a long-term deal.
The former Sydney footballer was drafted to the AFL from the Blues in 2006 and has gone on to establish himself as an astute and highly-rated coach in the second-tier system.
He also led Geelong Falcons to a NAB League premiership in 2017.
O'Keefe, whose wife Cate also hails from Warrnambool, told The Standard he was excited to give back to the club which launched his career.
"I love Warrnambool and always have. I have been an ambassador at the club for a number of years and have always tried to help out young coaches and even the senior coaches in the past with experiences at Carlton and the Geelong Falcons when I was there," he said.
"I had a number of (Warrnambool) groups come up and connect with the footy clubs I have been coaching at, so I have always been well-entrenched at the footy club and a lot of the people are still there now compared to when I was there as a junior."
The father-of-two - he has sons Mahli, 4, and Louie, four months - said the timing felt right to return to grassroots football. He said Carlton understood his decision.
O'Keefe, who left Warrnambool at 18 when he was drafted to to the Swans, has lived in Geelong since 2009.
"To be really open, I guess the demand of the role and the hours it requires to do it successfully just doesn't marry up with me being the father I want to be at this present time," O'Keefe said of VFL coaching.
"We had our second child Louie this year - he's four months old now - and I just wanted to be a lot more present this time around than I was with my other child.
"Mahli will no doubt reap the benefits as well from it. We just wanted to jump in the slow lane for a bit and when the opportunity popped up and the Warrnambool job was open, my grassroots and where I had so many memories (it made sense).
"It was always in the back of my mind that one day I'd love to coach that footy club but to be honest I didn't think it would come around this quickly with where my career was and where it was tracking."
The O'Keefes are calling their return home "an adventure" and are keeping an open-mind long-term.
"We want to give ourselves the best opportunity to live a life down there with all our extended family," he said.
O'Keefe is eager to work with the Blues' list which includes experience and youth and will take a whole-of-club approach to his role.
"I guess the unique skill-set I can bring is AFL experience," he said.
"All the drills I bring to the Warrnambool footy club are probably going to be straight from the AFL.
"The game plan, our method, we're going to use will be different. A really strong focus for me will be driving standards and high performance yes but also having a lot of fun while we do it.
"One of the big things I used to think and feel as a junior at Warrnambool was every time we went to training, you're supposed to feel proud to be part of the club.
"I want to make sure every player, community person and staff member feels that same emotion and feels proud to wear the navy blue."
Warrnambool stand-in football president Mark Dwyer said the club was elated to land a coach of O'Keefe's calibre with the football committee and club board endorsing the appointment.
"From our perspective, we're absolutely rapt as a club," he told The Standard.
"We think it's one of the biggest appointments probably going back to Grant Thomas (in the 1980s), that's how well-qualified this guy is.
"We put the job up, advertised the position for expressions of interest and I could've fallen over when Daniel made an enquiry to look to come back to Warrnambool."
Dwyer said O'Keefe would work at the club as an employee, combining it with his coaching role. He is confident he will make a positive mark on the Blues' players.
"You just see he's really polished in everything he does and for young footballers, who better to guide you as you come through the senior ranks," he said.
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