Outgoing Mordialloc playing coach Sam Anstey has become the first coach from the Inner Southern Region to be crowned the Gerard Fitzgerald Senior Coach of the Year.
Anstey beat three other shortlisted candidates – Jarrod Edwards (Darley FNC), Darcy Lewis (Dennington FNC) and Beau Vernon (Leongatha FNC) – to take out the prestigious award at the AFL Victoria Community Football Awards gala dinner on Friday night.
The honour caps a stunning tenure for the 34-year-old, who led his side out of the doldrums and into a third straight Grand Final appearance this season.
A beaming Anstey said that although he is thrilled to end his career on such an accolade, it was certainly unexpected.
“Yeah, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s obviously not something you set your sights on, but getting recognition like that is pretty awesome,” he said.
“I went on Friday night not expecting too much to be honest so yeah, very, very happy.
“I never really strived for any sort of coaching recognition. You always spend your time trying to improve players.
“But absolutely, mate, it’s a great sort of record to finish on.”
Anstey’s men this year became just the second team in SFNL history and the first since Balwyn in 1997/98 to reach a Division 1 Grand Final after winning a Division 2 flag the previous year.
They reached the Big Dance from fifth on the ladder and completed an incredible 81-point turnaround to defeat last year’s Division 1 premier East Brighton in the Preliminary Final in one of the all-time great finals performances.
Remarkably, they achieved this success with largely the same side as the previous year.
But despite all of his work in leading the club to success, Anstey said his charges deserve much of the credit for his award and in helping turn the club around.
“On reflection it’s probably a culmination of three or four pretty solid years of trying to get the club moving in a particular direction and having all the players sort of buying in and everyone else that sort of helps around the club,” he said.
“While I go along and win that award, it really reflects the playing group and how good they were and how much work they’ve put for me to get some recognition.
“So at the end of the day the players have been sensational over the last three years, and in particular this year… A lot of the credit has to go to them.”
Anstey has been instrumental in helping transform the club from basket case to powerhouse through solid recruiting and establishing a positive culture on and off field.
He took the reins at the Bloods three-quarters of the way through their disastrous 2012 season – a year in which they finished bottom in Division 1 with just one win to their credit.
The following year Anstey led the club to the Division 2 Grand Final, finishing runner-up to Bentleigh, before going one better in 2014 with victory over Skye.
Anstey announced at Mordialloc’s Presentation Night on October 9 that he was hanging up the boots and stepping away from coaching due to family commitments.