As the newly-appointed coach of the Casey Demons, Sam Radford thrives on the improvement of his players.
He’s always loved the game – as a kid, and as a player, before he felt he was unable to continue being the player he once was.
“I have loved football for as long as I can remember,” he said.
“I started playing when I was a really young kid, five or six type of age, and been involved in footy the whole way through to now.
“Just local footy, school footy, then TAC Cup and through to VFL and local footy again before I got into coaching.”
Radford played in a number of premierships, and played eight years of VFL footy in total.
“I loved playing in the VFL against some really good players and, yeah, I loved my time at Sandringham as a player,” he said.
“I went and played with a few mates at Chelsea footy club after Sandy.
“I played one season as a playing coach in 2011 for Parkdale.”
After a year off in 2010, he came back for one year in 2011 and then continued his coaching from there.
“I was getting too old and couldn’t do the things I used to do – I would’ve loved to keep playing but it was time to move on and do some coaching,” Radford said.
He took over from Jade Rawlings as Casey head coach during the season, a process that happened quickly, but it was always a goal for him in the future.
“Probably down the track (I wanted to be a senior coach), it came quicker than I thought,” he said.
“I had three years at Casey as an assistant and I was happy learning and improving on things as I went along.
“I certainly was rapt to get the opportunity and I thought I was ready, but I was happy learning from Justin Plapp and then Jade Rawlings at the time but I appreciated the opportunity.
“Josh Mahoney from Melbourne just said ‘Look we are going to change things, Jade Rawlings is going to come up to the AFL, would you be interested in coaching Casey for the year?’
“I was certainly interested, it was busy being a full-time teacher as well but my family was really supportive of it.
“All the staff at Casey all stepped up a little bit too, took on more responsibility and it was a pretty smooth transition.
“We also have a pretty experienced Casey list that made it easier as well.”
Radford currently teaches at St Bede’s College in Mentone where he coached the football side to success during the 2019 season. While he feels teaching can link to coaching at times, getting away from the game is a part of his many passions.
“I definitely love to spend time with my family,” he said.
“I have three young boys that are certainly keeping me busy.
“Teaching is great to get me away from it, it is another one of my passions – I love my job.
“Like everybody else I like to do other sports, like cricket and exercise – (and) hanging with my mates, all of that sort of stuff.
“There are plenty of other things to take my mind of football when I need it.
“Trying to keep the students engaged is kind of like trying to keep the players engaged.
“Telling them often the same message but having to find different ways to keep it fresh and energising the group a bit – that helps.
“With school you get all types of students that all learn differently and I think footy clubs are like that too.”
The decision to become a senior coach at VFL level comes with a deep commitment and temperament, but the opportunity made the decision easy for Radford and his family.
“I loved being an assistant and then taking over, when that opportunity came, and they said ‘would you be interested?’ I certainly was,” he said.
“The big call going full-time, I have been a teacher for 18 years, I have a really good job at St Bede’s I am really happy with – but I just thought it too good of an opportunity to pass up, one I might not get again.
“So I just thought why not put everything into it and give it a crack to see how we go.
“My coaching has always been about improving and getting better. I love the VFL – it is the competition I played in – and when I finished I still had interest so that is my main focus, to help Casey.”
While aligned with an AFL club, Radford says improvement of every player is his priority as a coach and he’s excited for the upcoming season from the taste of the group’s commitment he got last season.
“Over the last few years we have had five or so go on and get drafted,” he said.
“But I think the number one goal is to get the players to improve.
“If that means improve them to get them on a list, then brilliant. If not, improve them and they become good VFL players – then brilliant – or if it’s simply just improvements and they become better at their local clubs.
“I think the commitment these players show at VFL is really big. What they want to get out of it is to become better players and as a coach I want to help them become better players, and I think that is our main aim at Casey.
“I was really proud the way we finished the season.
“We were playing the last second half of the season with 14 or 15 Casey boys getting games
“That shows the depth we have at the club.
“We play a tough brand of footy and I think we were hard to score against defensively in the back half of the season.
“I think we lacked a bit of polish at times but I was really proud of the players, they dug in and wanted to finish the year strongly.
“I take plenty out of the season because of the amount of Casey boys who got opportunities and took those opportunities.”
Radford is relishing in his opportunity at the helm and is currently working tirelessly to prepare his Casey list for the upcoming season.