PAT Christofi isn’t shying away from what he hopes to achieve with East Keilor in 2019.
The new Cougars coach has become accustomed to premiership success and is aiming to replicate that at his new club.
Most recently, Christofi served as Marc Bullen’s senior assistant at Deer Park while also coaching the Lions’ reserves in the WRFL’s top flight.
If his plans for East Keilor come to fruition, then Christofi will be the premiership coach on the podium at Windy Hill after next year’s Essendon Ford Division 1 Grand Final.
Adem Saricaoglu caught up with Christofi ahead of what promises to be a very active November Transfers period down at ‘Cougarland’.
AS - How keen were you to land a senior gig given your recent successes at Deer Park?
PC - Well I was the next cab off the rank for the senior job at Deer Park but being a club that’s won six (premierships) in a row, I didn’t see much upside in taking that role in another year or so. I’ve always aimed to be nothing but a senior coach. That’s been my goal from the very first day I started, so I went out looking at a couple of different clubs. I had three or four options and I chose East Keilor because of their background with kids and they’re thereabouts and in the mix. I think I can make an immediate impact with that group and with what I’ll bring along.
So what is it exactly you’re hoping to bring to the table and how much work have you already put into what you’re planning to do, both in the short-term and long-term?
Well short-term I started working on it about five or six weeks ago, and my short-term goal is to get straight into Premier Division. Off the bat. No messing around. We want to come in and win the premiership in 2019 and go into Premier Division, because that’s where I want to be coaching. So I’ve gone out and established a really good set of recruits that’ll help me along with the guys that are there to get to our goals within the first 12 months of me being the senior coach of East Keilor. So it’s not a two or three year plan, it’s a 12-month plan and instant impact is what I’m trying to create.
The club’s been consistently vocal about its intent of being a Premier Division club. Did that make it an easy choice for you to join East Keilor given your intentions and the club’s intentions are in-line?
Yeah, that was the main goal. If they weren’t keen to be in Premier Division, then I wouldn’t have joined for 2019. It’s all about coaching at the highest level.
The club hasn’t pushed for finals since coming back up from Division 2 so clearly there needs to be a fairly big improvement to win the flag. How will you go about achieving that?
They were lacking six key players, for a start, across the board. Injuries struck them down in 2018 and 2017 so what I’ve done is gone out and recruited to fill each spot with two players, so we have a strong side ready to go at all times. That allows the reserves to be strengthened as well. So I’ve recruited well enough to be able to cover each spot twice.
How have you gone retaining the existing list?
We’ve retained 90 per cent.
How much of your experiences from Deer Park can you apply to this role?
One hundred per cent of it applies. What we’ve implemented over the years at Deer Park will be replicated at East Keilor, along with some of my own thoughts on how to go about it. It’ll be exactly the same setup and the same principles around how to achieve the ultimate goal. I’ve been in development with all of the younger blokes at Deer Park, so I know exactly what it takes to create a winning culture and that’s what we’re aiming to do here, create a winning culture.
We see a lot of clubs go big and win a flag, but not handle promotion very well and come straight back down. So how much of your planning goes into sustained success and making sure that if you do happen to go up, that you actually stay up?
At the end of the day, I've recruited to go up. So the players that I’ve been recruiting for 2019 will play in 2020, and that’s hopefully to play in Premier Division. So what I’ve done is gone out and recruited players that don’t belong in Division 1. They’re all Premier Division players, with a mindset of us being able to launch with an extra half dozen players to take us to where we need to be, and that’s the top end of Premier Division. You obviously don’t intend to go there and dominate straight away, but we’ll expect to be competitive and build from that.
Has it been a hard sell to these new players with the club currently being in Division 1?
Absolutely not because it creates a challenge and that’s what people play footy for, so I’ve found that message to be really easy to translate and I’ve had no troubles in doing so.
How much will you lean on someone like Ash Arrowsmith, who’s been around the place?
He’ll be a big part of what I’m trying to achieve, because he’s built the foundation of what I’m trying to achieve. He’s put things into motion and I’m just going along, touching it up and making sure we cross every T and dot every I.
When we watch East Keilor next year, what can we expect?
You’re going to see a hard-running, two-way contested side. All the players we’ve recruited are two-way, contested hard-ball magnets and there are a few comp medallists in that bunch as well, so we’re ready to launch.
And how long until we can learn some of the names?
When the November 1 window opens, I’ll lodge all the transfers, because I have signed everyone to this point. So you’ll start seeing some names then and they’re all high-quality names. We’ve come in for an instant impact and that's what I intend to do.