Loving Lovett, Brett that is
Brett Lovett is a much-loved man at Frankston. In his six years as coach of the Dolphins he has taken the club to the finals on three occasions. To do so with a standalone club, the majority of whose players are recruited from the locality, is a remarkable feat. It’s enough for the godfather at Frankston, Bryan Mace, to say he’s ‘pretty sad that Brett is giving it away’.
The Dolphins longest serving coach, Lovett wants to spend more time with his family. If the elimination final at Port Melbourne on Saturday goes to script, no one will be left wondering why the coach is so admired at Frankston. There’s just no denying the presence this former 243-game Demon commands in the Frankston huddle. For while Bryan Mace describes his as someone who doesn’t let passion interfere with a simple plan rooted in commitment to the team, Lovett can be fierce. I remember a game at Port this year where his frustration was such that his opening words brought a stony silence over the huddle. The emotion and anger dispensed with the plan was restated with characteristic purpose and clarity. Lovett is very good coach, and like the footballer he was, demands commitment.
It’s no surprise the coach has, what Mace describes as a ‘great relationship’ with the flamboyant Justin Berry. Under Lovett, the once volatile Berry is now not only a true match winner but a consummate team man. For although the Dolphins know they cannot afford to break from the team plan if they are to beat aligned teams, there’s room for individuality in the coach’s plan. So impressed is Mace - who began playing with the Dolphins as a 14-year-old and was coach of the club’s only premiership side, in Second Division in 1978 – he says he’ll be surpised if Melbourne doesn’t seek out Lovett’s services.
‘He did footy the hard way and it was the same with coaching. I ran my office and he ran his, and he did it with local boys,’ says Mace. It’s been a tough year at Frankston. The loss of the grandstand in a fire cost the club up to 250 people a week through the turnstiles and plenty in revenue, says Mace. And the much-vaunted relocation of St Kilda to the ground has been jettisoned, with the Saints deciding to set up camp at Belvedere Park in Seaford. In the face of these disappointments and stiff opposition on the field the Dolphins have won 10 games and shown that they’ll give a fright in the finals.
If the 72-year-old Mace has his way the Dolphins will continue to exist as a non-aligned club. For those who thought the success of Port Melbourne might have given life to the Frankston mission the godfather has a simple answer. ‘Port has the money to recruit AFL players. We’ve been there and done that but now we are focused solely on local boys. I wish Port well but we are going down a different path,’ he says.
Over the past few years I’ve come to love Frankston. There was a time when some in the VFA saw the club as a joke for wasting money on VFL/AFL players of dubious ability and commitment. Brett Lovett has changed all that. Nestled between the exhilarating brilliance of the goalkicker Justin Berry (48 goals) and the steady experience of midfielders Paul Kennedy and Marcus Marigliani is a host of young, inexperienced local boys. Among those youngsters is Michael Lourey (Mt Eliza), Russell Gabriel (Stingrays) Luke Clark (Crib Point), Trent Shinners (from the famous Dandenong Redlegs family of the 1970s), James Magner (Beaconsfield), and Brett Dore, who drives more than an hour to training from Pakenham, three times a week.
‘Our boys play with confidence because they know that if they play to the team plan they’ll continue to get a game. It’s not always like that in aligned clubs. And the great thing is that Brett Lovett accepts that these young boys need chances while they’re in the learning curve,’ says Mace. It’s only fitting that in this the 150th year of Australian football in Victoria Frankston will offer one last finals hurrah for a man who’s done so much to give the club status and identity. And it seems only fitting that this Saturday the Dolphins will take on a genuine rival, in a TV game. In my time at Coburg, games against Frankston were as fierce as any we played against the old enemies Port and Williamstown. Will my old club bring Lovett’s career at Frankston to an end? We’ll leave him with the last words. ‘We’ll go into the game with the belief that twenty-two caring Frankston players can win a game against a side full of AFL players. That’s been my belief for the last six years and it will be the same on Saturday.’ We can’t wait!