IMPERIAL Football Netball Club will have a new custodian at the helm next season in former Melbourne Next Generation Academy coach Mark Wheatley.

Wheatley (PICTURED) was appointed and welcomed to the club as coach of the senior side recently and will soon make Mildura his home in anticipation of his new role.

He will also be in charge of the junior football development program.

Wheatley will bring to the club a wealth of coaching experience and knowledge, including being the Chisholm Sports Academy head coach and Developer of the Chisholm AFL Program in 2019 – 2020, the head coach of Melbourne Next Generation Academy in 2019 – 2020, assistant coach of the Casey Demons at VFL level from 2017 to 2020 and development coach at the Casey Demons from 2016 – 2017.

Born and bred in Victoria, Wheatley said he was a talented junior footballer and has played before at an elite level – pulling on the Eastern Ranges jumper in the then TAC Cup (now NAB League).

After not being drafted to the AFL, Wheatley said he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder and travelled around Australia for the next 10 to 15 years playing football.

He’d turn up in a town, rock up at the football club or local pub, suss out their football situation and become part of the team.

“A jack of all trades, master of none,” as Wheatley describes himself, he said he lacked the knowledge, passion and understanding for the first 25 years of his working life as to what he wanted to do.

“I struggled to find where I fitted in in the big wide world,” Wheatley said.

And then he found coaching football.

It started at a junior level and ignited a passion, or as he describes: a passion in his belly he didn’t know he had.

From there it transitioned through the ranks until he ended up coaching in the VFL.

“It was then I decided I had found what I was put on this earth to do, and that is to coach, mentor and teach people, to connect and help people,” Wheatley said.

“The dream was one day I would hopefully get a job in the AFL and it was tracking nicely that way.

“I was head coach at the Next Generation Academy for the Melbourne Football Club, I was senior assistant coach at VFL level where I was privy to a lot of meetings and training sessions at Melbourne, which I am really grateful for.”

And then COVID came along and derailed his dream.

Stood down from his role, Wheatley couldn’t walk away from what he was good at, and what he wanted to do.

Big on being self sufficient and sustainable living, Mildura popped up on Wheatley’s radar and he contacted several Sunraysia Football Netball League clubs, with a plan to move to the region.

It was Imperial Football Netball Club president Chris Sharman, he said, that was keen to talk.

As they say, the rest is history, and Wheatley, who met with the club recently, is very excited to be joining the green and white.

He said he likes the community vibe and culture of the club and looks forward to bringing a new perspective to the group.

A man who enjoys spending time with family and trying to stay off the radar, Wheatley said he will look to build a strong culture at the club around care, love and respect.

Wheatley said he has relevant experience to how the game is played these days, but admits he isn’t going to come to club as “beholder of all information”.

“What I will say I will do is I will connect, and part of my philosophy is to care and love for one another, and that’s not lovey dovey, but it’s the element of respect, you don’t have to like each individual involved with the club, but love what each individual brings to the club,” he said.

“That philosophy – to care and love one another – is the foundation for basically everything. It’s how I try and live my life.

“There is a strong culture there already at Imperials, and my job as custodian, is to continue to foster, nurture and strengthen that sort of environment and feelings.”

With this one of his major focuses, Wheatley said this will be combined with football skills, although that is just a by-product of it, losing or winning is a by-product of the feeling you create.

Wheatley also noted the importance of the fundamentals – being able to have awareness around you or being able to efficiently and safely pick up ground balls, he said were two examples.

“That is what AFL training is – it’s fundamentals, upon fundamentals, upon fundamentals, and yes, there is a game plan, but if you can’t execute those fundamentals at a high percentage, then you are just going to be chasing your tail around all day because the opposition have the ball,” he said.

“I’ll bring some updated drills and scenarios, and maybe some different terminology as to what the boys are used to.

“All football teams are trying to do the same thing – get the ball and kick it through the goals – but it’s about how you implement that at training and how you break it down into bite sized chunks so players can learn from and understand.”

By ZOEY ANDREWS