By Alesha Capone
Craig Prior has celebrated coaching his 200th game with the Wyndhamvale Football Club.
He started coaching when his son Rhys was playing for the under-10s and the regular coach was injured.
Prior said that he and another player’s father stepped in to share the role for two weeks, which led to a far longer commitment on his behalf.
“I have never looked back since,” Prior said.
Since 2007, he has coached and co-coached several teams including the under-11s, under-14s, under-15s, under-18s and the division one Reserves.
He is currently coaching the senior women’s team, which his daughter Brooke is a member of.
Prior has also served in different roles on the club’s committee including president and vice president.
“What I have enjoyed most is to see the improvement of the kids,” Prior said.
He remembers a time, after the club made it into division one, when he was watching as the under-18s team ran onto the field for a final.
“Of the 24 kids on the side, I’d coached 22 at some point during their time at the club,” he said.
Prior said two particular games he has coached stand out in his memory – including once when a junior side, who had just gone up a division, managed to make the finals even though they did not have many players.
Prior said the second game was when he was the under-18s coach.
After his grandmother died, he travelled to Perth for her funeral and flew back within less than 24 hours.
Not long after Prior arrived back at Tullamarine airport, his team faced Werribee, who had beaten them four to five weeks earlier with a score of 96 points.
“I got off the plane and I was pretty emotional when we beat Werribee by a point,” Prior said.
Prior, who played state-level football in Western Australia as a young man, said he believed coaches never stopped learning.
“I think a good coach has to coach for their side, not themselves,” he said.
“A good coach teaches football and lets the winning take care of itself.”
Prior said he decided to coach the Wyndhamvale senior women’s side this year to “pay back” his daughter Brooke, after his other coaching commitments meant he missed a lot of her games in previous years.
Prior said the friendly atmosphere at the Wyndhamvale FC was one of the reasons players tended to stick around for a long time.
“Wyndham Vale is more of a family than a club,” he said
“My kids have grown up there.
“It’s a fantastic place to be, the people awesome.”
Prior said that as his 200th game approached, he “kept quiet”.
“I didn’t want too many to people to know – I’m not really one for accolades,” he said.
However, Brooke and the senior women’s team manager Nicole knew the game was approaching and arranged to present Prior with a plaque at the event.
Prior said his 200th game as a coach was played at Shorten Reserve right after the Newport-West Footscray game, which a player who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 participated in.
As a result, the senior women’s team and Prior all had to go into isolation for 14 days.
“I will certainly never forget it – we all had a bit of a laugh about it, my 200th game was meant to be a couple of weeks earlier, but we played this one game and then all went into hard lockdown,” he said.