Sandy assistant coach making an impact on and off the field
It started off a standard Saturday morning for Trent Dennis-Lane, but by that evening he’d completed a full circle five years in the making.
Photos by AFL Photos
“I read my phone and rolled over and told my girlfriend “Oh god, I think I’m playing VFL today,” he said.
After more than 1500 days out of the VFL and the Sandringham Zebras, Dennis-Lane returned to the club he once captained to instead take a different role in the coaching ranks for season 2021.
“I bumped into Josh Vella at the start of 2020 at their pre-season, when Ben McGlynn was head coach, and I stayed around the club a bit because I’ve always loved the club, then at the start of last pre-season Batch enquired what I was doing… and here we are.
In charge of the midfield, the idea to perhaps play a game or two was a foreign one until the AFL’s injury substitute rule, which was rushed through on the eve of the season, forced a rejig of plans.
“We were having to carry over a VFL emergency every week and there were a few frustrations around people missing out on footy, so we decided to put myself as our designated VFL emergency,” Dennis-Lane said.
“The first go at doing it there were a heap of moving parts from a St Kilda point of view and I woke up to a text from Batch on Saturday morning that I was in, and it went from there.”
It was a tough day on the field on the field for Zebras in their match against Carlton’s reserves, but as the first match out of Victoria’s lockdown for the club, and the last one before going back in, it was more than a normal home and away game.
“It’s a little bit different now, I’m five years older, a little bit fatter and a little bit slower, but I backed my smarts and competitiveness. I had a reasonable first half, but it was a tough day to be a forward in the second half,” Dennis-Lane said.
“For my first VFL hit out I was happy with my first half, and collectively we’ve got a bit to work on in the second half.
“It was cool to play with a few blokes I’ve played with before that I haven’t played with before, Hanners (Dan Hannebery), Dunners (Sam Dunell) and a few more.”
Dennis-Lane finished with two goals from seven touches playing predominantly as a forward, and also left Trevor Barker with the confidence he can still play at the level required.
Describing himself as an “on field coach” during the game, he handled some of the messaging and positioning in key moments while regular forwards coach Jimmy House addressed the strategy and took over in the breaks.
While it was a different role for the club’s new coach, he still knew how to bring his coaching knowledge and philosophies into the fold on the field.
“Footy is 80% above the shoulders these days, and I’m acutely aware of the effect of one’s psychology has on performance and I’m not afraid to try an attack that to try help us win games of footy,” Dennis-lane said.
“I love the psychology behind everything, I’m pretty ruthless in the sense that I like no beat teams not just physically but play the psychological game as well.
“I really enjoy finding out what a team’s biggest weakness is, exploiting it, and letting them know about it, which can be a bit of fun.”
While he might not be running around on field every week, Dennis-Lane is incredibly grateful to be back to the club where he’s built so many great relationships, and one where he can now work with some of the best footballers in the country.
“It’s always had great people (at Sandringham), and I feel like my skillset complements the more invested athletes… If you can already have that invested athlete and then you can shape and mould them with the higher end stuff that I’ve been exposed too, which is what I enjoy doing a bit more.”
And if you’re around the club, keep an eye out for a certain ‘bromance’ that’s blossomed once more.
“It was exciting at the start of the year when they approached Dunners to come play. He was one of my closer mates and we picked up where we left off because life gets in the way sometimes when you’re not spending 24/7 together at the club,” he said.
With Melbourne’s lockdown extended for an extra week, the Zebras will be hopeful of returning to the field a week later than planned.
Written by Seb Mottram - Sandringham Football Club Media