Head Physiotherapist Robert De Nardis is approaching his 30th year at the Club in 2022, continuing a long-standing partnership between the Zebras and his Sandringham Sports Physio business.
De Nardis joined the Zebras during a successful phase in the Club’s history, as they established themselves as a VFA (later renamed the VFL in 1996) powerhouse under the guidance of legendary late coach, Trevor Barker.
A professional affiliation with Barker helped him secure a physio job at the Club in 1992, in a year Zebras fans remember fondly for delivering their fourth premiership.
“I used to be Trevor Barker’s physio when he managed a gym called the King Club in Sandringham, so when he retired from St Kilda and got the job at Sandringham he invited my (physio) partner and I to come down and do physio,” he said.
According to De Nardis, 1992 was “the start of a fantastic era” that delivered sustained success for the Club.
“Back then, football was played in a tougher era, but he brought some smarts to the game as well,” he said.
“Everyone had faith in Trevor, he brought big names to the Club, he brought in his own fitness crew and even though he was a young coach, he was a great communicator.”
The Zebras went on to win another flag in 1994, and De Nardis fondly remembers Barker’s inspirational speech which helped them overcome a 4-goal deficit to defeat Box Hill by 9 points for their second premiership in two years.
“I remember him calling the playing group in at three quarter time and saying: ‘No matter how much you run, or how much it hurts in the next 30 minutes, you’re gonna wake up tomorrow morning. Now it’s up to you, if you wanna wake up a winner or a loser. Then go out there, and wake up as winners’,” he said.
“And that’s exactly what they did, I think the first goal (of the quarter) was kicked by Anthony Allen after two or three bounces down the wing and the rest they say, is history.”
All told, De Nardis was involved in 7 premierships including the three-peat from 2004-06 under Mark ‘Wilbur’ Williams, who returned to the Zebras as an assistant in 2021 after a long hiatus.
He praised the culture of the Club at the time, with camaraderie and strong contributions across the whole playing group and administration.
“It was an amazing period, because everyone knew their role and if you just played your part, you knew it was going to end up with success,” he said.
One of De Nardis’ highlights of the past 30 years has been watching the Club develop strong, confident leaders of varying styles.
“To the intellect of Anthony Allen, and Chad Liddell and David Macgeorge who were some of the toughest blokes I’ve ever met, I’d like to think of those three as leaders you’ll never forget,” he said.
Away from the Zebras, De Nardis runs Sandringham Sports Physio, which provides physiotherapy services to both the Sandringham Zebras and the Southern Saints.
De Nardis describes Sandringham Sports Physio as a “one-stop shop” for physiotherapy and other allied health services such as ergonomics, dietitians, myotherapy and massage therapy.
He used to be the on-field physio for the Zebras seniors, but now delegates more and describes his current role as more of a “medical co-ordinator” who oversees the physiotherapists working more closely with the Sandringham players.
“I lend my expertise and experience to the physios and give them opportunities,” he said.
“They are all aspiring and building their careers and resumes just like the players that are aspiring to get picked up at the next level, so if I can offer them my experience, I think that enriches their experience at the Club.”
Many of De Nardis’ colleagues at Sandringham Sports Physio go on to play prominent match-day roles, such as Sports Dietitian, Georgia Walker, and Physio, Adam Gibbs, who were both regular faces around the Club in 2021.
He also praised the work of Sandringham’s sports trainers, who play a “pivotal role in support of the players and player welfare,” he said.
“It’s also a fantastic opportunity for people such as physio students, those in health science and exercise physiology to get a taste and a feel of working for a semi-professional club.”
Above all, De Nardis has pride in the achievements of the physios under his guidance and the players he’s helped keep fit over the years.
“I’m proud of the fact many players have come through the Sandringham Football Club and gone on to reach the highest level,” he said.
“We’ve just had our third physio now who’s left Sandringham and got a job in professional sports, so for me that’s a credit to the whole program.”
Written by Jack Bennett - Sandringham Football Club Media