Start of two-year Torpedoes vision for Kelly

DAMIAN Kelly is obviously no stranger to the UWA Torpedoes but in his first season as men’s head coach he wanted the expertise of Andrei Kovalenko on his side to begin what he sees as a two-year journey for the group.

The turnover in players at the Torpedoes and the youth movement is remarkable since that 2016 gold medal winning team leaving Nick Hughes, Lach Pethick, Tom Rigoll and Tom Powell as the players with experience at the head of an increasingly young group.

Florian Naroska was one of those star veteran, big-bodied players in the championship winning team who has moved on. He retired from the pool in 2017 before replacing Kovalenko as coach last season, but when he stood down, the Torpedoes were on the lookout for a new coach.


They only needed to look within for someone who knew all the young players coming through, had worked closely with them all and helped them develop so it was a no-brainer for Kelly to be appointed for at least the next two seasons.

Kelly was open to the prospect of taking on the role given his long and close association with UWA City Beach water polo and the Torpedoes, but only if he had Kovalenko alongside him.

“Florian had some things on over the last 12 months with his life and wasn’t able to continue coaching so he and the club parted ways,” Kelly said.

“There was a bit of a vacuum but the club had spoken with me about the role and things were happening with Australian water polo with the vision of where the sport was going in the lead up to Tokyo.

“In the end, we lost seven of our top players to overseas and interstate, and accepted we’d have a really young squad. I’ve been involved in our junior program through to the bottom end of the national league so it made sense for me to take it on.

“But I only would do it if Kova came back on board so basically we got the band back together again even though in some ways the roles are reversed. I’m coaching the national league and he’s with the under-14s and we work together at 16s, but thus far it’s worked really well.”

With such a young group at the Torpedoes in 2019 with the likes of Harry Konowalous, Matt Oberman, Lewis Putt, Byron Kelly, Taz Williams, Matt Murphy and Sam Rowbottam among those showing good signs, Kelly has no doubt it helps that he knows them all so well.

Then with the leadership of Hughes, Powell, Rigoll and Pethick along with Canadian imports Gaelan Patterson and Devon Thumwood, he likes the group he has in 2019 at his disposal.

“It’s helped enormously that I’ve known a lot of them coming through but the role is somewhat different now. But we’ve empowered each other and we’ve had a lot of meetings about how we want to conduct the year and the team,” he said.

“We’re not going to judge ourselves just on win-loss, but on our incremental improvement as a group. We are on a two-year journey and the destination was not those games last week, it’s a two-year journey and we just want to have fun playing water polo.

“We all play for different reasons whether it’s the Canadians looking to qualify for the Olympics through to the journeyman who enjoy the game and want to be with their mates or the young guys who are ambitious and want to make national teams.

“Ultimately we have to bring it together and sing from the same hymn book about why we’re here, what we’re doing and that’s what pleased me the most on the six-day road trip.”

Kelly has long been coaching the UWA juniors so he’s no stranger to being in charge of a group. He’s also been working closely with the Torpedoes so knows the club and its players well.

There are some changes to coaching a senior team in the Australian Water Polo League, but ultimately there’s not a whole lot difference for Kelly.

“It’s still a 30m pool with a goal at each end and a ball with seven blokes who want to get it, that doesn’t change. It’s all pretty similar no matter the level but at this level the creativity in terms of your tactics goes up a notch,” Kelly said.

“That’s what we needed to work on because if you weighed us, we’d be a couple of hundred kilos lighter than everyone else. That meant we had to be creative with how we play so we don’t get monstered and we’ve tried to build our program around that.

“The way that’s gone has been pleasing so far and that’s been different to juniors when you usually always have a couple of big, dominant kids.”