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By Luke Holmesby

After 16 seasons, and 315 games Bentleigh coach Paul Dimattina has seen it all. But the retiring Demons coach still laughs when recalling a day early in his coaching career.“I was trying to implement professionalism around the place,” said Dimattina as he watched the reserves do battle against Old Geelong “So I banned smoking in the club rooms, much to the disgust of full-forward John Delaney. I was preparing for my first game as coach when we realised that it was 15 minutes till game time and no one had seen JD. We searched everywhere but to no avail before someone went to the toilet and found smoke coming out the bottom of the locked door. I knew then I was fighting a losing battle.”

Apart from trying to break the habits of club greats, Dimattina says he would not change a thing if he had his time again. “If you harbour regrets and can’t let go of the past, then you can’t go forward in the future.”

One small regret Dimattina may have is that he is unable to coach Bentleigh’s last game of the season against West Brunswick due to business commitments – assistant Steve Grace will step in. According to Dimattina this is no guarantee that Grace will have the job on a permanent basis next year. “Gracey has got great coaching ability but there’s been no decision yet. I’ve given the club enough notice so they can form a sub-committee and advertise the position for 2004.” Regardless of who is appointed, Dimattina is certain that his successor is in for an exciting time at Arthur Street.

“We’ve got a strong list, but we do need to recruit some accomplished players.” Said the Bentleigh legend. “We’ve got a few Under 19s coming up next year as well as blokes coming back from long-term injuries so there’s going to be a bit of talent to work with.”

In his time at the club, the proud member of one of Melbourne’s most famous families has come across people from all walks of life. He’s seen a mix of local legends, his own relatives, honest toilers, and boys who just wanted a game so they could stay out of trouble on the street, but without a doubt one of Dimma’s all-time favourites is current reserves skipper Paul Hutchison.

“He just gives his heart and soul, Hutchy’s always the leader at training and people at the club really do look up to him – he’ll always give 100%.” Within five minutes of this glowing statement, Hutchison comes from the field in the reserves game nursing his chin. Blood is pouring out of his mouth and he is wincing in pain but no doubt ready to resume battle as soon as possible. Dimma checks on his war-horse and comes back smiling. “He’s a tough bastard, it’ll take more than that to keep him down.”

Dimattina doesn’t fail to mention the many talented names he’s had on the white board over the years. Household names within suburban football such as Chris Sharp, David Martin and Con Gorozidis have all showcased their skills under Dimattina. “It’s hard to say who was the best, ‘Shooter’ and ‘Gora’ kicked hundreds of goals but you can’t go past the ‘Freak’ (Martin). The bloke’s won six league best and fairests, seven at club level, you’ve got to be pretty special to do that.”

Though Dimattina seems well informed on his champion’s statistical feats, he was unsure exactly how many senior games he had coached. He calls over to John Delaney, now firmly entrenched behind the bar as opposed to the toilet for some brief arithmetic. A quick tally reveals 206 senior matches. “Is that a club record?” I ask the one-time immovable star. “Nah, mate.” Replies JD – cigarette in one hand, pointing to the club board with the other. “He’s still got a few in front of him.”

It’s unlikely any of those more experienced coaches have had as much effect on the club as ‘Dimma’.

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