After revolutionising The University of Adelaide’s (UA) program this year, Kinross Wolaroi School graduate and former CSU Bathurst Mitchell Man James O’Keefe has been rewarded with his first national coaching appointment.
After relocating to the city of churches in April O’Keefe coached UA to fifth in the AON National University Sevens Series (AON Uni 7s), despite the fact his squad was almost entirely made up of rookies.
He did have Australian Olympic gold medallists Vani Pelite and Emma Tonegato, along with Wallaroo Mahalia Murphy, at his disposal but even so, 80 per cent of the UA squad was brand new to the sport in 2017.
Alice Gregory was one of those rookies. After playigng her first game in May she developed so much under O’Keefe’s tutelage that she was pulled into Australia’s side to play New Zealand in Bendigo last month.
Eva Karpani’s also become hot property worldwide after the UA’s campaign, and will head to Dubai to ply her trade in the coming weeks.
O’Keefe’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed and as a result, he’s been named assistant coach of Australia’s youth girls’ side to contest the World Schools Sevens in New Zealand next month.
“It’s my first national coaching opportunity so I am a little daunted by it, but it’s always been an aspiration of mine to be a part of an Australian representative program, so it’s exciting,” O’Keefe said.
“I’m looking forward to working with with a group of athletes and coaches with a high level of skill and knowledge, that can only benefit me and the Adelaide program in 2018.
“International exposure is the next step in my development as a coach, so I’ll be trying to take in as much as possible.”
O’Keefe will act as assistant to Queensland’s Lachlan Parkinson, and while the side hasn’t been finalised yet the former Kinross and CSU No.8 said he’s confident the Australians will be a title contender.
They should be, considering a number of the side is expected to be backing up from their gold medal win in July’s Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas.
It’s always been an aspiration to be a part of an Australian representative program.James O'Keefe
Thanks to this year’s inaugural AON Uni 7s there’s a fair chance Australia will actually field a stronger side than the one that claimed gold, O’Keefe explaining the nation’s talent pool and depth have exploded as a result of it.
“It’s a great initiative, it provides a higher quality of competition more regularly for up-and-comers and contracted players alike,” he said.
“It’s helped increase the quality of the sport nation-wide, and helped unearth the next generation of Australian players, along with coaches and support staff too.”
The 27-year-old labelled his appointment “a great reward” after his work with UOA, a program he’s hoping to develop even further next year.
“Looking at this year, we had the largest percentage of new rugby players by a long way and that’s a win in itself,” O’Keefe said.
“We had players from all sports – touch, Aussie Rules, ultimate frisbee and even lacrosse – and trial, we had more than 250 do so. That’s more than double the numbers in the local competition and 95 per cent of them were new to rugby.
“It is a great reward, but we’re certainly not done at Adelaide yet. I’ll bring everything I learn back and we’re looking forward to 2018, we’ll implement a much stronger recruitment strategy and overall program which hopefully allow us to push even further.”