New MetroStars head coach Danny Graystone during his time at South Adelaide. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms; Design: Will Cuckson.)

A hot and cold NPL SA Season 2022 ended in heartbreaking circumstances for MetroStars against the Adelaide Comets in the lottery of a penalty shootout.

Days after its season concluded, the club parted ways with long-serving head coach Rob Saraceno. His replacement, Danny Graystone, is no stranger to South Australian football, or the club itself.

After two seasons of coaching Cove FC in 2011 and 2012, Graystone took up a role as a specialist coach in Ivan Karlovic’s coaching team at MetroStars in 2013.

Metro finished top that season, and despite disappointingly bowing out a week before the Grand Final, the club left an impression on Graystone – one that led him to accept the top job almost a decade later.

“One of the main reasons I’m coming back to the club is because of the experience I had there,” Graystone told The Inner Sanctum.

“I found the culture was one that was very successful, but also it is a family driven atmosphere as well and it’s just a good place to be around.”

After his time at Metro, Graystone took over the South Adelaide top job, leading the Panthers to their first season of NPL football.

Graystone later left South Australia for an opportunity at Cairns FC before taking the well-trodden path from Queensland to Victoria for the abundance of opportunity in the latter state.

Danny Graystone speaking with his South Adelaide players in 2015. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms.)

Graystone’s move to Melbourne was a high-profile one, being entrusted by A-League club Melbourne Victory to overhaul its academy program as its Head Academy Coach, and later as its Academy Lead Coach.

His time at Victory coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

Despite being limited on what he could do because of the unprecedented effects of the pandemic, Graystone cherished his experience at Victory, being able to learn under Victory’s experienced coaches while doing his job in the club’s Academy.

“I went in under Rob Sherman and I started developing their academy program because when I went in it was quite fractured,” Graystone explained.

“I went in and re-wrote the syllabus for all of the juniors, all the way from the seven-year-olds in the pre-academy to the 18-year-olds and the performance phase which was a really exciting project to be involved in working alongside Rob.”

After his time at Victory came to an end, Graystone was a wanted man in Victoria. After receiving a call from MetroStars President Rob Rende, his decision became a lot easier.

“I have turned down meetings with a couple of the big NPL clubs in Victoria in regards to Technical Director roles, head coach roles, and another A-League club in regard to getting involved with their academy because Metro gave me a call,” Graystone stated.

“Once I met with the Chairman, Rob [Rende], spoke to Nik [Kuzman, Senior Football Manager] about the project that they have in place for the next couple of years, the ambition of where they want to take the club, and also having prior knowledge about the culture of the club and the people within it, it was something that really didn’t take me a long time to make a decision about.

An important point to note is that Graystone has been hired in a full-time capacity, a rarity at the NPL SA level. Along with his duties as senior coach, he is also going to serve as the Club’s Technical Director.

This means that he will have influence over both the Junior Coaching Development Program and the Youth Player Pathway Development Program, with the goal to make the senior and juniors programs at the club more aligned.

One thing that Graystone has noticed about MetroStars as a club is that despite its success at a youth level, the senior squad has a lack of players that have represented the club at the junior level for two years or more, a fact that he wants to change.

“To be doing our job properly the players need to be able to bridge that gap from high-standard NPL junior football to senior football a little bit easier than they probably are doing,” he explained.

“That is a big challenge and a big change of focus for coaches to start thinking about development first and foremost before winning the league and focusing on individual players and those we see as potential players to come through and represent the club at an NPL level.

“It’s a change of focus, but if you get that change right, the winning of the leagues comes along with it. You are also creating a real decent pathway that players will want to come from other clubs and be part of.”

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When it comes to his senior squad though, Graystone understands the quality it already possesses.

He is familiar with players like captain Anthony Solagna, who was at the Metro during his first stint at the club, but his goal is to find a balance between youth and experience.

“I know the experienced players at MetroStars are very professional in the way they go about their business, it is something that really attracted me to the club,” Graystone said.

“I think you really need that balance; the younger player can’t just learn from the coach, you also learn from these experienced players out on the pitch.

“It is very important that you have the right senior players in there that are leaders and willing to encourage, support, and develop these young players as well.

“There are experienced players I am really looking forward to working with, like Solagna, and Henderson, obviously, you have Fabian [Barbiero] there as well.

“I am really interested to see if we can squeeze a couple of more years out of him because he adds value to the side.”

Fabia Barbiero in his early days at the MetroStars, a time that briefly coincided with Danny Graystone’s first stint at the club. (Image: Adam Butler/80Kms.)

A club runs a lot deeper than its wins and losses ratio, and the MetroStars are a perfect example of that.

Despite being successful on the field, the club has achieved that by building strong pillars that are firmly rooted in its community, something that Graystone wants to continue.

“We have a responsibility to nurture these young players through to playing for the first team of our club and other clubs in the state,” he said.

“Most importantly, it is that every player that comes through MetroStars has a real positive experience, those that choose to stay in the game become lifelong supporters of the club.

“This is how clubs build their foundation, they make sure that everyone that comes in contact with them has a real positive experience.”

On the senior side of football, just like many clubs around the country, the MetroStars are positioning themselves to make a run at a potential National Second Division. Graystone understands that it is his responsibility to prepare the club for that eventuality.

“The gap between the A-League and the NPL is getting smaller,” he explained.

“The goal is to get back to the national stage (Australia Cup) where the club belongs. I think that way you set the foundation to make a push for this second division that will hopefully be happening in the next few years.

“It is about preparing the club to go into that National Second Division. And if they’re not initially accepted, to make sure that they’re in a position that if the next round came up they have everything in place to make an easier transition to the professional side of the game.”

Graystone becomes just the eighth MetroStars coach in 26 seasons. Even though that kind of stability is something a coach may appreciate, he is under no illusions about what the expectations are at the club.

“The fact that the club has that stability is obviously a really attractive aspect for a coach, but to be honest, I’m coming here to win titles with Metro, that’s first and foremost,” he said.

“They should be in finals, they should be on the national stage and that’s the priority from the outset, to get them back where they belong.”

Graystone will have a strong squad with a good mix of youth and experience at his disposal. His first task as coach will be to sell his project to his squad and retain the core before looking for potential additions.

When asked about what will he judge himself on a few years down the line, Graystone responded with, ‘have I left the club in a better place than when I came?’

That is the selfless mentality required for improving an organisation – now it is about selling those ideas to a club that has not experienced change for a while. If his charges buy in, the MetroStars may rapidly become a force to be reckoned with.

South Australian football is going from strength to strength every year and Graystone’s ambitious MetroStars will only add to the quality and intrigue of an NPL SA competition in need of fearless challengers.

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