Canberra coach Kade Klemke will reach a historic milestone this weekend, as he takes charge of a NEAFL side for the 100th time when the Demons’ clash with Sydney University this Saturday afternoon.
Klemke began his NEAFL coaching career with the Queanbeyan Tigers in 2012, where he coached (and played) in their Eastern Conference Grand Final victory over the Sydney Swans in his debut season.
He stayed in the NEAFL until Queanbeyan left the competition at the end of the 2014 season.
Despite the club exiting the NEAFL, Klemke remained coach of the Tigers in the AFL Canberra competition before returning to the NEAFL with the Canberra Demons in 2017, a decision Klemke says was “very hard.”
“It was very hard to leave Queanbeyan to come across to the Demons. The Tigers gave me my first opportunity to coach NEAFL, which was a such a risk as I was only 21,” he said.
“I had previously coached Culcairn in Hume league at 20-years-old and having a NEAFL club willing to take a punt on me is something that I will always be grateful for.”
“They have played a massive role in my coaching and I wouldn’t be where I am today had they not taken the chance and invested in me over the years.”
It’s been a rapid rise for the Demons’ NEAFL program since Klemke arrived, with Canberra securing a preliminary final berth for the very first time last season.
But it is the work off the field that has impressed him the most.
“My biggest highlight during my time at Canberra has been seeing what the guys are doing off the field and, in the community, also finals last year rates very highly.”
Throughout it all, Klemke has maintained his reputation of being firm but fair with his playing group with a renowned emphasis on hard-work, respect and honesty.
“I always like to be known as fair and I always like to be known as honest,” he said.
“I think I have brought that holistic approach to the club since I arrived. Canberra was still finding their feet as a new team within the NEAFL when I was first appointed.
“It has taken a lot of work by everyone at the club to get us to be in a position where we’re competitive and respected.
“I think I have helped the club to find our identity and purpose. For me, I care about more than just winning and I think that flows through.
“We are far from perfect, but we truly care for each other and want to help our mates to be the best they can be on and off the field.”
Demons’ captain Aaron Bruce said the reputation of Klemke had only been enhanced since he joined the Canberra program.
“My knowledge of Kade prior to him joining the Canberra Demons as head coach was in all honesty very minimal,” he said.
“It was based around rumour and second or third hand information and therefore fairly unreliable.
“Having played against both Kade and his coached team in Queanbeyan for a number of years prior you could tell that not only did both his players execute a disciplined game plan but looked like they had a lot of fun and enjoyment together.
“Kade is a great player in his own right and has always been a fierce competitor to play against.”
Bruce also paid tribute to Klemke’s profound impact on the club both on and off the field since his arrival.
“Kade’s impact off the field has probably been quite underrated since he arrived as the professionalism he brings to his coaching methodology and the way he organises and structures his footy program is elite for a state league level club,” he said.
“His on field impact is far easier to quantify as our program has developed a lot in the last three years culminating with our progression through to a preliminary final in season 2018.”
Canberra will be out to give Klemke a fitting result for his milestone game, but the coach
himself is wary of the task the Students’ present this Saturday afternoon.
“Sydney Uni are always a tough team to play and it looks like they will be strong again this year,” he said.
“I think we need to bring the same intensity and pressure like we did on the weekend. If we can do that it’s going to be a close game.
“The NEAFL is a tough competition and there are no easy games. We could quite easily go 1-and-5 going into the bye so every game is important especially this weekend.”
Klemke will become only the second coach to reach the 100 games milestone behind AFLQ Hall of Famer John Blair, who coached 145 NEAFL games.
He is also currently on 88 NEAFL games played, meaning he’ll have another milestone to celebrate later this season.
Kade Klemke Career Coaching Highlights:
NEAFL Premiership Coach 2012 and Minor Premiers (Eastern Conference)
NEAFL Coach of the Year 2012 Queanbeyan Tigers Head Coach NEAFL (2012-2014) Queanbeyan Tigers Premiership Coach AFL Canberra 2015 Canberra Demons Head Coach NEAFL (2017-Present) Youngest ever NEAFL Head Coach (21-years-old, 2012)