2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Danny Craven

Danny Craven watched it rain eight weeks in a row through the winter of 1992 in Melbourne and decided there had to be a better way. A pocket-sized rover from Chiltern via Wangaratta and St.Kilda, he tossed up the sunshine of Brisbane and Perth with wife Kim and decided Perth was too far away. Brisbane it was.

In November 1992, he moved to the Sunshine State with nothing but a verbal commitment from the Brisbane Bears to begin what has been a glorious 30-year association with Queensland football at every level from the AFL elite game to the  juniors.

“I rang (West Coast coach) Mick Malthouse and (Bears coach) Robert Walls. They both said they were interested but Brisbane was closer to home and seemed a better fit. Now we’re fully-fledged Queenslanders who have lived here longer than we lived in Victoria,” Danny said.

Only 162cm and 68kg, smaller than the Brisbane jockey of the same name in the same era, he was originally drafted by St.Kilda with pick #15 in the 1988 AFL National Draft ahead of such names as Michael Long (#23), Richard Champion (#30), Brad Sholl (#32), Daryn Cresswell (#34), Scott Russell (#39), Michael Sexton (#54), Derek Kickett (#60), Tony Francis (#95) and Chris Grant (#105).

The highly-touted youngster, who had already played 60 senior games with the Wangaratta Magpies, played the first four AFL games of 1989 before a broken leg in Round 5 kept him off the scene for almost two years. When his games tally stood at 33 at the end of 1992, he decided it was time for a change.

“Best thing we ever did was coming to Queensland – have loved every minute of it,” he said, having played 35 games with the Bears (1993-95) before coaching three senior clubs to five premierships over seven seasons and coached Queensland sides at senior and under 17 level and more.

It’s been a mutual love affair spread across the Bears/Lions, local clubs West Brisbane, Zillmere, Mt.Gravatt and Mayne, junior club Everton, and in later years, the South Queensland representative team. He’s a great football man who played about 300 games from age 16 to 35 and has coached as many again over an even longer period.

With his time in the AFL done, Danny coached West Brisbane to the 1996 QAFL premiership which launched the AFL career of St.Kilda 234-gamer Max Hudghton, and was Wests’ last senior coach in 1997 before financial problems shut down the Chelmer-based club.

In 1998 he was a playing assistant coach of the first Lions Reserves team, initially under Roger Merrett and later a rehabilitating Michael Voss after a horror weekend in Perth in which Voss, the 1996 Brownlow Medallist, suffered an horrific broken leg. Senior coach John Northey was sacked, Merrett took over the seniors and after time in rehabilitation, Voss coached the Reserves.

In 1999 Craven was a playing assistant-coach under good friend Craig Brittain at Zillmere in a season in which they lost the grand final to Southport, and in 2000 he returned to the Lions as Leigh Matthews’ match day runner.

In 2001, bitten again by the coaching bug at a time when he could have stayed to be part of the Lions’ 2001-02-03 flags, he took over as playing coach at Mt.Gravatt. In 2001 he helped launch the AFL careers of Brad Miller and Joel Macdonald, and in 2002 piloted the Vultures to their first ever senior premiership with a side that included Nathan Chapman, who had also played in the 1996 flag at Wests, Tony Lynn, Robert Scott, Steve Kenna and Ben Hudson.

With sons Xavier and Jasper starting to learn the game, he coached at Everton for 10 years from 2003 while also taking charge of a Queensland State team that beat ACT four years in a row in 2003-04-05-06 – twice in Brisbane and twice in Canberra – and lost to a star-studded Western Australian side at Carrara in 2005. Along the way, his Maroons ended a 32-year drought in the nation’s capital.

In 2007, he coached the Queensland Under 18 side, and from 2008-13 he was back at Everton before a move to Mayne which culminated in a 2014-15-16 senior premiership hat-trick in the QFA Northern Division. They beat Noosa to complete an undefeated season in 2014, knocked off minor premiers Maroochydore in the 2015 grand final and in 2016, when Craven shared the coaching with Clint Brunnenmeyer, they lost four of their first six games but beat Maroochydore in the grand final.

He coached South Queensland to wins over North Queensland in 2016-17-18-19, and after the 2020 season was wiped out by COVID, he took back the reins in 2021 before passing them on to Rory Lake in 2022 and Andrew Cadzow in 2023, instead taking on the official role as ‘Ambassador’ previously filled by ‘Tiger’ McCormack. All while doing 20 years of expert radio commentary on AFL, AFLQ and community football.

Having given his all to Queensland football for three decades, he said he never forgot a lesson learned in his very first game in Queensland – an unofficial practice match for Zillmere against Southport at Wests.

“I walked into the rooms and every Zillmere player came over and shook my hand and I thought ‘how good is this’. Then in the first couple of minutes I copped a Craig Crowley shirt-front and next thing I knew there was a big blue and all the Zillmere blokes are flying the flag for me. It spoke volumes to the team-first mentality the Brittain brothers (Wayne and Craig) had built at Zillmere, and it’s something I’ve always tried to follow. To establish an environment where everyone is part of something special and wants to do it for each other. It’s a great lesson.”

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