Tributes paid to iconic country football coach, player Kevin 'Digger' Rinaldi

KEVIN “Digger” Rinaldi has been remembered as a great footballer and a fun-loving man who never wasted one of his 66 years of life.

Kevin “Digger” Rinaldi holds the premiership cup aloft while playing for Dunnstown.

Kevin “Digger” Rinaldi holds the premiership cup aloft while playing for Dunnstown.

The highly decorated player and coach died recently after a short battle with illness, leaving behind his wife Kerry, seven children and 12 grandchildren.

Rinaldi was honoured at a large service at St Alipius’ Church on Wednesday, where more than 600 people turned out to pay their respects.

One of his close friends, Dunnstown Football Club president Mark Mullane, who lived next door to Rinaldi for much of his life, said he was a man loved by so many people around the region.

“He had a real way with people. If you met him once you would never forget him – he was that sort of bloke,” Mullane said.

Rinaldi was best known for his exceptional footballing achievements, which included time spent with Carlton in the under-19s and reserves.

But it was at a country level where he excelled.

His playing career spanned more than two decades, beginning at CYC in the Ballarat Football League under-14s, before making the move to the Blues. It was while in the VFL, Rinaldi began coaching, leading Faulkner to an Essendon District League flag as a non-playing coach in 1966.

After leaving the VFL environment, the key position forward transferred to Mt Pleasant in the Heathcote league, and after two flags and two league best and fairests in two years, he joined Skipton in 1969.

After a successful run with Skipton, which netted two Western Plains league best and fairest awards, he was appointed captain-coach at Dunnstown in 1973. He led the club to two premierships in a seven-year stint in that role. He spent permit stints with East Ballarat, Ballarat and Golden Point, but then joined Buninyong as captain-coach between 1980-83.

His playing career ended at Illabarook, where he twice kicked more than 100 goals in a season when in his late 30s, before returning to Buninyong as a non-playing coach for a year in 1986.

Rinaldi’s outstanding resume included nine premierships, six club best and fairests, four at league level, as well as a huge number of representative appearances.

Mullane said Rinaldi was ahead of his time in his various coaching roles, where he would go to great lengths studying opposition and preparing for coming matches.

“He was well respected in all of the football world,” Mullane said.

After operating a garbage business for much of his working life, Rinaldi was also a popular figure at many Ballarat nightspots, where he worked in security.

Mullane said he would be sorely missed by people from all walks of life, but his legacy would not be forgotten.

“He was known for his one-liners and was just a fun-loving bloke. He was 66, but he lived all those 66 years.”

“He always looked on the bright side of life, for sure.”

Rinaldi’s step-son, Jamie Briody, who coaches Carngham-Linton, said “Digger” was a family-orientated man, who loved to entertain.

“There was some terrific memories and great conversations. He loved his footy, but those family engagements he was right behind. He valued his family,” Briody said.

Briody wished to send the family’s heart-felt thanks to the staff at St John of God Ballarat Hospital for their exceptional care in a time of need.

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