By Ryan Long.
A new coach, a new division, and a very different side. It’s been a ground breaking year for Oakleigh as they reached a Preliminary Final in the Division Three senior men’s competition, while their top netball side advanced through to a Grand Final.
Ladder Position: 4th (9-9, 92.08%)
Best and Fairest: Blake Pearson
Leading Goal Kicker: Zak Bozanich (65 goals)
Big turnaround for Oakleigh District in their second season in the Eastern Football Netball League. From a winless 2022 season in Division Two to a Preliminary Final in Division Three this year, 2023 was certainly one to remember for the club.
A lot of the credit of the turnaround has to go to Blake Pearson, the reigning Chandler Medallist taking over as senior playing coach. There was no doubt about what Pearson was going to give the side on the field, but he also managed to play a great role in turning the club around off the field, attracting new players to the club and changing the game style.
It was evident early that this was a whole new side. They celebrated their first-ever win in the Eastern Football Netball League against last year’s finalists Coldstream, in the first round of the season. An emotional day for many, in front of a packed house at Princes Highway Reserve.
The club managed nine wins for the season, going 9 and 9. Their spot in the finals came down to the final round of the season after Fairpark defeated Silvan to temporarily pinch fourth position. Under lights, Oakleigh District made history, making the finals for the first time in the EFNL, after defeating Warrandyte by 35 points to take back fourth spot.
Finals meant a date with Silvan at Jubilee Park, an opponent they had lost to twice during the season. A memorable finish, a goal after the siren from Jack Dobson saw Oakleigh stun the Cats in the Semi Final and advance through to a Preliminary Final. They were highly competitive against Ferntree Gully, but inevitably, they came up short.
A successful season which may be the first building block of a great era for the club.
The experience of Blake Pearson on the field was just what Oakleigh needed this year. Pearson finished runner-up in the league best and fairest for Division Three, missing a couple of games late in the season. He averaged 24 disposals per game, five inside 50’s and 6.4 score involvements. Pearson used himself in different positions across the ground, playing time defensively, through the middle and impacting the scoreboard while up forward.
Zak Bozanich’s form was outstanding in his first season with Oakleigh District. He finished with 65 goals, the leading goal kicker of the division, as well as the leading goal kicker of all senior men players in 2023.
After 14 games for the season, Simon Hawkins averaged 24 disposals, 6 tackles and almost 6 clearances per game. Unfortunately, he missed the end of the season, his last game against Donvale, in which he was listed as best on the ground for the club.
Also finding plenty of the footy this year was Ryan Pearson, averaging 22 disposals per game, presenting as one of the leaders of the club.
Best Win: Semi-Final 1 – Oakleigh District 7.8 50 def. Silvan 6.10 46 @Jubilee Park
The Semi-Final victory over Silvan was one for the ages. A historic day for the club, their first-ever finals victory in the Eastern Football Netball League.
A low-scoring defensive battle saw Oakleigh control the contest for the majority of the afternoon. It wasn’t until late in the game that the Cats got a bit of a run on, kicking three in a row including a Darcy Turnbull goal with less than a minute to play to put Silvan in front.
A gallant effort appeared set to end in heartbreak for Oakleigh, until Blake Pearson hit up Jack Dobson inside 50, the mark taken just before the final siren. With three goals already next to his name, Dobson created some history for the club, nailing the set shot after the siren and giving Oakleigh District a four-point win.
The club are well positioned going forward, they may be ahead of where many expected them to be after dropping to Division Three.
The top-end talent the club possess matches any other Division Three team. Leading Goal Kicker Zak Bozanich who finished with 65 goals was key in multiple of the club’s wins. But comparing that to this year’s benchmark in Donvale, there wasn’t as much spread in front of the goals for Oakleigh.
The last two premiers in the division have averaged 108 points and 86 points per game, both having multiple weapons up forward. A more multi-dimensional forward line for Oakleigh could take them a step closer next year.
With the season they’ve had and where the club is positioned on and off the field with clear goals going forward, it’s the perfect opportunity to use that to attract new recruits to the club. Due to their location, on the fringe of the East, they are the perfect club to attract players from those neighbouring leagues.
Wouldn’t put a ceiling on what they can achieve in 2024.
For the first time, Oakleigh District entered teams in the EFNL Bendigo Bank Netball competition, having three teams compete over the nine divisions.
Their most successful side was the Division Two Grand Final team, Oakleigh District White. They won twelve games in the regular season, also having two draws, one of those against their eventual Grand Final opponent, Coldstream.
A second-place finish saw them match up against Coldstream. After a slow start in the first term, a dominant second half saw them run over the top of the Cougars to qualify first for the Grand Final. The two sides met two weeks later in the decider, but it was a reversal of fortunes for Oakleigh. A strong start that gave them a six-point lead at the first change was cut down by the Cougars who eventually held on by three points.
Having a great year for the club was Sophie Tanner, third place in the Division Three best and fairest. Tanner finished with a fantastic 334 goals for the season from just 14 games.
Also playing finals in 2023 was Oakleigh District Black in Division Four, with twelve wins and a third-place finish. They took on the Cougars in the first week of the finals, a team they had the better of twice in the season. Unfortunately for the side, they trailed at each change, eventually falling five points short.
Amber Kendrick also finished with 334 goals from 14 games, which included an incredible 54-goal game against Silvan. Kendrick’s season was recognised by the league, taking out the Division Four Netball Best and Fairest.
Their final team competed in Division Seven, Oakleigh District Grey only just missed out on finals, winning eight games, one win away from fourth position. Sarah Miller top scored for the club with 230 goals, her best performance coming against Ringwood when she shot 43.