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By Davis Harrigan

While they may be in Division Four in 2021, Chirnside Park is still looking to match it with the best of them. Ahead of the new season and the investments that have been put in before round one, there’s some genuine excitement down at Pantherland.

Coach Dave Newlands knows there’s an uphill battle to be fought, but believes the extended period of time off football has actually been a benefit to the club.

It’s helped contribute to an unintentional insight, where player development can be better understood and allowed more time to build on a platform going forward.


“I think it’s given us a lot more time to establish where we want to be, and also recruiting wise as well, where 12 months has given extra time to identify the areas we need to get better at, and target specific players to suit those areas,” Newlands said.

“We’ve put together a side we think is competitive, and as long as we see improvement throughout the year, that’s what we’re after.”

The building blocks were already in place after season 2019, after the side went winless throughout the year, their closest encounter going down by nine points to Glen Waverley Hawks in Round 11.

Newlands highlighted it will be a long-term step forward, and has already started making changes.

“Last season, as much as the scores reflected what was happening, it didn’t really show what was happening on the field, so we identified a lot of players we could put in different positions, then we were able to target the areas to get us where we need to be and point the club in the right direction for future years,” Newlands said.

With a boost in player numbers and the buy-in becoming apparent from all, Newlands has enjoyed seeing the player development across the board.

“We’ve got a few of the under 19s players (coming up) from two years ago, so they’ve been training really well with us and stepped their way up, one of them is Sam King who’s stepped up into the leadership group.  I think the 12 months off has been able to let them reset and develop mentally,”

“Sam Cannon is coming back to the club, he’s been at Yarra Junction.  He’s seen the approach on how we’re targeting the year, so I feel we’ve done pretty well.”

The bounce-back from the ups and downs of 2020 have started to shine through a bit more, with better preparation at training and integrating the new players into the club, but there’s no hiding from some of the obstacles that were faced during testing times.

“Pre-season was hard to keep them motivated, going into COVID last year, but we all were doing everything we had to do, but it was a bit tough towards the end knowing deep down you weren’t going to play,” Newlands said.

“Some of the younger guys have got bigger over that time, and with the influx of new players, we’re just making sure everyone gels at training to see how it goes on match day.”

Season 2019 is one most would like to forget, but heading into his second year at the helm, and having observed a much better second half to the year, it’s all about the application in 2021.

Newlands has noted the buy-in from the current and new crop of players is very strong, and the want to pull on the jumper is evident.

“As much as we didn’t win a game, we learned a lot in a sense of being able to prepare for the following year, but (by staying) in Division Three (in 2019)…the best bit about it was you were challenged every week, and there was never an easy game,” Newlands said.

“We could also play players in a number of positions, to see what benefits could help them as footballers, instead of being pigeon-holed.  The second half of 2019, we were playing a really good brand of football, but just didn’t have the firepower down forward to convert.  Our backline was holding strong, and they benefited a lot without winning a game.”

Heading into their first challenge against Coldstream at home, Newlands is confident with where everything is at, and being able to come home with the four points will be one of the most important things on game day.

“I think the excitement is knowing that we’ve hit a bit of a refresh button, with the 2019 season not winning a game.  The supporters would love to a see a win and that’s what we’re aiming to do,” Newlands said.

“For the players internally, we definitely know where we want to be.  We’re not too fussed what anyone else is doing, were just concentrating on ourselves, and if we do that well, we’ll get the results we’re after.”

Chirnside Park women’s coach Mick Carusi is one of the most passionate people you’ll meet in local football circles.  It’s very clear when you bring the topic up, his knowledge of the game, and understanding of its intricacies is hard to beat, having been involved for so long.

It’s not just about being a coach at the end of the day; Carusi placed a huge emphasis on having those that are playing also have an element of enjoyment with what they’re doing, as well as a reason that makes them feel like they belong.

“It has its challenges, and we have to make sure we’re encouraging our re-entry levels, so whether you’re new to the game or been playing for a few years, we’re making sure that player feels comfortable coming back to the game,” Carusi said.

“I’ve always been a believer and I know it’s helped me, being a part of the game is a great help in life, but at the end of the day we certainly have to be at the forefront of those challenges.”

Given the huge shift in community football over the last 12-18 months, there was a hard emphasis that those who are returning are able to, and ready to, make sure every element that needs to be checked off is done.

“We’ve forgotten the hard work involved in the game, in those months there would’ve been a section of the playing group shut down in their working life. Things have happened in the last 18 months that we aren’t used to, so coming back to a sport that needs to tick a number of different boxes as a player to be ready for your game, so it’s really important you pick up the love for the game again,” Carusi said.

When asked about who he would name as star players, breakout players or those experience, Carusi was very quickly on the front foot to shine a positive spotlight on the whole team.

“One of the things I put is team first. As much as I’m grateful with new names, they will change our landscape, at the end of the day someone’s come in, they’re up and about, and say they’ve arrived,” Carusi said.

“I praise the team first, and if it’s a gesture, it’s a moment that everyone understands because they were there, they witnessed someone do something special.  I’ll always keep pushing the collective group, and I could name more than one or two (players), but I’m not just responsible for 2 o’clock footy, but making sure everyone feels it’s team first.”

If 2021 was to have a story or narrative, Carusi wants it to be all about the journey – silverware would just be an added bonus.

“Footy will take me on a journey this year, and if I can get to back-to-back finals again, that will be a tick…if it gives me an opportunity to hold onto that premiership cup, fantastic,” Carusi said.

“Retaining players is high on my agenda, as the landscape around us changes, you’ve got to work very hard to get it right, and make sure it gives you a good chance for the following year.  I want players to experience the year in footy, and I’m hoping what I get out of the year is the whole package that the players experience everything.

“If we can take the playing group to achieve the win, understand what a loss is and how we have to prepare for the next game, I hope we get to experience it together.”

Chirnside Park’s Senior Men take on Coldstream at home in Round One (April 17), whilst their two Senior Women’s sides tackle Whitehorse Suns (April 17 – Premier) and Coldstream (April 17 – Division Three)

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