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By Davis Harrigan

After falling at the second to last hurdle in 2019, Park Orchards will be looking to season 2021 as a chance to take the next step, but like every other team in the league, their preparation has been stop-start and not without its challenges.

The team mentality of the Sharks has always been high intensity and looking to be first in at the ball.

With little in the way of competitive games since the 2019 finals, there is definitely a sense of “what’s next” in the air at Domeney Reserve. A season of football will always come with its elements of unpredictability, but the Sharks have the belief they can match it with the best of them.

Current playing coach and former Carlton defender Dennis Armfield has highlighted the impact of community sport after their first practice game against Blackburn on March 20, including the satisfaction of being able to step out onto the field for the first time in a long time.

It wasn’t just about playing good football; it was also a time to give back to the supporters who had missed out the last 12 months.

“It was our first proper hit-out against quality opposition in Blackburn, and it was just fun to be out there. I’m 34 and it’s good to still run around, can’t afford many years off because we’re closer to the end, but local footy means so much to so many, not just the players, but volunteers and fans,” Armfield said.

“Just seeing local footy back is an enjoyment and we’re lucky to be a part of it.”

Having spent time at the top flight of the game, Armfield noted the dynamic at local level is different but in ways not too dissimilar, however still adjusts his style as needed and is always looking to adapt to what’s in front of him.

“Local footy is definitely different to the professional levels, but I like to think I’ve brought a little bit down and also learned a lot from the local boys. It’s a different brand of footy, but I’ve been able to adjust as a coach and the players have been able to implement what I and the other coaching staff want to implement,” Armfield said.

“It’s a credit to them, and I’ve been here now for a few years, and we were pretty hard working during COVID to make sure we came back this year to give it a red hot crack.”

On-field there’s an entire team and group contributing not just to the outcome on Saturday, but the overall dynamic that is the football club.

Leadership is just one element for Armfield, everything else is put in place thanks to those that are putting in the hard yards in other areas.

“I trust my leaders on the field and trust my bench and coaches to execute, I trust what they’re saying and doing and seeing,” Armfield said.

“On Saturdays, I trust my team around me to execute what we’ve planned through the week, and I’m very lucky to have a great support network, who probably do the brunt of the work.”

With such diversity in the line-up, it is too hard to cite one particular area where the greatest asset, or the greatest improvement, might lie with everyone simply being a part of the bigger picture going forward.

“I don’t want to pick one line of our team, as they all have really good strengths and really bad weaknesses.  We have some things to iron out, but our midfield depth is good and our rucks are starting to come together,” Armfield mentioned.

“We have a good forward line and strong backs that are developing well, so I can’t sit there and say I’ll pick one spot, I’m proud of the boys and what they’ve executed, and we look forward to seeing what happens in round one.”

With the season fast approaching, Armfield is simply going with a one-week-at-a-time type of approach.

While silverware and success isn’t far from his mind, there are more important elements of the game to handle first, and the most significant is four consistent quarters of football every match.

“I don’t have any real expectations right now, I just want us to put our best foot forward every week, and where that takes us we’ll find out,” Armfield said.

“I’m not going to say anything about finals or where we want to get to, because I want us to play our best footy every quarter.  We’ll break it down from there, but I’m asking our players to do our best, and that’s all I can say.

“It’s about having faith in what we’ve done for six months, and the boys executing well. We’ve got time to work on things, we’re a long way from happy but we’ll find that medium.”

With the women’s side not being able don the jumper in 2020, and the under the helm of a new coach, it’s all about pushing forward into the season, knowing there’s still lots of work to do for the Park Orchards women in 2021

“It was frustrating for everyone last season, but coming into this season, we felt like we lost a fair bit of momentum that we would’ve had (going into 2020),” coach Simon McAuliffe said.

“It feels like we’ve battled numbers and early retirements for a number of weeks now, but the numbers are okay now. It’s a slow process getting them onboard for training, but we feel we’re on the cusp of everyone investing into this season.”

The practice match against Blackburn was McAuliffe’s first proper hit-out as a coach and he found out a number of things about his group.

“I didn’t coach the first season, you can setup hats week in and week out at training, but it’s exciting as a coach to see how it relates into a game,” McAuliffe said.

“All of a sudden training has a better sense that it is worth getting there and we are learning something, even though most of the time they don’t realise that.”

Although a few players stood out for McAuliffe during the practice match, it was also a great chance to see the training translate into proper gameplay, a sign of things to come as the season fast approaches.

Park Orchards enjoyed a successful 2019 in the Eastern Region Womens North Division. Photo – Field of View Sports Photography

“There’s the Searle sisters, Flick and Georgie who are good solid players and perhaps the heart and soul of the team. Jackie Hoser, she just can’t help but find the footy, and Lucy Nixon, she loves it and is always at training.”

“It was nice to see them (all) play a game and see how their general skills relate.”

“They just have a lot of fun together, there’s an infectious enthusiasm and enjoyment they get from each other doing something well, which is something different about it to the boys,” McAuliffe said.

“To see these girls just go “wow, how good was that” it’s a nice environment to be in. I suspect it will become a little bit contagious going forward, it’s a nice feeling to have.”

Park Orchards travel to Upper Ferntree Gully to start their Men’s campaign this weekend (April 10), whilst their Women’s side take on North Ringwood away on April 17.

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