By Jared Beanland.
Boronia was one of the harder teams to ply against in Division 2 last year, and a middling record of 8 wins, 8 losses, and 2 draws undermined the quality of football the Hawks were able to play when they were at their best.
In 2023, Senior Coach Matt Clarke looks to minimise the difference between Boronia’s best and worst, as inconsistency was one of the main reflections he had when looking back at season 2022.
“At our best we were a really strong contender, but we just didn’t consistently play that football as often as we’d like to,” Clarke said.
“And in the end, as it was we were able to sneak into the finals. We certainly were challenged for depth with injuries at critical stages, which exposed a couple of areas we need to get stronger in. To win the first final (against The Basin) was good, but obviously to lose the second in such close circumstances frustrated us, so (the season) was a little inconsistent and frustrating.”
Clarke sees his assignment quite clear, as he looks to rectify the on and off-field issues he faced last season with a laser focus on specific areas of improvement.
“For us it’s really about building stronger depth. We didn’t have 19s last year, and nor do we have this year, and it was about how do we address the areas we lack in without having that depth. And just making sure that we’re all resetting and on the same page with really high standards – we’ve been strong on resetting standards to a really high level at every training session. We’ve obviously brought in quite a few players to address our depth issue. And more top-end talent is really driving the high standard in everything we do.
“We’ve been able to address ball movement, something that was a concern for us. The way we moved the ball was okay, but we became known as a slow side, so we’ve worked really strongly on that. Our standards have been super high, our guys are as fit as they’ve ever been, they’re a really tight group.
“So all the new recruits have come in and settled in unbelievably well and are really narrow with their focus, and really driven for success this year.”
One of the criticisms levelled at Boronia during the 2021 season was the lack of foot speed – an issue that was addressed during the 2022 pre-season, yet based on the results of last year, Clarke has determined that recruiting quick players wasn’t enough to fight this issue.
“We tried to address it with just players, but now we’ve worked on the game style as well. So we’re really working on transition once we get the footy, and how we move it. And put in leg-speed to our team, we’ve been able to add some really fast players back into our line-up, both from recruiting, and recovering from injury. It’s certainly going to make us look different, and harder to defend against hopefully.”
The key players in these steps towards improvement include recruits, returning players, and injury-hampered stars.
“I think having people like Andy Phillips back into the side, he’s been a key for us in 2018, ’19. He’s been away a couple of years with work. He’s a fairly elite runner.
“The other guys, like Mitch Mellis, he only played 5 or 6 games for us last year, he’s an extremely fast runner.
“But all our recruits are all of a similar type you’ve got Josh Begley, and Hayden Stanley are good runners. They’ll play key roles for us. And it allows us to put some of our other midfielders to the wings and in different positions, so we’re really building a faster midfield. Still big and strong, but a lot of pace and some really good ball movement, and allow us to be quicker on the outside.
“I think we were just medium paced on the inside, and medium paced on the outside, so we’ve been able to improve pace already on different lines of the ground now.”
The recruitment drive undertaken throughout this off-season has had an amplifying effect on those standard-setting goals through this pre-season.
“There’s a lot internal competition – what we’ve been able to do is add 12 or 13 players to our list, retain our current list – all bar 2 or 3, and that’s really driven internet pressure. So everyone’s fighting for that spot.
“So it’s not just our recruits, we’re getting a lot more development out of our existing list as well because of that… we’ve wanted to get good characters in, people who’ll be there for a period of time at the football club, not just one year so they’ll be part of our build to hopefully something better.
“We want to play finals, and we want to be a good side, who on any given day won’t have a high and low like we did last year, so the balance between our good and bad is minimal, and we’re a hard team play against.”
Division Two in 2022 was a close race to the finals, and looks to be no different this year.
While that’s food for thought for Matt Clarke, he’s not letting it take away from the internal focus at Boronia.
“We’d love to think we’re one of the sides to beat. But we know Templestowe, Mulgrave, Waverley Blues will be really strong coming up. The Basin always have a plug… I could go through them all, that’s how even the competition is. I don’t think we’re going to rock up to any game home or away, and think we can take a breath.
“A moment of time will mean that we’ll win or lose. We just need to keep a narrow focus on us, knowing that the competition’s going to improve and it’s going to be harder.”
Boronia will also once again field two women’s teams this year.
The Hawks were competitive, however ended up with a losing record in Premier B last season. They finished with 4 wins and 10 losses, and were eliminated in the Semi Final by East Burwood.
With Premier Division now looking more conventional, rather than being split into A and B, the Hawks have been shuffled down into Division 1. On the other end of the spectrum Boronia’s development team remains in Division 4, and will look to continue to show improvement.
Senior coach Scott Nicholas feels that there were more positives than negatives to be taken from last year.
“Last year was a year of realising that all the work we’ve done has translated into improvement on the field. Going into last year there was a lot of anxiety and nervousness around playing in that Premier B division, but we had a win in round 1 against The Basin which gave the squad a lot of confidence.
“It was disappointing to lose to The Basin in that Semi-Final because we did think, with the development we saw over the course of the year we were in a position to win, it didn’t quite happen, but it was a great learning for the squad and has given our players a lot of motivation going into this season.”
Player retention for the women and Tormore Reserve is looking promising, along with a few returning faces.
“We planned based on the experiences we’ve had since 2018, that we probably need to turn over 10 or 15 players.
“So we’ve probably had a similar number who’ve decided not to play or are unavailable. The retention across the squad is really good, but we’ve needed to replace those 10-15 players like we do every year.
“Fortunately there are a few friends of players who have come down, and a few players who have missed time through injury or pregnancy who are coming back.
“So it’s great to welcome back girls like Briar Forrer-Lacey, Amanda Cellante, and Brianna Crompton back into the team after missing some time, and it’s great to see some new faces as well.”
As with most clubs, the numbers throughout the pre-season build as the year goes on. These numbers have hit critical mass recently for Boronia, setting up the club to have a large amount of depth across both their teams.
“I think we had a really committed group before Christmas, that got some really good training, and those players are definitely seeing the benefit now with how quickly they’re developing over the off-season.
“But we had an intra-club match recently and we had over 40 players down, so numbers are really strong, and I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm from the group.”
The Boronia women’s culture is going from strength to strength as time goes on, and the club will be introducing the over 35s Masters team for season 2023.
“We’re really excited about the introduction of the Masters women’s team for the first time. Our programme’s grown considerably since we first started and we’ve had some of our junior girls training with the senior group as well. So the club is now in a position where we’re basically offering a complete pathway for women and girls to play the game.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement from the group to get going, and we hope to have a really fun and successful year.”