By Ryan Long.
A hard-fought year and plenty of internal improvement saw Fairpark avoid last year’s double relegation and stay in Division Three, setting themselves up for an important 2023 season.
From the general perspective of many outside the club, the Lions were not expected to survive relegation but a key win against Scoresby in the final round of the season guaranteed they would remain in the third division.
Senior Coach Sean Stanton was happy with what he saw from his young side in season 2022, making major improvements from their 2021 season campaign.
“It was rewarding, we saw improvement, we saw development,” Stanton said.
“It was pleasing to be able to remain in the division we are now, there were some challenging times but in saying that, overall, it was an enjoyable year.”
With a young list, the club have done a fantastic job over the off-season to bring in some more experience to the squad. Two of the biggest key signings over the break for the Lions have been Jason Want and Josh Allison.
Want, a former captain and dual best and fairest winner returns to Fairpark after six years with Premier division club South Croydon. Meanwhile, Allison has signed on as a playing assistant coach, also bringing a wealth of experience to the club, having played with South Croydon, Boronia and most recently East Ringwood.
With Stanton feeling like the side lacked a bit of leadership at times last season, the two inclusions are sure to have a great impact on the Lions both on and off the field.
“They’re coming from much higher divisions, on the back of them coming in, not only will they bring some new ideas but a better understanding of what it takes to play good footy at the higher levels,”
“They’ve both been outstanding throughout pre-season, haven’t missed a session, been training really hard and leading by example.”
The two veterans will play an important role in continuing the development of the younger core group of players, many of who experienced senior-level footy for the first time last season.
“We gave a number of kids (under the 20-year-old mark), we gave them plenty of opportunity last year and we’re hoping they’ll come back this year and build on that,”
“There’s a really good feeling at the place which is great, just by bringing new players into the club, it’ll generate plenty of excitement.”
As Fairpark approaches the start of its 2023 Home and Away season, the club is looking at how they can improve multiple areas of its game. Throughout the pre-season, there has been a significant focus on their defensive structure and their forward line.
“At times we got scored against too heavily, so we’ve certainly had a bit of a focus on that over the pre-season.”
“The key is making sure we stay healthy and sound, if we can do that, that’ll mean we won’t have to swing the magnets around as much as what we had to last year.”
The side didn’t have an issue last year with winning the ball, possessing some tough inside midfielders who all had strong seasons. The senior side also benefited from the work of ruckman Kyle Hird who is coming up to his tenth season at senior level for the Lions.
“I think we’ve got a fairly good midfield; our ruckman Kyle is quite a good footballer,”
“In my eyes, he’s one of the top two or three ruckmen in the competition,”
“It’s probably more converting into our forward half and kicking a winning score.”
Ben Gilling led the goal kicking for the Lions last season with 23 majors, kicking multiple goals on nine different occasions. Averaging 57 points each week, Stanton is looking at what the side can do better to generate more scores and different avenues to goal.
“We looked at our midfield group last year and there’s probably some personnel in there that I feel might be a good opportunity to play them a little more forward this year,”
“Ben (Gilling) will be one of our key forwards but it’s more about what can we do to support him,”
“Looking at our current playing group, we want to try and utilise what we’ve got and play blokes in different roles to give us a different look up forward.”
The club were also thrilled with the success of starting an inaugural senior women’s side last year.
The Fairpark senior women’s side competed in Division Three where they won their first game against Mooroolbark by 56 points.
This season, the club will be coached by Terry Lewis, taking over from Simon Aloi. Lewis brings across coaching experience from Upper Ferntree Gully, having coached five years each of junior boys and junior girls.
“Really excited with the job, I’ve always been interested in coaching, so I’ve coached from juniors right through to senior ladies.”
Lewis is excited about the opportunity to coach the club, with the main focus this pre-season to develop the girls’ structures and game style from 2022.
“Really excited to get improvement out of these girls and change the game style they were playing with last year.”
“Structures and skills. Getting our short kicking going, keeping possession of the ball more than anything and no more kicking down the line, it’s more a running style of game.”
A couple of key players from last year’s side will find themselves moving into new positions this year.
“Bianca Firth who won the best and fairest last year has a new role this year, she’s going to swing from backline to midfield,”
“Same with Tahls (Zaloumis), she’s going to move more on ball as well, developing them as on-ballers.”
The Lions are in a solid position with the new facilities almost complete at Fairpark Reserve that will see the club have new social and change rooms.
Lewis has been excited with his introduction into the club and is looking forward to the year ahead.
“The actual club committee have been absolutely fantastic with me so far and with the new facilities coming on board, they’re going to be great, it’s a new chapter more than anything.”