By Matt Fotia
After back to back visits to the final day of the EFNL season, 2019’s semi-final exit has left a sour taste in the mouth of the South Croydon playing group according to Senior Coach Luke McCormick.
The Bulldogs shot into Premier Division prominence in 2017 when they snatched an unlikely premiership and looked to be settling themselves in at the big boys table in 2018 when they made another trip to Bayswater Oval in late September.
But in 2019 their place looked under threat as they sat sixth on the table with two rounds to go.
Wins over lowly Doncaster and Montrose saw them jump into the five at the expense of Norwood and after the Dogs ran out 37 point winners over Rowville in the elimination final McCormick was starting to believe his side were well placed to make another unlikely charge for the title.
“It (2019) was disappointing because to get over Rowville in the elimination final and then lose to Blackburn by not much (16 points) was heartbreaking because we believed that we matched up better against Vermont and Balwyn then the other sides and we were building at that point as well,” McCormick said of their finals campaign.
Whilst he isn’t one for making excuses he does wonder what could’ve been, had inform midfielder dynamo Matt Jones not missed the semi final with injury.
“As much as one bloke doesn’t make a side, the form that Matt Jones was in last year was incredible and for him to get knocked out in that first final and be unavailable for the Blackburn game was so disappointing, because the form he was in would have helped us the following week (v Blackburn),”
“Overall it (2019) was disappointing, but it’s certainly had made us hungry heading into 2020, particularly the older brigade who are coming towards the end of their South Croydon career.”
It won’t be the same South Croydon side though with the club once again active on the recruiting front, bringing in three key players from AFL Outer East side Woori Yallock.
Powerful mid-forward Jordan Williams will bolster the Dogs depth in both areas, whilst Ben and Zach Monkhorst have also come up the highway, Ben offering McCormick another marking option up forward and Zach fresh off a league Best and Fairest as a mobile ruckman.
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McCormick – who has connections in the Outer East – said the trio wanted to test themselves at a higher level whilst they still could.
“There was definitely a connection with the three of them across the club, they’re all quite close mates with a lot of our boys via the Box Hill connection along with the fact that Dano (Daniel) King knows everyone,”
“Ultimately it came down to us or Woori Yallock, and they wanted to have one more crack at a really high level of football,”
“It was a hard decision for them because they love Woori Yallock and they love the Valley.”
Pressure forward Patrick Rosier (Olinda Ferny Creek) and AFL draft prospect Frank Anderson (East Perth) have left the club however and whilst the Dogs are sad to see them go, they have plenty of players raring to take their place.
“Frankie’s gone over to Perth and I think the big wide open flat decks will suit him and outside of him it’s just Patrick Rosier who’s gone back to Olinda Ferny Creek which is his home club,”
“They’ve both given South Croydon a great deal of service over the last few years and as much as we wanted them to stay, we’ve got plenty of guys who are ready to step up.”
The players and club – like all of the Australian public – will have to step up their game in the next few months to battle the recent COVID-19 outbreak.
McCormick knows that South Croydon’s community spirit will get them through this tough time and has made sure all of his players know that family – not football – is the most important thing right now.
“South Croydon’s greatest strength is its community spirit and connection and we’re at a point right now where mental health and wellbeing is absolutely vital,”
“So we’re encouraging the boys to stay fit, but that’s just generally because everyone should be staying as active as possible, but we’re really making sure that they look after their families first and foremost,”
“We and a lot of clubs, have some older guys with young families, so as much as supporting each other (within the club) and getting together – where safe- is important, those guys have got to question that and make sure their family are safe at this time.”
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Meanwhile first year coach and ex South Croydon footballer Simon Hammersley has taken over the female program, as the Dogs look to build on last seasons Division One premiership.
Hammersley, who coached girls football last season at Kilsyth, says the momentum created by their 2019 success has been a major factor in their push for two female sides in 2020.
“Premiership years are good for any football team and it’s exciting for the club that we can now keep building on that with two teams in 2020,”
“Building numbers was important with a second team in mind, we needed to capitalise on the fact we’d had that very successful season and the excitement that it bred.”
With plenty of depth now at his disposal, Hammersley knows that his side is prepared for the challenge that awaits in Premier Division, with their desire to improve fuelling his coaching motivation.
“They know that this year is going to be a challenge (going up) and one of the key reasons we wanted to get a second team was that the playing group understand that not everyone who played in the team last season is at a level, or has the desire to play Premier Division football,”
“So getting the development team up and running meant that everyone would still have a game of football to play each week,”
“The ones who are really driven to try and play their best football have been amazing with their commitment to improvement,”
“It’s one of the great things about female football – their effort and desire to get better and improve is second to none – from a coaching perspective it’s very motivating and rewarding.”
Like their male counterparts, South Croydon’s women’s program is making sure all players continue to stay active, not just for their football, but for their wellbeing during this testing time.
“We had training groups within the teams over the Christmas break anyway, so we’ve switched the focus of them from physical to the wellbeing side,”
“Obviously social media is a great place for us to put up suggestions for training by using some of the resources available and the girls are posting what they’re doing,”
“For me I find that really uplifting in ordinary times when you see them out on a run with a smile, still challenging themselves.”