By Davis Harrigan
Panthers making big strides
There is a real sense of positivity in the air for Surrey Park this year, as new coach David Jensen works to enhance what’s available to him in season 2020. Division 4 becomes very enticing for teams to step up and mark their name as the best, after 2019 premiers Fair Park and runner up East Burwood were promoted to Division 3.
Having disappointingly dropped out of finals last year, Jensen is working to assert changes and bring the Panthers further up the Division 4 ladder. It’s starting with looking long-term effort, and Jensen is confident the changes can be applied and understood by the players.
“The long-term plan is to make Surrey Park more attractive to try and retain our juniors; we understand they want to play the best footy they can; and as a senior club we want to be competitive, no matter what Division we’re in, as well as a one club culture that allows us to become a destination club.”
Jensen felt that what he’d seen of the club, during last year’s final against Fair Park, sometimes felt lacking in drive and intensity. A fresh, invigorating approach is looking to enhance the talent already available at the club; through pre-season training since late last year, and a recent practice match, Jensen emphasised the changes are starting to become evident.
“We’ve dramatically changed plan from what it was last year, and with the skills I’ve picked up through coaching, we can implement really strong gameplays to play finals football,” Jensen said.
“I hadn’t seen much of them previously, but compared to early pre-season and what we’re doing now, with ball movement when we’ve got the footy and how we want to play defensively, and the players have improved ten-fold on their game style and the way they want to use the football.”
Looking long-term, Jensen was keen to be able to attract and develop younger footballers, primarily in the 20-24 age bracket that will allow the club to continue moving forward. This was highlighted to allow Surrey Park an injection of speed and development looking forward five or 10 years, rather than going for lots of previous experience.
“We targeted younger, talented footballers who can have an immediate impact both on and off the field, which means they have to be a good character,” Jensen said.
“We’re also establishing a leadership group with high standards driven towards results.”
Most of the senior list has stayed on, but changes have occurred. Damian Frisina, Kane Hendon, Chris Allen and Jesse Lehmann have departed, but a raft of new recruits will don the black and white in 2020, including Mitch Molnar from South Australia, Sam Simpson from Castlemaine, Adam Muling, a former Surrey junior returning from football in the UK, who will go up forward.
Darcy Griffiths (Balwyn), James Pritchard (Bayswater), Halen Jones (Croydon), Jayden Cutts and Ben Taylor round out an extensive addition to the playing list.
Goals continue to be set, and it’s no surprise Jensen wants to see Surrey Park enjoying their football, but demonstrating the skills and groundwork that’s been set at training.
“I want to see that they are a group of players that absolutely enjoy being together and playing together, being a part of the club, and helping them to learn life skills to be really good people as well,” Jensen said.
“As far as team success, with Fair Park and East Burwood going up and us playing finals last year, with the recruiting and game style, that we’ll be pushing at the pointy end of the year. Minimum top three is our standard, and we’ll be one of the teams to beat.”
The on-field game is always front and centre, but Jensen is acutely aware the situation that surrounds the coronavirus is ever-changing and not an easy situation to navigate. There’s responsibility on the players to be able to keep up strength training and skills, but the other challenge is to ensure the players health and wellbeing.
In an environment likely never touched in local football, Jensen hopes the situation allows the league to resume sooner rather than later, and is still looking out for the players in any way possible, as well as highlighting the changes it has meant regarding how he sees the team playing through the season.
“If we were starting round 1 normally, I wouldn’t have expected us to see good football until round 4 or 5, and maybe even a little bit backwards initially, but I would expect them to come home in the second half of the season with a full sail and everyone becomes automatic when playing with each other,” Jensen said.
“Everybody’s devastated by it because they were really keen to play. The leadership group, five of them, have basically taken on and corresponding and working to get a mate or fitness buddy to train; we’re not allowed to train as a club, so the buddy system suggestion is to video yourself or your mate training to share and encourage each other.”
Panthers breaking new ground for women’s sport
Surrey Park will enter uncharted territory in 2020, with the introduction of their first women’s team. It comes off the back of true excitement as the launch occurred in mid-2019, thoroughly supported by the club.
The team will be lead into their inaugural season by Joe McCarthy, who has already had experience with the junior teams. While the season is set to be condensed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Surrey Park will be looking to make a statement as much as they can.