By: Davis Harrigan
#InFocus2020 | Knox
Knox ready for the competition.
New horizons abound for the Knox Falcons under the eye of new and incoming coach Wayne Van Der Ross. While season 2019 was a disappointment, the approach from Van Der Ross could very much set the season on the right path.
There is a big desire to play finals and not reflect on what may have happened last season. Van Der Ross is also very keen to be back at Knox, where he played during his junior career, and is already investing time and effort into the team to have them ready to play the rest of the competition, while also recognising the challenge that’s ahead.
“It’s a bit of an unknown coming into this year, but the aim this year is to consolidate, and confirm our spot in the division; but there is still an aim to play finals and be competitive,” Van Der Ross said.
“On any given day, this division is one of the closest competitions in the league, and if you’re off your game by a couple of percent, you will and can get beaten. We all know and understand how tough this division is.”
Coming back to where his career started feels like an honour for Van Der Ross, but he’s had more than seven years of experience throughout the Eastern Football League as an assistant or senior assistant. He’ll represent the club with pride in his first senior gig in home colours, but it’s not just leading the senior side that has made him feel he’s back in the fold.
“I’m fairly honoured to be the coach of Knox, and to come back home and to see so many familiar faces I had back in my day, that are still there at the club, it gives me a really good feeling,” he said.
“I always knew Knox was a great club on and off the field, but it’s good to be back and it feels like home; the place is buzzing a bit, and the committee has made me feel welcome and supported me in what I want to achieve.”
The responsibility of playing football will be given back to the players as much as possible, as well as working in a new, dynamic direction from outgoing coach David Madigan that will bring a fresh approach to 2020.
“I’ll be giving the players more of a licence to play football. What I’m bringing is something completely different to what Dave had in previous years, and the boys have taken that on board and practised that over pre-season,” Van Der Ross said.
“They have the grasp of it (already) on we’re on the same page; now it’s about putting it together and doing it through practise matches. It means come round one, we’ll be ready to go.”
The recruits list is extensive, but there has been time and effort put in to understanding the where and what was needed or required for the list to build, Van Der Ross said of who was attracted to the club.
“There are six coming back that previously played at Knox, and they know the league well. On the new players, several have come from country or other metro competitions,” Van Der Ross said.
Jordan Love from Tasmania (Scottsdale), Jack O’Grady, Tom Gardiner and Josh Stefanutti (Mansfield), Dylan Williams (Catani) and Brandon Scammell from Toora round out the new additions, as well as the returning Mitch Prosser.
Van Der Ross is ready for what the season may throw at the team, willing to go hard and demonstrate to the other sides they’re ready to make a tile and play finals football again.
“I do believe they’re going in with a winning mentality, because they’ve spent their last two years playing in multiple divisions. A lot of them are young, but they have a higher grade level of understanding and experience,” Van Der Ross noted.
“Experience is something you have to learn, and I believe they’re ready to take the division on, but they know it’s a challenge. All the teams are very good sides and up there and competing, and there’s the unknown, South Belgrave; what they did last year was unbelievable. If you’re off your game by a couple of percent, you will be beaten.”
Falcons women continue to rise.
Dean Barton-Smith will again helm the Falcon’s women’s team into season 2020, who finished 7th in the Eastern Region Girls/Deakin University Division 1 last season.
While the results may not have fallen their way, it’s still all systems go. The team took away some decent wins early and scored a thrilling draw against Norwood last year; replicating and improving on previous results should see the women rise up the ladder.
Barton-Smith is keen to be able to use 2019 as a foundation that allows the side to build quickly, and implementing the available talent.
“We will be looking to build on the development foundation created last season, whilst capitalising on young talent coming up from the under 18 teams,” he said.
“There will be new came strategies that capitalises on the strength and fitness the skills the women have developed especially over this time.”
A key highlight is the dynamic of coaching a women’s team is different, but with it brings the satisfaction of watching the side grow. The approach is quicker than normal to be able to get the players on board.
“Coaching a women’s team is a different kettle of fish, but brings enormous rewards seeing the players evolve over time. It forces me to make sure that approach is done with more haste than pace, getting everyone across the board on what our end game is, whilst identifying two or three main goals to focus only on game day, along with positive reinforcement, to which they respond very well,” Barton-Smith said.
Knox is bolstered by several recruits, including Ella Ritchie, Lauren Lero, Sophie-Marie Roleff and Michelle Redenbach, with the under 18s filling the gap. Brig Dowsing makes the cross from Bayswater, with Barton-Smith hinting that some newcomers are already demonstrating their potential.
Barton-Smith utilises his previous international and Olympic sport experiences as a vital stepping stone to be able to impart an understanding of his coaching mentality, and as a way to deliver a culture that provides an effective pathway into the team being cohesive and responsive.
“I impart a strong, continuous improvement philosophy in that the culture the team creates must be co-designed and owned by the women from the very beginning,” Barton-Smith said.
“You have to be prepared to be vulnerable, and you must ensure there is a culture of openness, transparency and trust from the very beginning, across all levels of the football department, and ensuring constant feedback is encouraged and reward in the process.”