By Josh Ward.
Plenty of positives in 2023 for both the Fairpark men’s and women’s side who made vast improvements on their 2022 seasons.
Ladder Position: 5th (8-9-1, 94.49%)
Best and Fairest winner: Samuel Raru
Leading Goalkicker: Ben Gilling (27 goals in 10 matches)
After fighting relegation in 2022 it was similar yet different for the Lions this time around in Division 3 who staved off relegation and fought until the end for a finals position.
It was an up and down first eight rounds of the season, with the Lions consistently able to string together strong performances but being unable to build on consecutive wins.
Whilst the middle third wasn’t a fruitful part of the season they then got it all together in the final month of the season, picking up 14 of a possible 16 points, including winning against finalists Silvan and Oakleigh District as well as drawing with Grand Finalists Ferntree Gully.
Despite sitting in a finals spot on the last Saturday of the regular season they were knocked out by Oakleigh, with their run being too little too late.
All of the big name recruits for the Lions starred this season, including Sam Raru. The former Oakleigh Charger was all class in midfield and was rewarded with Fairpark’s B&F.
Dual Fairpark B&F winner Jason Want’s class was on show in his return to the club, being selected at Half Back in the Team of the Year. Josh Allison was also solid in his first season at Fairpark along with young gun Jay Rankin who showed glimpses of his potential.
Best Win: Round 18 – Fairpark 17.14.116 defeated Silvan 6.10.46
Needing a win to keep their slim finals chances alive the Lions got it in one of their better performances of the year in tough conditions at Silvan Recreation Reserve.
Getting out of the blocks quickly with a five goal first term, a brief purple patch for the Cats early in the second didn’t stop Fairpark from building their lead to a handy 26 points at the main break.
They eventually put the hosts to bed in the second half, kicking eight goals whilst only conceding a solitary goal to pick up their biggest win since returning to Division Three in 2021.
Even in the wet Jay Rankin was a class above, plucking marks left right and centre whilst kicking four goals. Mitch Nied and Want’s experience was also on display, with the former kicking three goals.
The foundations have now been set for Fairpark in Division Three having continued on their upwards trajectory in 2023.
They’ve got a strong mix of young and old, with the likes of Jay Rankin, Mason Byrne, Oliver Sharpe & Cooper Hayman only going to improve with quality players such as Raru, Want, the Nied brothers and Josh Allison surrounding them.
If they’re able to keep their list together as well as add some more depth and young talent then they’ll slot right into what will be an even more competitive Division 3 in 2024.
Ladder Position: 4th (6-5, 127.98%)
Best and Fairest winner: Kahlia Sommers
Leading Goalkicker: Sarah Birthisel (26 goals in 10 matches)
It was a rough opening few seasons for the Lions in the women’s competition, however they were able to turn their fortunes around this past season.
After a rough grading period and a rough start to the Division 4 season they started to roll into some form after Round Three, picking up four wins in a row to sit inside a finals spot.
That streak of wins as well as wins against Boronia Gold and Warrandyte in the final month of the regular season was enough to earn a spot in a semi final against Mitcham. And whilst they were competitive they fell 15 points short against the eventual Grand Finalists.
The two key pillars from the beginning of the Fairpark women’s side in Kahlia Sommers and Sarah Birthisel were at their best this past season.
Both were rewarded with Team of the Year selection along with their individual accolades. Abbey Croot was also a consistent performer in the side alongside Bianca Firth and Megan Liddell.
Best Win: Round 5 – Fairpark 7.8.50 defeated Nunawading 3.8.26
Bang in the middle of their four-game winning streak came the biggest win of them all against their fellow finals contender and Lions in Nunawading at home.
It was a promising start against an inaccurate Nunawading outfit before they were able to hit the straps in the second and take a one goal lead heading into the main break.
After an even third quarter they headed into the final break up by two points. From there it was all Fairpark, kicking three goals and conceding zero points to win by four goals.
The goal kicking was spread between five players, with Courtney Wale & Nicole Crivellaro leading the way with two goals each. Croot’s strong form continued with a second BOG in three weeks.
Much like the men’s side the foundations for the women’s side is set in Division 4, with the group they have continuing to improve with the more experience they get.
That improvement could continue into season 2024 if they’re able to retain majority of their players, particularly the core group led by Sommers and Birthisel
The Lions had a total of six junior sides, including one that continued to compete in the Under 7s competition that was held at Kings Park this past year.
Declan Pulo won the Under 13’s League Best and Fairest for the Lions.
It was another solid season for the juniors as they look to continue their improvement as well as fed the ever-improving senior men’s and women’s sides of Fairpark.
The club are excited to reveal their new club facilities at Fairpark Reserve, set to open ahead of the 2024 season.