By Ryan Long
There’s plenty to be excited about down at Walker Park after Mitcham’s return to Division One after their 2019 Division Two premiership triumph. The Tigers finished the year with a record of 5-6, finishing sixth on the ladder. A positive result considering the unknown of entering a higher division, 18 months after their Grand Final win over Ringwood.
Mitcham started the season as well as anyone, winning the first three games in the row before a slight mid-season slump that saw them drop games to some of the top contenders in the division such as Mooroolbark and Croydon. With finals still a possibility at the time, Mitcham took on Mooroolbark at Heights Reserve in a must-win last-ditch effort to keep their season alive. The Tigers would go down by just one point in what would be the last game of the season.
The club has plenty of top-end talent that could take this club to new heights in 2021, they’ve debuted several young players and through injury, the club used a total of 36 players across the season.
Best win: Round 1 – Mitcham 9.5 59 def. Wantirna South 6.11 47 @Walker Park
The Tigers had some massive percentage boosting wins against a few of the clubs below them on the ladder but arguably their best win of the year was their round one clash against Wantirna South where they came from behind in a gutsy two-goal win.
It was a special day for the club as they unveiled the 2019 premiership flag for the first time. Despite a strong start from the Devils, they weren’t able to put much scoreboard pressure on the Tigers who came out in the second half playing a really high-pressure style of game. They began to dominate the contested ball count and were able to swing the tide in the third quarter to take the lead into the final change.
The Devils challenged in the last term but with their great defensive pressure, the Tigers were able to come away with a twelve-point win against a highly rated Devils outfit.
To top it off, both Mitcham’s under 19s side and the reserves side were able to come away with a win in a clean sweep and a great start to 2021 for the Tigers.
Worst Loss: Montrose 12.6 78 def Mitcham 6.12 48 @Montrose Recreation Reserve
It was a must-win game for both clubs coming in with an equal number of wins for the season and unfortunately for the Tigers, they blew a big opportunity away from home.
It was inaccuracy that hurt them, having the same amount of scoring shots as their opponents despite losing by 30 points. At one stage during the third quarter, the Tigers were 1.8 before a late third-quarter fightback had them within seven points at three-quarter time. However, after kicking the first of the last quarter, Montrose finished strongly kicking six of the last seven to jump the Tigers on the ladder.
Although the side’s intensity was up early and controlling plenty of the play, it was four points that they threw away through poor skill execution and inaccuracy in front of goal.
In his 150th game, reliable defender Lachlan Rudd was fantastic in his milestone game, ending up in Mitcham’s best for the match.
Alexander Barton Smith
Coming across from Ferntree Gully, Alexander Barton Smith has taken his game to another level and been one of the most important figures in the Mitcham side making the two division jump with ease.
It was a different role for the youngster who played the majority of his football at Half Back at Ferntree Gully. His intensity and attack on the footy in the contest have been first class and has kept his position in the midfield for the entire season. Barton-Smith featured in the side’s best in a total of seven out of eleven games, polling votes in the league best and fairest in both matches against Montrose.
The former Eagles player has joined multiple former club teammates who have also made the jump to Mitcham in recent years. This includes Jesse Uren who had another fantastic year in the middle, featuring in the Division One TOTY and polling 11 votes in the league best and fairest.
Off Season Focus:
There was a giant gap between the Tigers best footy and their worse this year, tending to fluctuate during games. The lack of consistency at times may be due to a drop off in skill level. An example of this is the second time Mitcham played Wantirna South, the Tigers poor skill level in the first term led to Wantirna South punishing them for their mistakes around the ground to take a 32-point lead. After adjusting some of the basics, it was a pretty even game after quarter-time but the slow start cost them a vital four points, same could be said about a couple of their other losses too.
It may be just a little thing but to be cleaner with their ball use and disposals may go a long way next season when the club aims for a finals position.
Another priority for the side will be to get a full pre-season into star forward Jake Parente who missed the first half of the year through injury. In just five games this year, the key forward kicked 23 goals, including three bags of six. Arguably one of the best current forwards in the league, right up there with Mooroolbark’s Aaron Mullett and some of the big names in the Premier Division.
Senior coach Neil Winterton has also recommitted to the club in 2022 as the head coach but for the first time, it will be as a non-playing coach as he hangs up the boots this year after a remarkable career that included two premierships at the Tigers.