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Yarra Valley Water InFocus 2024 | Park Orchards

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By Jared Beanland.

Park Orchards narrowly missed the cutoff to stay in Premier Division, and come down a grade to re-assert themselves as a powerhouse of Division 1.


After two years and a total of 11 wins in Premier Division, Park Orchards finds themselves in an interesting phase of their existence. It’s a chance to reset themselves for future success, and incoming coach Paris Harvie will be building for a more sustainable rise than the one that saw them promoted in 2022, after not winning a premiership in the COVID-affected 2021 season.


Harvie is not the only coach to have stepped in this year, both Rob Ameer, and Jarrod Morgan have stepped into the positions of head under 19s coach, and reserves coach respectively.


“The off season has seen a big change of personnel with all coaches, new coaches for each of the 19s, reserves, and seniors. So it’s been good, and the players have been fantastic, and embracing what we’re trying to teach.”


While the coaching of Park Orchards has changed hands this year, the previous regime had left the place with a healthy culture.


“It’s been really good, they players are young, it’s a very young list, which is good. They’re willing to listen and learn, they’ve been respectful for everyone which is what you want. That’s part of what we try to teach as a coaching group, respect for everyone in and out of the organisation. Respect the whole competition is one of our mottos for the year.”


Last year Harvie was an assistant coach under Brenton Sanderson at Balwyn, so was able to have a look at how the Sharks performed. One particular game between the two sides was a hotly-contested match, which Balwyn ended up winning by 5 goals.


“I saw them once last year, it was a wet conditions game at Balwyn. I think Park Orchards were in front by half a goal at half time. But Balwyn ran over the top of them in the second half. They were more than competitive, but I think they had a lot of injuries from the talk that I’ve got from around the club.


“They won five out of nine in the back half of the year, so I think they got a lot of players back then and started to produce some good footy. So they’re probably unlucky that we had two teams go down. Clearly they were a better team than Doncaster last year, but it will be a whole new ball game this year, it all changes.”


The Sharks had it tough last year, and struggled for continuity. They had to blood some kids in Premier Division, which is never easy to do when forced into doing so.


“There were so many injuries last year – I think looking at the team in Round 2 last year, it was totally different to the one in Round 11 or 12, the team was totally different due to the fact that they had injuries. So they introduced a lot of young kids into the team, and gave them opportunities to play senior football. It’s never easy in Premier Division, it’s a lot harder to introduce four or five youngsters into your team on a given week. I think that was challenging for everyone within the Park Orchards organisation last year.”


Harvie is taking this year as a chance to develop his young list, and equip them for the future, while also being mindful of the challenges that a competitive division will present.


“It’s a young list, so we just hope to keep improving their growth as football players. I’m under no illusions that the first division is the most competitive division in all the league – that’s my opinion. Everyone in this division is trying to get into Premier Division, so there’s no easy game whatsoever. Everyone is trying their best to get up there. We just hope that improvement will come from the growth of our players. A lot of people maybe expect too much from a guy who’s playing his tenth game EFNL football, as opposed to when he’s into his 30th or 50th game of EFNL football. Obviously they become better players, better equipped, and better adapted. That’s going to take time for us, I’m under no illusions to that.”


“We just want to consolidate in first division, and win as many games we can. Obviously we’ve got to be realistic about where we would finish. We would love to play finals, like anyone. If we could strike that in our first year down, that would be fantastic. If we don’t achieve it, we’ll just build for the year after.”


Recruitment has not been the focus off the offseason for the Sharks, and Harvie is putting his faith in the junior and under 19s programmes to build his playing list.


“It’s mostly the young kids, the under 19s. We’ve virtually have gone with out list (rather than recruit). We’ve got a couple of blokes returning from overseas, and like everyone we’ve got a couple of players going overseas. So like I said, it’s going to be a challenge for us to get enough confidence into the group so we can play really good football and be competitive in this division.”


This strategy relies heavily upon the synergy between the under 19s, reserves, and senior sides. Harvie is optimistic about how that cohesion is developing.


“We’ve got really good numbers in our under 19s, got a lot of talent down there as well. A good handful of them are ready for senior football which is good. And then in our reserves we’ve got good players developing to get into the seniors as well.”


“We want to be able to give as much opportunity to our homegrown kids as we can. We’re built on our junior programme.”


Harvie is coming into this division with a healthy respect for the teams around them, especially Mitcham – who won the Grand Final, and South Belgrave – who won every game except the Grand Final.


“You look at South Belgrave, they won every game last year except one. Unfortunately it was the main game, but it was only five points. And Mitcham have been strong, they’ve built their club brilliantly. And in their right mind they’re probably ready to go to Premier Division, and I’m sure if you ask them they would. There’s no doubt that the South Belgraves, the Mitchams, Montrose, North Ringwood, Beaconsfield, Doncaster… all the teams are very hard to beat on any given day. And we’re striving for us to be a team that’s hard to beat on any given day as well. But I have no doubt that those powerhouse teams that you’ve seen over the past two or three years, they’ll be having a red hot crack at it.”


The philosophy going into the next few years of football for Park Orchards is to continue to build a sustainable foundation, and a strong playing group who are worthy of Premier Division football.


“We’ve got to get enough games into them, enough confidence into them, enough belief and ability. So if – and I’ll never predict what year it’ll be – we get an opportunity to get back into Premier Division, they’re ready for it. If you look at the Mitchams, South Belgraves, and Montrose, they’ve been building. So they’ll be primed. But the realistic belief in the whole club is for us to build a young group that’s capable of going back only when they’re ready to stay there. Not to go up and come back down.”


Park Orchards will resume their position in Division 1 with a home match against Mooroolbark. The Sharks will play the Mustangs at Domeney Reserve on Saturday the 6th of April.


From a Grand Final loss to Rowville in 2022, to a Preliminary Final defeat at the hands of Boronia last year, the Park Orchards women’s team will take to Division 1 once again. Simon McAuliffe will be leading the girls again in season 2024. The past two years have been encouraging signs for McAuliffe.


“It’s hard to win the whole thing. To lose a Prelim by not much was a good effort, disappointing at the time, but you can’t buy those experiences. You train and train, and play a lot of soft games, but play a couple of big finals was pretty exciting. Off the back of ’22, to lose a Grand Final by a couple of points, and then a Prelim by a similar margin, it’s a successful couple of years without the ultimate.”


McAuliffe is weighing up the new-look division one. An undefeated East Ringwood team comes up from Division 2, while Donvale enter after being relegated from Premier. Boronia, and The Basin – the only teams to defeat Park Orchards in 2023 – both go up, while Chirnside Park and Ringwood have both been relegated, leaving the Division at six teams.


“The last couple of years we’ve played Chirnside about four times, a I feel for them. They were competitive, but they never looked like scoring. So I’m pleased for them that they’ve gone down a grade.”


“We’ve got Beaconsfield in the first game, I think we won by a point at home last year with the last kick of the day. So it should be a nice even competition devoid of some big wins. There are pros and cons to those sorts of games.”


Player retention is always a relevant issue for the women’s teams, but Park Orchards manage to counteract that effect through investing in their junior teams. McAuliffe is happy about the way this structure has served his team throughout the past few years.


“Before we started (training) we thought we might be in trouble, but we’ve got 30 girls I think. Which is a bit of an issue for one team, but the way it pans out with injuries, and placements, and girls going overseas – 30 sounds like too much, but all of a sudden it’s about right. I think we’ve had about 25 or 26 the last couple of years.”


“I think we’ve managed to get seven girls come up from the under 18s, which we’re pretty rapt about. The girls haven’t reached the place, like some guys are happy to move clubs for money reasons, and various other reasons. But the girls just want to play with their mates. So to have seven girls who have been playing at the club for the past number of years in the juniors – plus the last couple years a lot of other juniors have come up – so it’s a nice feeder.”


It’s been a busy preseason for McAuliffe’s girls, and he praises the development he’s seen, specifically with the fitness of the group.


“This is the fifth season I’ve gone around, and our fitness is the best I’ve ever seen. We’ve really worked on that, and asked what’s that little difference to us maybe taking that next little step. So they all agreed that important, so they’ve all bought into that.”


Casting an eye over the women’s competition as a whole McAuliffe thinks it’s in a healthy spot. Overall he values the balance of the divisions, and has a realistic mindset about where his team’s place in it is.


“A six-team comp feels like it’s going to be a really even division, and Premier Division is big, I’m not sure if we’re quite up to that just yet. But Division 1, and the girls’ footy is pretty decent standard. So deleting a couple of the weaker teams felt like a bit of a bonus. So week-in week-out, it’s going to be a much more even competition. We only lost three games during the (home and away) season – to The Basin twice, and Boronia once. It’d be nice to lose six games – I know that sounds a bit weird – but that means it’s even.”


“When they (the league) did Premier A and Premier B, they were just feeling their way about how it’s all going to pan out, and who really are the best. And Premier feels about right now. Boronia have got two teams, and The Basin have as well. So they go into Premier pretty geared up and being able to cope with it. And that goes for Division 1, it’s a good standard. And I’m impressed with East Ringwood, being undefeated, so I look forward to playing them.”


The Park Orchards women’s side will play off in Round 1 against Beaconsfield. The Eagles host the Sharks at Holm Park on Saturday the 20th of April.

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