Banyule looms as one of the leading premiership contenders in A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2, but coach Paul Harris isn’t oblivious to the challenges that await his side in 2019.
After a third-place finish in 2018 and a significant recruiting drive over the off season, the Bears are being touted as one of the main flag threats ahead of the new season.
Despite the hype surrounding his side, Harris acknowledges the hurdles they’ll need to overcome in 2019.
“Division 2 looks like it’s going to be really strong this year,” Harris told NFNL.org.au.
“Whittlesea coming down will be quite strong, while Eltham were the best side in the competition for the majority of last year and they’re still here. Thomastown have also recruited really well, especially with Division 1 footballers.
“So, for us it will be about playing as good as we can. If that means we can go all the way to a grand final, then fantastic.
“We’re not really setting a finishing position as a target. It’s just a matter of can we improve on the footy field from last year and where that leads us we’ll find out later on in the year.”
Banyule made an immediate impact in Division 2 last year – becoming the first Division 3 reigning premier to finish in the Division 2 top-four, before going down to eventual premier Lower Plenty in the preliminary final.
Harris joins the club after spending the past two years as an assistant coach at Bundoora, where he helped steer the Bulls’ to the 2017 Division 1 premiership.
He replaces Pete Davey as Banyule coach, who stood down from the role due to travel commitments after two successful years at the club.
With experience as a senior coach at VAFA club Ivanhoe also behind him, Harris is comfortable with what lies ahead for him at R.J. Brockwell Oval.
“We have a similar coaching crew here at Banyule that was also at Bundoora for the past two years, so it’s been fairly similar which helps ease my way into coaching this year,” Harris said.
“I really enjoyed the last two years as an assistant coach at Bundoora but I’m looking forward to this challenge at Banyule.
“Obviously we had a good result last year by finishing third in second division and some of that momentum has come into our pre-season training.
“Halfway through last year they would’ve realised they were good enough for this division and now this year is all about really making a strong impact.
“Everyone has been keen to come back and they’ve shown that want on the track in the pre-season.”
Former Bundoora playing-coach Ricky Dyson is among Banyule’s key signings. The former Essendon midfielder joins after a six-year stint at Yulong Reserve, where he won two premierships, including one as playing-coach.
Dyson has also signed on as an assistant coach of Essendon’s VFL side, but Harris expects him to still have a major impact when available for the Bears.
“He’s still been able to get to training one night a week in the pre-season despite his commitments with Essendon,” Harris said.
“When’s he’s been on the track he’s shown a lot of leadership. He’s been a playing-coach for the last two seasons, so he knows about leadership and the league itself.
“The way he has gone about it has helped our younger players around the footy club with their professionalism and that has been fantastic for us.
“The VFL fixture for Essendon’s been fairly kind to us so we’d expect (to have him) for at least half of the season.”
Among the club’s other key inclusions are Macleod premiership star Jack Langford, Sandhurst ruckman Tim Martin and Ivanhoe goal kicker Mitch Lovell.
Langford returns to his junior club after spending the past five years with Macleod. The versatile tall was a member of the Roos’ 2015 Division 1 premiership team and also featured in the 2017 and 2018 grand final defeats, finishing fourth in the best and fairest last year.
Martin and is a two-time winner of the Bendigo Football League’s best and fairest award and led Sandhurst to the 2016 premiership. He has had stints in the VFL and WAFL with Port Melbourne and East Perth respectively.
Lovell adds to Banyule’s attacking prowess after booting 240 goals in 95 matches for Ivanhoe. The 24-year-old was named captain of the VAFA club at just 19 years of age.
“They’ve come to the club to help us have a big impact match day but in regard to their training efforts, you can tell they have played a high standard,” Harris said.
“They bring another element of professionalism to the group and that can only benefit us going forward.”
Harris hopes the strong leadership within the group will accelerate the development of the club’s next tier of senior players to help the Bears take their game to the next level in 2019.
“The leadership group from last year have been fantastic with their attendance and their efforts at training,” Harris said.
“We’ve had group of young blokes that have come through. Guys like Kye Yodgee and Nick Mayne are going to develop into some really strong senior footballers by working well with regular senior players like Jacob Smith, Jacob Mitchell and Daniel Camilleri.
“James Kroussoratis is also a strong talent we want to keep using. He is having another great season on the track as well.”
Banyule will have a delayed start to its 2019 campaign, with a bye in Round 1. The Bears host 2018 minor premier Eltham in Round 2.