Creekers committed to going one better in 2024

Published on Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Author : Tim MacDougall

Diamond Creek senior men’s captain Nathan Searl says the club’s ambitions remain fixated on premiership success in 2024 after falling short in last year’s MC Labour Division 2 decider.

The Creekers finished on top of the ladder with a near flawless 17-1 record at the end of the 2023 home and away season, but lost twice to Eltham in the finals campaign, including the grand final.

While some see the defeat as a missed opportunity for Diamond Creek, Searl was quick to stress that the club’s winning culture remained strong as ever.

“Right now, something special is happening at the club,” he said.

“Although we haven’t sat down as a wider group and said a premiership is our absolute goal, I think everybody knows we want to go one better.

“Our reserves came up short and our 19’s were able to win a premiership. Our under 17’s are a phenomenal team coming through, and they were able to win a premiership. We all have the same mindset as to where we want to go with it, but there is still a lot to go under the bridge before that’s crossed our mind.”

The club’s Division 2 Under 19.5’s premiership came following a brilliant finals series in which they claimed an 80-point semi-final win and 20-point grand final triumph against South Morang.

While in their first senior grand-final appearance since 2017, the Creekers fielded a side with an average age of 25.

Searl says adding fresh young talent to the senior group remains a strong focus of the coaching staff and leadership group.

“One thing we pride ourselves on is that we stay connected as a group. We have two grounds, but we don’t send the 19’s off very often. They are always learning the language of the senior team and seeing what some of the leaders do,” he said.

“Jett McLaughlan, Blake Wylie, Taj Logan and Liam Farrar are all at the Northern Knights and ones we hope can push for senior selection. They are some pretty phenomenal players.”

Hurstbridge star Mitch Dale, Montmorency young-gun Kyle Kankaanpaa, and former Diamond Creek junior Connor Lidgerwood will join the group in the hopes of making their mark on the team.

These new faces are already impressing on the training track according to Searl.

“Mitch has already shown leadership qualities. We already knew that he is going to be a good player since he won a Division 1 Best and Fairest for Hurstbridge. He has helped some of the young kids learn our system, which he is still learning himself,” he said.

“Kyle’s going to bring us a fair bit from the midfield and forward line. He’s got pace and seems like he has a strong footy head for his shoulders. I know he played a fair bit of senior footy at Montmorency as a young kid, so that’s exciting.

“As for Connor, he has a lot of senior footy ahead of him and only left to get more senior opportunities at Panton Hill… he’s one that can definitely push for senior selection.”

Adding to the depth of the club in recent days is defender Bradley Moore, who comes to Coventry Oval after a successful tenure at Heidelberg West which includes two club best and fairest’s as well as five Division 3 Team of the Year selections.

This strengthened Diamond Creek side will encounter new challenges in 2024, as Laurimar and Whittlesea enter the MC Labour Division 2 competition; and join a close-knit group of teams vying for finals contention, with only three games separating third to seventh position in 2023.

Searl expects the Power and the Eagles to be tough opponents this year, reinforcing his idea that every team is a threat in Division 2.

“Our only loss of the home and away season came against Panton Hill, so on any given day we know you can come up against a side that is really hungry and willing to knock you off,” he said.

“With Laurimar coming up, we already know what South Morang did last year, and through the years those two have had a lot of battles… they have a strong junior club coming through and they’ll come in with a bit of division one and division two experience, so they will challenge sides.

“As for Whittlesea, they are coming off a year where they didn’t reach the heights they wanted to, but they were competitive… There’s a number of kids I know that have played senior footy there and I know are hungry to play again. With some of the names they’ve brought back in and since they’ve kept most of their senior list, they’ll be a contender next year.”

If Diamond Creek are to challenge again, it will be the performance of their defence that could determine their likelihood. In 2023, the side conceded an average of only 38 points during the regular season.

Creekers fans will be emboldened by the retention of most of their team’s star-studded backline, but Searl says the impressive statistic can only be achieved by the effort of the entire team.

“A.T (Andrew Tranquilli) does bring up that number quite often, and we pride ourselves on it. We are a team very heavily based on a system, so knowing how we set up is well drilled into us,” he said.

“It’s great that our backline gets a pat on the back for keeping teams to low scores, but it’s a full team system, whether that’s from kick-ins to centre bounces setups, that allow us to defend first and attack afterwards.

“We rely on our midfield to put on as much pressure as possible, so that we can do what we do best. The same goes for the forward line with scoreboard pressure.”

Playing his role in an impressive defensive unit, Searl went on to finish equal third in the NFNL Division 2 best and fairest last year and was selected on the half-back flank in the Team of the Year alongside teammates Joel Randall, Jacob Booth and Nicholas Barro.

The 29-year-old feels he is playing the best footy of his career, but the skipper admits these awards are hard to fully appreciate whilst the club is still eying its first senior flag since 2005.

“I would have loved to be a premiership winning captain and a player in a premiership winning side. Going to that league best and fairest after a losing grand final was hard to do,” he said.

“[These accolades] come from the support you have around you and being a part of a side that allows me to play to my strengths. I have weaknesses in my game, and I have teammates that help me cover that. We work as a unit to get the best out of everyone.

“You think you are doing everything right at 21-22 years old, but once you get to my age of nearly 30, you start to understand what you need to do on a senior footy field to impact games.”

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