It’s the perfect time for Kinglake to re-enter the NFNL according to senior men’s coach Andrew Fairchild as his side prepare for their first game in the league since 2007.
The NFNL announced Kinglake’s arrival in September when AFL Victoria ratified their transfer from the Outer East Football League.
Kinglake’s senior men’s team will return to the competition they played in between 1996 and 2007, with the Lakers joining Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3.
The club also fielded two netball teams in the 2022/23 senior summer netball competition as a pre cursor to the 2023 winter netball competition.
It’s also a return to the league for coach Fairchild, who has spent the last four years at the Lakers as a playing coach.
The forward made his senior debut with Whittlesea in 2005, and then played three seasons with Greensborough between 2007 and 2009, kicking 111 goals in 44 appearances.
He then spent the next nine years back at the Whittlesea Showgrounds where he would kick 371 goals in just 135 games, a span which included three Division 2 men’s premierships and three Division 2 men’s Team of the Year selections.
The 36-year-old is excited to be coming back to the NFNL, saying that the playing group are optimistic about the change of environment in 2023.
“In (the Outer East), there’s a bit of travel involved, and you play the same sides over and over. I think that a lot of the boys that are still with us now and had played previously at Kinglake before me we’re getting a bit over the same old,” he said.
“I think the change in league and our age group now of our team really suits the NFNL. There’s a fair bit of excitement around and the boys are really looking forward to playing some different footy.”
The Lakers boast multiple players who have recently made appearances in the NFNL, including Whittlesea premiership captain Matthew Coen, former North Heidelberg captain Leigh Gilbert, former Greensborough ruck Jake McNamara and Whittlesea premiership player Matthew Langford.
Fairchild said that while they may be familiar with the league they’re returning too, the unknown that will come with playing multiple new opponents in the competition this year has the quartet eager to embrace new challenges.
“I think they’re excited about getting back to Northern, there’s a bit less travel and they’re playing in a bit of a different competition,” he said.
“For both Matt’s and Leigh and the other boys, they haven’t really played against any of these sides either that we’re coming up against so it’s going to be a really exciting time for not just them, but everyone involved at the club.”
But there will be new Kinglake stars to cast our eyes over in 2023, such as last year’s club best and fairest winner Bailey Robinson and 23-year-old Mason McAllister, two players Fairchild highlighted as one’s to watch this year.
“(Bailey) ended up captaining our side when our captain broke his leg, he got thrown into it, ended up captaining the group for 14 games and did a fantastic job,” he said.
“He matured and grew into that role when he probably wasn’t expected to do so, and it really helped his footy. He would be the first to admit he’d be captain and wouldn’t be able to produce what he produced.
“Mason’s been a part of the leadership group for a few years, he’s only ever played at Kinglake, he’s a Kinglake boy, his family is heavily involved.
“For him to get out there and try a different brand of footy, I think he’s been itching to do that for a few years. He’s only young but he’s got plenty of experience, he played senior football when he was 15 or 16 for Kinglake and he’s a very classy footballer.”
And it’s the lesser-known players from an NFNL point of view, that Fairchild believes can lead the way in terms of his side’s improvement and development throughout the season.
“We know what we’re going to get from Leigh Gilbert, Matt Coen, Matt Langford, Rohan King (our captain) and those guys, they’ve been around a while and play good footy no matter what,” he said.
“But I think our improvement will come from the likes of Bailey and Mason. There’s a number of them (as well) that have been with me since 2019 that have played 30-50 senior games like Bailey’s brother Ethan, as well as Tom Clarke and Riley Kennedy.”
Fairchild has done his homework ahead of the opening game of the season, using his experience and recent observations of the Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 competition to make the appropriate tweaks in his side’s game style.
In saying that, the former Whittlesea captain is still hoping to implement some of his current tactics into this year’s gameplan.
“From what I’ve seen of Division 3 games and what my experience in the Northern (taught me), it is a lot more open, a bit more free-flowing and more about trying to move the ball a bit quicker and use your skills,” he said.
“We’ve been focused on using our skills and using the ball quicker but also knowing the time to do that. That’s been a big focus at preseason is skills, controlling the footy and up tempo when we can.
“We’ll be looking to play that footy but hopefully we can bring a bit of a hardened edge because that’s what we’re used to.”
The Lakers open their 2023 account at home to Reservoir in what will be the first time they take the field since the Outer East Division 2 grand final, where they went down by 10 points to Powelltown.
But with a whole new challenge to face, beginning in a month’s time, Fairchild was under no illusions that his side will have to be at their best each week.
“If we’re actually going to set a limit on it, we would be hoping to play finals, but understanding it’s going to be a very even and exciting competition, so we know we have to play well,” he said.
“We’ll definitely be using the cold conditions up in Kinglake to our advantage and try to make our home ground a fortress.”