Lower Plenty coach Ben Turner is confident the club’s strong pre-season has provided the competitive edge needed for its return to Meadows Greyhounds Division 1.
The Bears return to the top tier after a two-year hiatus following one of the most dramatic grand final wins in league history – with Ben Paterson’s goal on the final siren handing the club the A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 flag – its premiership since 2011.
The momentum from the last-gasp win has continued through pre-season, with Turner excited about what the 2019 season holds for the Bears.
“We’ve had a strong pre-season and, like everybody would I suppose, our playing group have really embraced the challenge that is Division 1,” Turner told NFNL.org.au.
“Our training standards have been improving, as well as our application to training.
“We’re really excited by the prospect of playing in Division 1 and what’s ahead of us this season, but we understand that we have to improve in these areas in order to prepare well.”
Lower Plenty will continue to promote youth in 2019, despite the jump in grade.
The Bears’ grand final squad had an average age just under 25, with 11 of the 25 players named in the squad being 22 years or younger.
Turner said the club would continue to give opportunities to young players who have emerged through the senior team in recent seasons.
“We decided at the commencement of last year that we were going to try and invest a bit of time into our younger players,” Turner said.
“We gave multiple opportunities to our under-19s coming through and gave them some exposure to senior footy in the hope that when the time came for us to be in first division that we’d at least given a large portion of our group some exposure to senior football.
“Understandably the level is going to be different in first division but the fact that we’ve already given them some exposure for us is a real positive.
“We’re obviously looking at them to continue to improve so some natural improvement from them will hopefully help us as a footy club.”
One player relishing the move back to the top flight is captain Patrick Flynn, who is looking to back up after a dominant 2018 campaign that saw him win the A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 best and fairest and the best on ground medal in the grand final.
While many pundits expect Flynn to remain on the competition’s most dominant big men, Turner also highlighted others he believes will excel in the Division 1 environment.
“Ben [Paterson] kicked the winning goal for us in the grand final last year but not only that, he’s made the Team of the Year in the last two years and still only 20 years of age, so his development is still on the rise,” Turner said.
“Also, someone like Jordan Sacco, who has got some terrific training habits and a real desire to improve and work hard, he has a real work ethic and that will help us enormously.
“Ciaran Porter’s another one. He’s a younger player who attacks his training with great desire and he’s really dedicated to senior football. He’s a workhorse and he’s a really popular player within our group so he will have a great impact.”
Lower Plenty will be aided by the return of Cameron Elmore, Sam Paterson and Josh Turner, while Matthew Perazzola joins from Northcote Park.
Both Elmore and Paterson have overcome knee injuries that sidelined them for the entire 2018 season. Elmore is a proven performer in Division 1, while Paterson led the Bears’ best and fairest in 2017 before suffering a knee injury in Round 9.
Turner has spent the past two years with Doncaster, where he played 38 games in the EFL’s top division. He has previously played 12 games for the Bears – the most recent in 2015.
One of Lower Plenty’s key strengths in 2018 was its rotation of taller players through the forward line. Tom Keys, Thomas Blake, Corey Sleep, Darcy Barden and Patrick Flynn combined for 135 goals during the premiership campaign.
“I think you’ll still find that a number of those players will still play pivotal roles in our season in 2019,” Turner said.
“It’s probably no secret that we’ve got some taller options that we can put through our forward half that are damaging types and I guess that adds to our unpredictability that a number of these guys are capable of kicking goals on any given day.
“It gives us an element of potency that we can use some different players in different positions in the forward line and because it’s a small ground that we play on, having the tall timber can be pretty advantageous for us.”
While ambitious about what the season will hold for his side, Turner said he would focus on improving the fundamentals to ensure a smooth transition into the higher grade.
“For us it’s about being as competitive as we can be every week, having minimal lapses in concentration and being more consistent through games,” he said.
“That’s something we really strived to achieve throughout the pre-season, working hard on our competitive edge and really making the best we can on being in Division 1.
“I think if we can do all these things on a consistent basis, then the wins and losses category will take care of itself.”