Old Paradians embracing fresh start

Published on Friday, March 1, 2024

Author : Tim MacDougall

Incoming Old Paradians senior men’s coach Ben Turner says the club is both eager and well prepared for their inaugural season in the NFNL.

The club enters the NFNL with a proud history, winning 11 premierships in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) since their inception in 1929, with their most recent coming in 2015.

Last year, the Raiders placed 7th of 10 teams in Division 2 (VAFA 5th tier), which was their lowest finish in the division since 2008.

However, with new coach Ben Turner now in his fourth NFNL coaching job, Old Paradians fans will hope that his league experience can contribute to their team settling quickly into life in the northern suburbs.

In 2015, Ben Turner led Greensborough to a Division 1 grand final and four years later enjoyed premiership success with Lower Plenty as they claimed the Division 2 flag in a famous decider. He departed the Bears in 2021 and joined Banyule as an assistant coach, helping the side to the 2022 Division 2 premiership.

Despite these accolades, Turner still feels he has more to prove as a coach, saying that he always felt open to the idea of returning to a head coach position following the announcement of Old Paradians acceptance into the NFNL.

“When I was coaching previously, I felt like that wasn’t the expiry,” he said.

“I was keen enough to have a go as a senior coach and obviously the Old Paradians position was an attractive one from my end, given I am a teacher at the school. It certainly perked my interest when the position was available, and they were moving to the Northern Football Netball League.

“I’m really enjoying the transition back into senior coaching.”

After a season where the Raiders finished 6-11-1, the club will hope that the fresh start can rejuvenate the senior group.

Turner says the anticipation of a new challenge is creating a positive atmosphere around the club, following years of planning behind the scenes to make the transition a reality.

“The club has a rich history in the amateur competition, and the decision to move was not one the club took lightly,” he said.

“The club has certainly done its homework over the last couple of years about what the benefits were to move. The decision to come across was one that has been met with lots of excitement, and lots of people were keen for that to become the case.

“There has definitely been a lot of optimism and excitement around the unknown. That’s what has been driving most people. We don’t really know what the competitions are going to look like having not played in it.

“We have had a bit of insight in recent years, having played practice matches against NFNL clubs, so that’s given us an idea of what we might need to prepare for.”

Old Paradians will begin their NFNL journey in Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 in 2024, an already competitive division which took until the final round of last season to determine the top four.

Now with 11 sides, including fellow newcomers Ivanhoe, vying for just five finals spots, the Lower Plenty premiership coach says it’s tough to anticipate where his club may rank this season.

“It is difficult to put a figure or number of games you want to win when you don’t have much knowledge [of the division]. We are not putting a ceiling on where we think we can get to,” he said.

“Ultimately, we have to make sure to put ourselves in games and get our teeth into the season. We will hopefully get that first win and follow our motion on a week-by-week basis.

“For us, it is all about getting better as a football club. Whether that’s making finals, then terrific. If that is improving weekly, then that’s something we’ll accept as well.”

The team’s ambitions will be bolstered by their recruitment in the off-season, with a string of strong signings joining the club.

Arguably the most impressive addition is three-time Heidelberg premiership star Sam Gilmore, who joins the club following a stellar career with the Tigers which included two premierships as captain, a Division 1 MVP and three Division 1 Team of the Year appearances.

Turner says moving to the league has provided the club with fresh opportunities for recruitment, with Gilmore set to play an integral role in the Raiders’ quest for success.

“It’s not often you are able to secure the services of a past Division 1 captain, so the fact we were able to get Sam onboard speaks volumes in where he sees the club heading,” he said.

“Sam has been wonderful with his presence on the training track. We’re really excited to see what he’s going to be able to do for our group and club. We certainly envisage him playing an important role in our on and off-field performance.

“Sam’s a part of our coaching group as well, so we’re really excited to see where that takes us for season 2024.”

Gilmore’s brother Will, a club best and fairest in 2019, is returning to Garvey Oval, whilst former Eltham vice-captain Kyle O’Sullivan too joins the club alongside Greensborough and Panton Hill forward Mitch Merkel.

These are inclusions that Turner believes can have a huge impact on the senior squad in 2024.

“All three are doing a really good job at the moment,” he said.

“Will is transitioning from somebody that hasn’t played footy in a couple of years, so he’s trying to get to training and increasing the workload his body can handle.

“Kyle’s really someone that has shown plenty on-field, and Mitch is going to be a major asset for us forward of the footy. Guys that have come in and played senior football elsewhere, certainly lifts the standards.”

These recruits join a list of important current players eager to make their mark in the NFNL.

If Old Paradians are to find success in 2024, it will likely be off the back of captain Marcus Nolan, who has won a club record of five best and fairest’s, with the past three coming consecutively.

Alongside him is Raiders statesman Michael Boundy, who topped the club’s goal kicking list last season with 39 majors.

It will be a combination of fresh recruits and experienced clubmen, as well as the plans to make Garvey Oval a fortress, that Turner says will make his side a tough opponent to face in 2024.

“We want to be hard to play against. That will mean we are going to be fit… and for us it’s about trying to utilise our assets,” he said.

“One of those is our oval. We’re lucky with our school that we are able to utilise such a wonderful football oval. Being able to use Garvey Oval will be important to us, so that’s a style that’s attributed to playing on a big ground.

“A lot of grounds in Division 3 are spacious ovals, so that’s something we will want to use to our advantage.”

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