Panton Hill coach Simon Amore is enjoying his return to Cracknell Reserve, although he has no illusions regarding the challenge which awaits his team in its return to A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2.
A Redbacks premiership player in 2013, Amore has taken the coaching reins from Steve Layt, who stepped aside after last year guiding the club to the Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 premiership.
Amore said the coaching handover had been smooth as the club prepares itself for a move to a higher division.
“It’s been pretty seamless, to be honest,” Amore told NFNL.org.au.
“To have some familiar faces around when I take on my first senior role has been good.
“To get to know the new wave coming through and familiarising myself with them and them with me has been really enjoyable over the last few months.”
Amore’s credibility for the role is unquestioned.
An integral part of Panton Hill’s 2013 third division premiership team, he coached Heidelberg’s reserves to a premiership in 2016 and was an assistant coach at Greensborough during last year’s Meadows Greyhounds Division 1 grand final campaign.
Having worked with several different clubs, Amore knows success comes from being open to alternative views, even if the surrounds are again familiar.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who have been involved with the club for the last couple of years and I will have a couple of others who will help me on game day just to get some outside voices, so we have a good balance of both,” he said.
Additionally, Steve Layt, who coached the Redbacks to consecutive grand finals over the past two years, is also nearby and available for any questions his successor may have.
“Steve’s still involved with the football club and it’s people like that you’re really keen to keep involved,” Amore said.
“His heart and soul is with Panton Hill. He’s been involved throughout my time, so if I need anything, he’s been there if I need to tap him for advice.”
Indeed, the step up to a new division is an imposing benchmark to measure against and Panton Hill’s recent forays into second division will not be recorded as halcyon days of the club.
The Redbacks averaged only one win in every five outings when they lasted competed in A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 between 2014 to 2017.
Their best placing was sixth with a 6-12 win-loss record in 2014, before they were demoted to Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 after only winning another eight games across the following three seasons.
Amore is backing his side’s ability to make the grade in 2020, but he knows there are formidable opponents in the division.
“I think Eltham and Banyule will be really strong, just in terms of previous results and recruiting and what they’ve been able to do over the last couple of months,” Amore said.
“I think Lower Plenty coming down from the first division, where I saw them up close last year and they had some good moments.
“I think it will be a pretty competitive year.”
Panton Hill’s focus for 2020 will be about establishing itself as a perennial second division participant, although the newly minted fifth finals spot is a tantalising prospect.
“We want to make sure that we’re competitive in every single game that we play,” Amore said.
“We’re not putting any expectations or ceiling on the season itself.
“Top 5 makes it more interesting this year. You have that extra spot to aim for come the end of the year.
“I try to look at it after four-week blocks and then reassess our short-term goals.
“It is a long play for us as a football club anyway. We don’t want to be a regular third division club, we want to cement ourselves in the second division.”
To achieve that aim, Amore plans to exploit the tight confines of the club’s home base at A.E. Cracknell Reserve with an exciting game plan.
“I would like it to be attacking, to be brave with the football and be a bit more free-flowing,” he said.
“We want plenty of support run, taking some educated risks and making sure that our decision-making is where it needs to be.
“There will be times where we will need to get numbers around the footy and we’ll need that protection but I want to make sure the guys have got full faith in their ability and are looking to be attacking, especially on our ground where you can score heavily quickly.
“I want us to be a little bit more attacking out of our back half. Our backline is our strongest line and we have got some genuine talent running out of our back half.”
A renewed focus on scoring is essential given Rhys Boyden won’t be with the club this year after topping the Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 goal kicking over the past two seasons.
Although, with every problem comes opportunity and Amore has identified an upside to not having a clear target man.
“We’ve got some guys who we think we can work through and it may work in our favour because you become more unpredictable to opposition sides.”
Injury has got the better of premiership ruckman Joel McLellan, who will not play this season.
However, the Redbacks have some notable additions.
“We’ve brought (Tyler) Scarce back who’s a bit of a club great, really. He’s still in his prime, super fit, so to get his experience back is fantastic for our midfield group.
“We’ve added Jack Ryan (Heidelberg) and Jesse Owens-Draper (Whittlesea and Mernda) who will provide us with a bit of class and polish, which is an area we needed to continue to improve on.
“Drew (Schleibs) has had a fantastic pre-season. He’s trained as well as anybody over the Christmas period. The beauty of Drew is his versatility. We can play him up forward, he’s quite quick and he’s strong enough to play down back or on the wings.”
Panton Hill plays Old Eltham Collegians on the evening of Thursday March 19 at Cracknell Reserve before travelling to Kinglake on March 28.
Amore said he will use the practice matches to see signs that his game style, honed across the summer months, is showing through in game conditions.
The Redbacks commence their 2020 home and away campaign with a twilight clash against Diamond Creek on April 4.