Fitzroy Stars senior men’s co-coach Lionel Proctor believes the return of some familiar faces to the club will boost the Stars’ aim of returning to their competitive best.
The Stars will play in Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 for the first time since joining the NFNL in 2008, after a winless campaign in last year’s MC Labour Division 2 competition.
Proctor’s side haven’t wasted any time with their preparation ahead of the 2023 season, with pre-season training underway as well as a club training camp already on the cards for February, which he hopes will help strengthen the morale of the playing group.
“There’s some really good signs early, most of the lads have come back in pretty decent shape, they did a fair bit over the break by doing their own training,” he said.
“We do have quite a few players that have come back to us this year which is great (and they all) bring plenty of experience, so the camp is about building that chemistry.”
Among those returning include trio Jai Burns, Allan Norris and Corey Wanganeen, who have played over 300 games combined with the Stars.
Burns made 23 appearances with Bundoora between 2021-2022 and was named in the Bulls’ best in their grand final defeat to Heidelberg last September, while Norris heads into the 2023 season with a premiership from North Gippsland FNL side Yallourn.
Wanganeen returns from an impressive 2022 campaign with Girgarre in the Kyabram District FNL where he finished runners up in the club best and fairest and was named in the league’s Team of the Year.
Proctor highlighted the importance of bringing some experience back into his young side, adding that he was excited to see the impact the trio will have on the squad.
“That’s what we wanted to do after a pretty tough couple of years working with a lot of young guys, we needed to get some experience back,” he said.
“Jai Burns especially, is already showing great leadership out on the track and is taking the young guys under his wing. Just to watch him go about his training is really going to rub off on a lot of guys.”
The Fitzroy Stars have also been hard at work in the recruiting department as they aim to cover the losses of their top three players from last year’s club best and fairest, Riley Livingstone (Panton Hill), Hotak Akram (Panton Hill) and Ashley Hood (Thomastown).
Proctor praised the arrivals of Kyabram District FNL duo Rex Taylor (Girgarre) and Anthony Walker (Tallygaroopna), saying that they will be critical for the side at both ends of the ground.
“Rex Taylor brings experience, he’s been around football for a long time now, playing up at Rumbalara and Girgarre. He’s really clever with the ball, really quick and we can play him anywhere,” he said.
“Anthony Walker is only young but can play some big key position roles, we’ll look to play him across the half back flank because he can play on all sizes.”
2023 will be Proctor’s third year as coach of the Stars but this season, he’ll be a co-coach alongside his 2022 senior assistant, David Nelson.
Proctor is looking forward to developing his partnership with Nelson and believes he’ll suit the role well.
“After last year I thought it’d be a pretty good fit because I’m still playing and to have an extra set of eyes on the side lines will help,” he said.
“(He’s a) really good communicator, really enthusiastic and gets everything out of his coaching. We’re really looking forward to the year ahead.”
The Stars will open their 2023 account at home on April 15 when they battle Lalor ahead of the 16-game Division 3 season.
While wary of the task ahead, Proctor is hopeful that a positive pre-season can be the foundation to the Stars getting back to winning ways.
“It’s definitely not going to be easy, but I think we’ll back ourselves in, we’re not really putting a limit on ourselves this year,” he said.
“Anything is possible, as long as we work hard and continue to build that connection with our gameplan, we’ll definitely back ourselves to be more than competitive.”