The sky is the limit for Old Eltham Collegians in its first season in the NFNL, according to coach John Garrard.
The league’s newest club will compete in Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 in 2019 after a transfer from the VAFA was given the green light in October.
Heading into his third season as coach, Garrard said his side is aware of the challenge that lies ahead but believes being an unknown quantity to its competitors could be an advantage.
“It can be a bit scary to be honest. We have a lot of people who are unknown of what to expect with the league. No-one at the club really has a background other than myself and a couple of other players,” Garrard told NFNL.org.au.
“We’ll be going in a little but blind but at the same time it’s also exciting to be the unknown.
“We like the fact that a lot of the clubs aren’t too familiar with us at the moment. It could be our benefit, especially early on in the season.”
Old Eltham Collegians finished bottom on the VAFA Division 2 ladder in 2018 with a 1-17 record and a percentage of just 34.
Garrard believes it is a great opportunity for his side to start fresh after a difficult season.
“We just want to play as good as we can and see how far we go. If that means we make finals or win a premiership then that’s even better,” Garrard said.
“I think with the fact that there’s no expectations, it gives us the opportunity to be as good as we can, especially coming into a new league.”
The Turtles have had a strong start to pre-season, with over 50 players already hitting the track.
They’ve brought in many new faces, most of which have previous experience in the NFNL at both senior and junior levels.
Garrard said bringing in players with previous experience in the NFNL had been a priority ahead of the club’s debut season in the league.
“These new players bring that professionalism to training that we need. Having been coming from other clubs, particularly Division 1 clubs, they’ve helped to show what’s required on the track to prepare for the NFNL,” Garrard said.
“For example, Tom O’Neill from West Preston has a wealth of experience. He was a regular senior player and he will do a lot of work with our backline, which is brilliant.
“Matt Sleeman [new assistant coach] has been at West Preston all his life and has had success there as a coach, so he also helps with that experience for everyone involved.
“Those two guys in particular have been big inclusions to help us move forward but all the inclusions really boost the performances at training, especially with the current players coming from an amateur background.”
Although the beginning of the 2019 season remains more than four months away, Garrard believes the club is already reaping benefits of its move to the NFNL.
“The condition we were in the VAFA was that some of the players were only playing amateur footy because they didn’t have to train as much to get a game and not putting the effort into the fitness levels,” Garrard said.
“So, by moving into a semi-professional league it changes the expectations of the current players and by bringing in new players it helps to reset the club and get a clear direction.
“The expectations and the commitment levels required to earn that senior spot rather than just being given it will continue to be stressed throughout the club and it will help us improve.
“It might take a while to understand game plans and which players are suited to the best positions, but we’re very excited about the group we’ve got, and the commitment levels and the increased enthusiasm of the players has been fantastic.”