Old Eltham Collegians coach Matthew Sleeman believes his side is ready to contend for a premiership in Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 following a breakthrough 2022 campaign.
In just their second completed season in the NFNL, the Turtles exceeded the expectations of many after finishing in third spot at the end of the home and away season.
The club would go on to win their first final in the competition before going down to eventual premiers South Morang in the preliminary final.
Reflecting on the year, Sleeman praised his side for their superb efforts throughout the campaign, particularly in the finals series.
“We were always there abouts as the second or third best team all year and we were pretty confident that if we got to the finals and come up against Kilmore or Laurimar in the first final we’d get through to a prelim and that’s what we did,” he said.
The Turtles’ run included a seven-game winning streak in the first half of the season, as well as five victories against fellow top four teams.
It was enough for Sleeman to set his early expectations on his side ahead of next year.
“My expectation is that we’re playing in a Grand Final, I’m not going to shy away from that, I’m happy to say that, but you just never know,” he said.
“Some other clubs have recruited well and until we actually play Kinglake and Fitzroy Stars, I’ll reserve my decision on whether they’ll be competitive clubs in the division because I just don’t know what their list is like, I haven’t seen them play.
“Based on last season we should be a top two side, but until we see those guys play, it could be five or six sides that are quiet evenly placed and that top four could be hard to get in to, so we just don’t know yet.”
What will help their cause in 2023 is the fact that the club has already retained the majority of their playing list, including Turtles best and fairest winner Niall McDonagh and leading goalkicker Nicholas Milne.
Sleeman was impressed with the loyalty shown by his playing group, highlighting their commitment to the club as a reason he believes Old Eltham Collegians can take the next step.
“It’s a pretty special place the Turtle Dome, people seem to come here and don’t leave. It’s no secret that we’re under resourced, we don’t have the greatest facilities and we’re low-financed,” he said.
“But for whatever reason people come, they enjoy themselves and they play for less when they come to us, every player we’ve got could absolutely get more money somewhere else.
“They play because they want to be a part of something, and they know what we’re building here is making this club successful.”
The 2022 playing group signing on for next season has allowed the club to add some depth to their side, with the Turtles already announcing eight new recruits, six of those coming from Division 2 club Epping.
Sleeman believes the additions from the Blues has already proven to be beneficial in pre-season training, saying their experience will be vital for the side’s ambitions in 2023.
“We’ve been recruiting pretty well again this year… so our list is looking pretty strong for the next season,” he said.
“We’ve had two weeks of preseason so far and I think the Epping boys that have come across have really set the tone at training.
“They’ve been present at every session and are running some good times in their 2kms as well, so we’re really excited to see what they can do in 2023.”