A review of the 2023 Heidelberg Golf Club Division 3 season.
In only its fifth completed season in the NFNL, Laurimar claimed the flag and will progress to Division 2, but it was a tough slog to achieve that feat, with two finals games against Mernda going down to the wire.
The Demons surprised many after several years outside the top four by finishing atop the table and then pushing the Power all the way in the grand final.
Old Eltham Collegians repeated their efforts of 2022 with a preliminary final exit after finishing fourth and winning the first semi-final.
Kinglake entered the competition after transferring from the Outer East Football Netball League and made an immediate impact. The Lakers were in the hunt for a top two finish for most of the season before finishing third and then losing their first semi-final.
Remarkably, the top three teams at the end of the regular season in Mernda, Laurimar and Kinglake, were unbeaten at home this year.
Heidelberg West narrowly missed the top four for the second year in a row, this time falling short due to percentage.
Kilmore finished sixth, dropping back from a finals appearance in 2022, while after some tough years in the higher grade, the Fitzroy Stars produced a five-win season to finish in seventh position.
Once more, Reservoir and Lalor were doing battle at the foot of the table. As in 2022, the Mustangs swept the series against the Bloods, albeit having to survive a scare at Lalor Reserve in Round 6.
The addition of the two new teams into the competition made for more uncertainty in results.
This was best illustrated by the Stars who scraped in by three points against bottom-placed Lalor in Round 10. Three weeks later, they went within nine points of knocking over the eventual premiers in Laurimar. It proved to be one of the most competitive Division 3 seasons in NFNL history.
Two players broke away from the pack to fight out the Best & Fairest award. Heidelberg West’s Lachlan Evans would finish with the award after polling 31 votes. He finished four votes ahead of Mernda’s Billy Morrison, while Luke Wilson of Laurimar was third with 17 votes, but did go on to win the Coaches MVP Award.
Old Eltham Collegians’ Matthew Williamson won the goal-kicking with 63 goals in the regular season, with his best haul being a bag of 11 against Lalor in Round 2. He also booted three more majors in the finals to take his full season tally to 66 and finished 20 goals clear of Leigh Gilbert (Kinglake) who booted 43 regular season goals.
Continue below for a season review for each Division 3 team:
Premier (13 wins – 3 losses)
Many pundits had tipped Laurimar as the likely premiership team prior to the start of the 2023 campaign, and while that tip turned out to be correct, their path to glory was probably more difficult than many anticipated. Keeping much of the same squad that saw them reach the club’s first Grand Final last year, the Power produced a comfortable win over Kilmore to start the season, but it was soon followed by a shock loss to Mernda the following week. After a defeat to the newly introduced Kinglake in Round 7, the Power found themselves back in third spot on the table and had to fight hard for the remainder of the season to ensure they would receive the double chance. Jimmy Atkins’ men eventually grabbed second spot on the ladder by prevailing in seven of their last eight games. Things were looking good for the Power in the second semi-final against the Demons when they led by 22-points at the final change. But the Demons booted four unanswered goals to briefly hit the front. Noah Mooney then stepped up for Laurimar, goaling twice after taking two terrific marks, allowing his side to take the shortcut into the grand final. The rematch in the final game of the season against Mernda proved to be an all-time contest. This time it was the Demons who looked the goods for the latter part of the contest, but the Power fought back in time on of the final term before a goal just prior to the siren by Jacson Cecil sealed the deal for Laurimar. With strong junior representation as well as both their reserves and under-19’s sides reaching finals in their respective competitions, the club looks a good chance to make an impact in Division 2 and follow a similar vein to South Morang.
Most times in best: Luke Wilson (10)
Leading goal kicker: Jacson Cecil & Noah Mooney (30 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Ethan Bateman, Nathan Andrews, Kaiden Arthur, Noah Mooney, Luke Wilson, Mitch Thompson.
Runner-Up (14 wins – 2 losses)
Mernda fans had waited a long time for a finals appearance as they approached the 2023 campaign. The wait was made more frustrating after narrow misses in 2018 and 2019, followed by the two missed seasons of 2020 and 2021. Despite having promising juniors coming through the ranks at the club, expectations were low outside the four walls at Waterview Recreation Reserve, however recruits such as Billy Morrison and Daniel Smith would prove to be influential. The Demons started the year in great form, defeating two top teams from the previous season in Old Eltham Collegians and Laurimar in the opening two rounds. Travelling to Kinglake Memorial Oval to play the unbeaten Lakers in Round 3, a tight tussle was expected, and while the hosts led by 70 points at three quarter time, the Demons brought the margin back to fall short by 36 points. The loss didn’t derail Mernda, who went on to win their next six straight matches while only dropping one more loss for the rest of the season. Entering the finals series on the back of that strong form, they were gallant in the second semi-final but went down to the Power by a narrow margin before getting back to their best in a terrific 36-point preliminary final win over Old Eltham Collegians. It was that form they brought into their first Grand Final appearance in 11 years the following week. The Demons had control at various points of the match and twice led by 17 points in the final term but were unable to hold off a fast-finishing Laurimar side. Following their breakout campaign, expectations will be high for Robert Fletcher’s men ahead of a 2024 season where they will be looked at as a strong premiership contender.
Most times in best: Billy Morrison (11)
Leading goal kicker: Bryce Kimuliatis (45 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Dayne Kellett, Kai Turner, Billy Morrison.
OLD ELTHAM COLLEGIANS
Third (10 wins – 6 losses)
In a breakout season, the Turtles made the finals in 2022, getting as far as the preliminary final, and after a bunch of recruits joined the club in the off-season, headlined by eventual competition leading goalkicker Matthew Williamson, there was optimism that the club could reach greater heights this year. While many had tipped Old Eltham Collegians for a top two finish, they spent most of the season in and around fourth spot, mainly challenging with Heidelberg West for that final spot in the top four. They twice went down to the Hawks but were able to pull off some impressive wins over top three teams which helped them secure a second straight finals berth. A 40-point win over Kinglake in Round 6 and a seven-point triumph over Laurimar in Round 14 were the key victories for the Turtles in the regular season. In fact, Matt Sleeman’s men went within a kick of making it a clean sweep of the Power, losing their other match by just three points. Needing a win in the final round of the season in order to play finals, Old Eltham Collegians cruised to a big victory over Kilmore to qualify. Tipsters were split when the Turtles and Lakers clashed in the first semi-final. But the former controlled the contest and triumphed to the tune of 24 points. It was a tougher assignment the next week, with the match soon proving that Old Eltham Collegians were no match for Mernda in the preliminary final, going down by 36 points. A grand final berth will be the aim in 2024, with the form of the last two seasons suggesting that the goal is within reach.
Most times in best: Matthew Williamson (11)
Leading goal kicker: Matthew Williamson (66 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Timothy Ellis, Sebastian Francis-Perkins, Nicholas Milne, Matthew Williamson
Fourth (12 wins – 4 losses)
Following a Grand Final appearance in their final season in the Outer East Football Netball League last year, Kinglake would prove to adjust well to Division 3 football in the NFNL. Despite there being plenty of unknown about how they would fare in the competition, the Lakers exceeded all expectations early in the 2023 campaign when they went 5-0. The most impressive win in this block was a 36-point victory over a Mernda side who had just come off back-to-back wins over Old Eltham Collegians and Laurimar. The winning run came to an end in Round 6 with a 40-point loss to Old Eltham Collegians at Eltham College, however they bounced back the following week on their home ground to defeat eventual premiers Laurimar by 30 points, it would prove to be the Power’s biggest loss for the season. Kinglake went to the mid-season break at 7-1 with a finals berth virtually locked in, and the goal of grabbing the coveted double chance was set in the back half of the campaign. However, defeats to both Mernda and Laurimar away saw the Lakers fall to third spot on the table by the end of the home and away season. With the aim of playing finals achieved, Andrew Fairchild and his men set their sights on going deep into the finals series. They had the upper hand in the first semi-final against Old Eltham Collegians for small periods of the game but went down by 24 points, ending their campaign. Kinglake were represented well in the Team of the Year with captain Bailey Robinson and leading goalkickers Leigh Gilbert and Damian Pywell all earning spots in the side.
Most times in best: Bailey Robinson (11)
Leading goal kicker: Leigh Gilbert (44 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Bailey Robinson, Damian Pywell, Leigh Gilbert
Fifth (10 wins – 6 losses)
Heidelberg West have been on the cusp of breaking their finals drought for the last few years and once again, finished the 2023 season on 10 wins. But, as last year was an 18-game campaign, this year’s effort in winning ten from sixteen can be seen as an improvement. The Hawks were locked in a battle for fourth spot with Old Eltham Collegians for most of the year and while they were able to beat the Turtles in two impressive performances this season, they would go 1-5 against top three sides in 2023. That one win came in the penultimate round of the home and away season, when they defeated Kinglake. The victory still gave Michael Missen’s side a chance at finals action in the final round, and while they were all but certain to claim the four points over Lalor, a Kilmore upset over the Turtles was needed on the same day, which did not eventuate. In retrospect, their home loss to the Blues in Round 5 could be argued as the most costly defeat, as it began a four-game losing streak which saw them head to the mid-season break with a 3-4 record. For the second consecutive year, Heidelberg West would have four players represent the club in the Team of the Year, with Bradley Moore and Alex Hywood earning another selection. Lachlan Evans, who was placed on the bench in the final side, went on to win the Division 3 best and fairest after a terrific season in ruck, while Daniel Kelly was a handy recruit after coming across from Banyule. Dale Mayne steps in as the new coach for the 2024 season and will be looking to be the mentor that finally gets the Hawks to finals action.
Most times in best: Daniel Kelly (11)
Leading goal kicker: Alex Hywood (41 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Bradley Moore, Alex Hywood, Lachlan Evans, Daniel Kelly
Sixth (6 wins – 10 losses)
Kilmore had seen finals action in the past two completed seasons (2019 and 2022) but dropped out of contention in 2023. Four losses either side of the mid-season break proved to be the catalyst to the Blues’ inability to make a genuine charge at a top four finish this season. It was always going to be a challenge for Paul Derrick and his team after they lost several key players in the off-season, headlined by the exit of two-time league best and fairest Chris Ryall. There were some bright spots for the Blues during the season, none more so than when they defeated finals contender Heidelberg West by two points in Round 5; away from home, it was a major achievement for the club. They would have a great mini-battle with the Fitzroy Stars in 2023, and despite falling short against them in Round 8, they secured sixth position on the ladder with a brilliant 45-point win over the Stars at J.J. Clancy Reserve. Christopher Barton was another standout for the side this year, for the second straight season he finished in the Team of the Year and finished with the most appearances in his side’s best. He also earnt his side’s most votes in the Division 3 best and fairest count along with Michael Marrett. With significant changes to the list in 2023, the Blues will look to build on the positive performances produced this year ahead of the 2024 season.
Most times in best: Christopher Barton (9)
Leading goal kicker: Ethan Derrick (27 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Christopher Barton
Seventh (5 wins – 11 losses)
After some difficult years in Division 2, the Fitzroy Stars’ first season in Division 3 saw them have an immediate impact, ending a 658-day winning drought by defeating Lalor in the opening round of the season. Things were to get tougher after that, with the Stars falling in four consecutive matches against the eventual top five sides of the competition, making their 1-4 record a tough starting point if they were to feature in finals action. But a glimmer of hope appeared after their Round 6 bye. They scored their biggest win of the season with a 119-point triumph over Reservoir and then hosted Kilmore the next week at Sir Douglas Nicholls Oval. It was playing coach Lionel Proctor’s 200th game and in tough and heavy conditions, the two combatants produced a competitive game which saw the Stars prevail by 13 points. The back-to-back victories took the Stars to a 3-4 record at the mid-season break, but any faint hopes of finals disappeared in the second half of the season as they were not able to string consecutive wins together. Their form fluctuated wildly at times. Round 10 almost provided the upset of the season when a wayward Stars team hung on to defeat the Bloods by a mere three points, while in Round’s 12 and 13, the Stars went within 10-points of upsetting both the Turtles and the Power. Fitzroy Stars recruited multiple former names back to the club ahead of the 2023 season, none having more of a prolific campaign than Jai Burns, who will be key in the club’s hopes of an improved 2024.
Most times in best: Jai Burns (14)
Leading goal kicker: Tyson Pickett (32 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Jai Burns
Eighth (2 wins – 14 losses)
Since winning the Division 3 premiership in 2015, going into recess the following year and then re-forming in 2017, it has been a slow build for the Mustangs. The team recorded a solitary win in 2017 and then were winless until 2022, a year in which they registered three victories over Lalor. The 2023 season saw Reservoir also clean sweep the Bloods, but their first encounter in Round 6 at Lalor Reserve didn’t prove to be an easy task to overcome. Mustang fans had to wait for a missed kick on the full-time siren from the Bloods in order to claim a tight two-point victory. The rematch at Crispe Park in Round 15 was a more dominant performance as the hosts ran away with a 55-point triumph. Although progress is slow, the team continues to be heading in the right direction, increasing their total percentage from 14.23 in 2022 to 22.33 this season, while just like last year, their competitiveness improved as the season went on. They also produced their highest points total since 2019. Robert Holland made it consecutive years in which he finished as his side’s highest vote getter in the league best and fairest award. He also finished in his side’s best in 10 of 15 games. Ryan Evans and Zane Pugliese-Thompson were some of the other more consistent players for Justin George’s side in 2023.
Most times in best: Robert Holland (10)
Leading goal kicker: Dale Wells and Jordan Sacca (8 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Nil
Ninth (0 wins – 16 losses)
With more list changes ahead of the 2023 season, Lalor again struggled to compete with their Division 3 opponents in most games this season. Despite not recording a victory for the second straight campaign, Bloods fans were treated to two nail-biting battles on their home ground. There was a big build-up to the Round 6 game against Reservoir as both teams hadn’t tasted victory coming into the contest. The game was up for grabs until the final siren, but regrettably for Lalor, their late shot on the full-time siren just missed, and they fell short by just two points. Many would have expected that their only other chance for a win this year would come in the return match at Crispe Park later in the season. But the Round 10 contest against the Fitzroy Stars saw the Bloods have a significant lead midway through the game, before their opponents clawed their way back, seeing Lalor go down by only three points. The re-match with Reservoir in Round 15 was competitive early, but the Mustangs eventually ran away with the game late to record a 55-point triumph. Competitiveness will again be key in 2024 as they lost five of their last six matches by 150 points or more, and with a new coach at the helm in club and AFL legend Lance Whitnall, there is renewed optimism that the club can start to rise again next year.
Most times in best: Scott Dickson and Thomas Burn (10)
Leading goal kicker: Christian Pisano (13 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Nil
HEIDELBERG GOLF CLUB DIVISION 3 – 2023 REVIEW
First Semi Final: Kinglake 6.8 (44) def by Old Eltham Collegians 10.8 (68)
Second Semi Final: Mernda 9.10 (64) def by Laurimar 11.9 (75)
Preliminary Final: Mernda 12.10 (82) def Old Eltham Collegians 6.10 (46)
Grand Final: Laurimar 13.5 (83) def Mernda 11.11 (77)
Best and Fairest
1st – Lachlan Evans (Heidelberg West) – 31 votes
2nd – Billy Morrison (Mernda) – 27 votes
3rd – Luke Wilson (Laurimar) – 17 votes
4th – Bailey Robinson (Kinglake) – 15 votes
5th – Kaiden Arthur (Laurimar) – 14 votes
Leading Goal Kicker (home and away only)
1st – Matthew Williamson (Old Eltham Collegians) – 63 goals
2nd – Leigh Gilbert (Kinglake)– 43 goals
3rd – Alex Hywood (Heidelberg West) – 41 goals
=4th – Damian Pywell (Kinglake) 38 goals
=4th – Bryce Kimuliatis (Mernda) 38 goals
Coaches Player of the Year
1st – Luke Wilson (Laurimar) – 76 votes
2nd – Billy Morrison (Mernda) – 75 votes
3rd – Jai Burns (Fitzroy Stars) – 68 votes
4th – Daniel Kelly (Heidelberg West) – 55 votes
5th – Matthew Williamson (Old Eltham Collegians) – 54 votes