“We’re not in it to just make up the numbers”. That’s the message Panton Hill coach Simon Amore is relaying to his playing group in the off-season as they prepare to rise up the MC Labour Division 2 ladder in 2023.
The Redbacks finished the 2022 campaign in eighth spot with a 5-13 record, their five wins being the most they accumulated in a Division 2 season since 2014. They also won three of their last eight games for the year, suggesting improvement is on the way for the club.
Their performance in the second half of the season pleased Amore in his first full campaign as senior coach.
“We were able to really reap the rewards from that second half of the year, I think from an internal point of view, we thought we made some real strides and made a lot of progression,” he said.
“We had some good performances against quality sides (such as) Thomastown and even in the last round against Lower Plenty before the heavens opened up.
“Five wins from the outside looking in might not seem like a massive stride but for us internally we really felt like we were able to take some big steps.”
The Redbacks were able to avoid a relegation battle in the early stages of the season after defeats over Epping and the Fitzroy Stars, however they were unable to match it with the top sides of the competition, leaving Amore’s men behind in the finals race.
With the club in between the two situations, he was able to start working on his 2023 plans in the background, saying the whole club brought in to what they wanted to achieve in the near future.
“We were able to turn a negative into a positive this year given we knew pretty early on where we were going to be, and that allowed to take stock of where the playing list was at,” Amore said.
“It allowed us to get in front of our existing group and sort out what their thoughts were, their feelings around the club and where they wanted to be in 2023 and what was really pleasing for us was that we got a positive reception from everybody in a sense that they were really happy with where the club was at, and they wanted to get on board and re-commit.
“That then allowed us to be pretty strategic with how we went about it the off-season.”
The planning has resulted in Panton Hill already announcing five signings ahead of next year.
Greensborough duo Josh Callaway and Jake Rowe, Bundoora reserves premiership player Brayden Callaway and Fitzroy Stars pair Hotak Akram and Riley Livingstone have all been announced by the club as recruits for 2023.
The quality coming into the side will be a big boost for the playing group according to Amore.
“(Josh Callaway and Jake Rowe are) going to bring in some real experience. They’re two fantastic ball-users, really poised on the footy and really good decision-makers which will help immensely,” he said.
“Brayden is a real uncompromising, hard-at-it defensive midfielder which will add to the midfield stocks, which is important.
“Hotak’s a really classy ball-user, will (also) continue to add quality depth all over the ground.
“Riley was one of the main targets for us just because of the need that he fills. He took us to the cleaners in the three games that I’ve coached against him, and I was so pleased that we’re able to get him across the line and have him running around in a Panton Hill jumper next year.”
Those names join a Panton Hill side that produced some solid individual contributions throughout the year. All three Parks brothers were excellent, with Samuel finishing third in the league best and fairest and receiving a Team of the Year selection, while Nathan Jasper also impressed in his first season at the club.
A club highlight came in the middle of the season, when 2019 premiership players Scott Conte, Tim Duckworth and Daniel Freeman returned to the club, each playing a big role in giving the Redbacks’ their best victory of the season, defeating St Mary’s by 12 points in Round 11.
Amore confirmed they would all remain at A.E. Cracknell Reserve in 2023, highlighting the importance of their experience towards the young playing group.
“It’s a really exciting prospect for us to have all three players at the club, they’ve obviously already made major contributions to the football club, and it just allows us to have a real balance with our list, he said.
“We went a lot younger at the start of the year and we were able to bring back some experience into the group and obviously with the recruits, they’re all varying ages as well which helps again with our balance.”
In August the club announced Amore’s extension as senior coach along with his senior assistants which include Western Bulldogs AFLW star Deanna Berry.
The strong post-season, on and off field, has given Amore belief that the Redbacks can make a statement in the competition in 2023.
“We’re not in it just to make up the numbers, that’s probably the theme and the message that’s gone through to the group and coaching group,” he said.
“We know we’re going to get some genuine improvement internally and we know we can add that with the recruits we’ve brought in.
“There’s still a lot of work do, we need to make sure we’re putting in the work from here, that everyone’s on the same page and that we continue to strive towards what we want to achieve.
“But it’s our sole focus to take the football club into a place where it’s never really been before in Division 2.”