Looking to bounce back from a straight set finals exit in last year’s MC Labour Division 2 competition, Lower Plenty senior men’s player Ciaran Porter is embracing the challenge of taking the next step in the wake of multiple key departures from the club throughout the off-season.
The Bears were able to sneak into third spot just prior to the conclusion of the 2022 home and away season before close losses to Banyule and Diamond Creek saw their premiership ambitions come to an end at the semi-final stage.
Heading into the 2023 campaign, the club will be without multiple experienced players, headlined by reigning Division 2 men’s best and fairest Darcy Barden and brother Billy, who have both joined Macleod. Ben Paterson and Corey Sleep have signed with Montmorency while 2021 Division 2 best and fairest Tom Keys has linked up with competition rivals Panton Hill.
But Porter insists that the opportunities to fill the gaps left by the departing players will beneficial for the side long-term, adding that it will allow him to work even further on his own leadership traits.
“We’ve obviously seen a few of the older boys leave, but I think it’s just made more of the younger boys keen to make an impact and get an opportunity to get a spot in the one’s,” he said.
“Everyone leaving sort of makes you try and stand up and fill the gap, so I think it’s about trying to improve my leadership… and just sort of being that person the younger players can look up to.
“You’ve lost so many games from senior players, someone’s got to do it so why not be me.”
As a result, the Bears are expected to field a much younger side this season with many of the club’s under-19’s side expected to step up.
Porter was pleased with the impact the younger Bears are already having on training, highlighting a few names that will play a big role in 2023 on the back of their efforts on and off field last year.
“We have a lot of under-19’s on the list this year, a lot of home-grown boys coming and a lot of boys a year older,” he said.
“Jordan Sacco especially, it was his first year as captain last year, and he has really taken it upon himself to just be better out there and be more of a voice.
“Jasper Collins as well, he sort of started stringing a few games together towards the end of last year and he’s got absolute elite kicking and he’s super quick.”
Porter also praised the mentality of Joel Leslie and his ability create a strong chemistry between all three sides at the club.
“For how young he is, he’s got quite a level head, he’s always interested in trying to help to try and make the club better with off-field stuff as well as on field,” he said.
“He talks to all the young boys, just sort of bridging that gap between the younger boys and older because, he’s got good relationships with both age groups.”
This will be Porter’s sixth year in the Lower Plenty leadership group, after being promoted to the role in 2018, and comes into the 2023 campaign off a fifth placed finish in the club best and fairest.
The 2018 premiership player reflected on his time in the leadership group throughout the last few seasons, stressing the importance of sometimes being the voice on behalf of the side while being in the role.
“I guess back when you’re a little younger, you don’t really think that you’re the one that can change a club, with having to stand up and speak to coaches more often,” he said.
“If you’re put on the spot, you’re made to do it, you grow into it, and ultimately, it’s just about trying to do the right thing for the club.”
The Bears have been able to sign some important players to their side again this year, including co-captains Jordan Sacco and Josh Turner, as well as young trio Joel Leslie, Jon Zapantis and Tyler Wallace.
Meanwhile the club have been able to recruit forward Riley Alexander from VAFA side La Trobe. The 20-year-old played in the club’s 2022 premiership triumph, kicking 80 majors for the year, and leading the competition goalkicking charts.
Lower Plenty have not missed a Division 2 finals series since 2009 and Porter expects nothing less than his side to be in the top five again this season.
“We definitely expect to be playing finals this year, if you’re not striving to be the best, there’s no real reason to play I think,” he said.
“I think we’re a high paced side and we have that game winning ability.”
As they did last year, Lower Plenty will open the season by facing Watsonia, but will be hoping for a different result this time around after falling by three points to the Saints in the first game of 2022.