Tim Michell, Diamond Valley Leader
Eltham hopes the addition of ex-AFL player Adam Oxley will provide the extra class it needs to secure a return to the top tier of the Northern Football League.
Oxley, who played 34 AFL games for Collingwood, has joined the Panthers as an aligned player for 2019.
He is expected to play 4-6 games during the home-and-away season when his VFL commitments permit, enough to qualify for finals.
“It wasn’t something we thought we were going to have,” Eltham coach Paul King said.
“If it all falls into place, we’ll have him for 4-6 games and possibly a couple of finals games. “Adding him on the big grounds in finals would be fantastic for us.”
A 193cm half-back flanker, Oxley averaged 16.5 disposals, four marks and two tackles during his AFL career.
King revealed Panthers midfielder Brent Macaffer, a former teammate of Oxley, had instigated the deal to bring the 26-year-old to Eltham Central Park.
“It came out of the blue, to be quite honest,” he said.
“Adam was going to play, I think, possibly in the amateurs with someone.
“That fell through and Brent came to the club and said, ‘this is an opportunity, can we make it work?’
“Brent met with the president, Mick Smith, and Adam, and it worked.
“He hasn’t officially trained with us or anything, but with his VFL commitments he will train with Collingwood and with us when there’s the opportunity.”
Eltham was the dominant Division 2 side last year, winning 17 of its 20 matches by an average of 51 points.
The Panthers appeared destined to earn an immediate return to Division 1 when they led Lower Plenty by 19 points at three-quarter-time of the grand final, only to suffer a last-second defeat.
The club’s ruck stocks have been boosted by the return of Matthew Williamson, however the departure of co-captain Bradyn Taglieri to Balwyn will leave a hole in midfield.
James Reid (travel) is the only other member of the grand final team to have moved on.
“We’re looking that we’ll be among the top tier hopefully again,” King said.