A Big Hello & Welcome back to all of our Sponsors and Supporters,

Its great to be back at the starting gates and ready to jump into a new season of NFL football, something the coaches and players have been working extremely hard towards, and I’m sure you have all been waiting for. As the dawn of the new season approaches and our Big Good Friday game is suddenly only days away, I wanted to give you all an update as to what we have been doing, how we have been tracking and where we currently sit in terms of our preparation for season 2016.

Our pre-season started back on November the 23rd, from where we trained 3 nights a week for a solid four week training block, the boys came back both rejuvenated and hungry after what we were able to achieve in 2015. We broke for Christmas on the 19th of December, and we returned on the 11th of January for a further 8 weeks of training and another 3 weeks of Practice matches leading into this week’s Good Friday game. In all we have had 96 different players train with us, proving that the Eltham Football is a destination club, a place that players want to come to, and be involved in.

The standard of training and commitment to the cause were set in our first week of training after the Christmas break, when our testing revealed that 95% of the training group returned at a greater fitness level than what they had in the final week of testing before Christmas. This showed that not only were the boys hungry for improvement and success, but they were also willing to make the necessary sacrifices that breeds success. The stones for 2016 had been paved and road to success was having it foundations built bigger and stronger than ever.

The coaches and players all know that we cannot rest on our successes in 2015, we have to be hungrier for success and more than ever know how hard we have to work at not only improving our standards, but at becoming a stronger team physically and mentally. With this in mind, the standard of training was always at a very impressive level, the ball work was continually executed at a high level of intensity and precision, however it was their training loads that has impressed the coaches the most, the sessions have been planned to give the boys a tremendous fitness base and the ability to learn and execute at different levels of fatigue.

Our practice match form has been extremely pleasing, we have had crucial players missing for each of the games, allowing us to give a raft of young players the opportunity to taste Senior football, and to get an understanding of what it takes to play at that level, and how it feels to be a part of the team. All three teams were able to test all of their players on their lists, and see what they were capable of within the parameters of each set of practice matches.

Our first hit out against Strathmore was a very competitive day on all three fronts, all three sides were undermanned, the reserves and seniors all had players missing, allowing us to expose some younger players to open age football at both Senior level as well as reserve level. This in-turn gave the U19 coaches the opportunity to look at extra players, as it allowed all their players to play in one of the three games.

The 19’s had a very solid win, while the reserves and seniors had reasonable losses considering what personnel we had at our disposal compared to what they were able to field. For instance when you look at the Senior game, they had a full strength side take the field including several AFL and VFL players, where as we had 12 first choice players missing and a very youthful side playing, including eight U19 players. The 6 goal margin didn’t represent how we played and in the end, practice matches are more about performance (preparation) than results.

So in summary, we left Strathmore content, we had played a EFL powerhouse at near top rating in terms of personnel and in their 2nd warm up game, and come away with some very pleasing and promising signs, with the only damper being Evo’s injury in the last minute of the game. The 19’s may have been the only side to get the win on the scoreboard, however all three coaches came away knowing the day had been successful and we had achieved plenty in our drive to Good Friday.

Our second against Keilor Park may have looked like a mismatched title fight to most pundits, however both senior coaching groups had agreed on the game as we complemented each other in what we wanted to achieve out of the games. We went into the game with one clear goal in mind, and we achieved 10 fold for both the reserves and the seniors. As coaches, we feel that this game may well have been the most important practice game out the three, for the fact that the sole reason we organised this game, is probably one of the most crucial aspects of our play heading into season 2016 and our ability to take our play to the next level. Once again, practice matches aren’t about scoreboards, they are about how we play (preparation), and the scoreboard on this day was more irrelevant than ever. This isn’t the forum to discuss what we wanted to achieve from the two games, but I will be more than happy to discuss it with any of our supporters or sponsors in person, so please don’t hesitate to ask.

I would also like to give our playing group a massive pat on the back, to play this game they once again had to give a day on a long weekend (as they will in Rd 1), this was discussed by the coaches with the leadership group and the response was unequivocal, and they were committed to leaving no stone unturned in getting a win on Good Friday – They had Sacrificed for Success again, and I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of them.

Our final hit out against Somerville was a fantastic opportunity for us to tick the final box in our pre-season preparations, playing against a quality opposition on a quality deck, and the day didn’t disappoint. The sides were again compromised with a few open age and U19 players unavailable. The seniors had nine U19 players run out with them and the reserves had a further two. To this end Snelly and Squida were able to give their entire list a hit out again after having not played the previous week. In the end the boys lost the game but showed plenty of promising signs early in the game before running out of steam late in the game. The boys showed great coaching maturity when injuries set in, limiting numbers and rotation, which in-turn opened a few of the boys up to fatigue. Instead of going for the win and pushing their players, they were smart enough to end the game with 15 on the field preserving their boys for Rd 1 on a shortened turn around – Once again, practice games are about performance (preparation) rather than results.

The reserves were again undermanned with a few players unavailable for the game and they were up against a side who are highly credentialed and had an expectation of victory, Trap’s coaching was brilliant in this game, his ability to read the game and get the players to execute our structures were vital in getting the win and the ticking the PERFORMANCE/PREPARATION box. They now walk away knowing that if they can execute like they have over the last month, plenty of wins will be there for the taking.

In the senior game, we had some heavy rotations early in the first half, and we rested eight players in preparation for Good Friday. As much as we wanted to perform and execute well in the game, we couldn’t loose focus that Good Friday was only 5 days away and we had to be mindful of that as well.

In the end it was a very impressive performance by the boys, we moved the ball really well and structured up like we have never done before in a pre-season game, it was pleasing to watch the younger boys feel comfortable in their role, to the point that some were even directing some of their more experienced teammates, who were in-turn listening. In the first half, the boys learnt some really good lessons and played some pleasing and successful football. In the second half the standards remained the same, there was no drop off in execution or performance even with 8 experienced players being rested for the entire half.

In the end it was a highly successful game in that we got the necessary preparation we were looking for against a really strong opposition, we played some exciting free flowing football, as well as some really strong defensive execution and we got another win on the scoreboard to complement another tick in the performance (preparation) column.

As you can now hopefully understand, the hard work has been done by your players, the preparation has been as good as could be, and the foundations have been played for a successful season in 2016. They have proven that they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve success. Whatever unfolds in 2016 rest assured they will always be trying their upmost to attain success for not just themselves, but for all of you as well. Get behind the boys, and follow their lead and help make our Panther Family BIGGER and STRONGER than ever!!!

We look forward to your continued support during our games, you are the best supporter group in the league and we love having you behind us. I also look forward to catching up with throughout the year, and talking all things Panther.

Get behind us and lets ALL make season 2016 the year of the PANTHER!!!

Mario Bandera