By: Samuel Zito –

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Eltham coach Mario Bandera believes his young side can be a genuine Division 1 finals contender this season.

The Panthers sit fifth on the ladder following an upset win over premiership fancy Macleod in Round 5. It was the club’s third victory of the season – equalling its tally from the entire 2014 season.

Speaking after the six-point win over Macleod, Bandera said the performance was no flash in the pan.

“We’ve been big on building character amongst the group but I think today was more than character,” Bandera told

“I think that today showed that we belong in the top five and that we are a contender.

“We’re well ahead of where we were last year and it’s not just scoreboard-wise and games won-wise. We spoke last week and we belong now and we belong to contend. Today’s win just proves it.”

Eltham kicked nine of the first 11 goals to lead by 45 points at the 12-minute mark of the second quarter.

That lead was slowly eroded by a persistent Macleod, with the Kangaroos hopping to a seven-point lead early in the last term when Reid Brandt kicked the visitors’ fifth-straight goal either side of three-quarter time.

However, Eltham was able to rally and kicked four of the final six goals to claim its best win under Bandera.

Bandera was proud of his side’s perseverance, particularly after being overrun by Lower Plenty when faced with a similar situation just a week prior.

“The opposite happened to us last week when we got eight points up and got overrun. So to do it seven days later means the things we spoke about during the week were taken in,” he said.

“The boys did show belief, they did show character. We stuck to our game plan and the way we want to play and turned it around pretty quickly from seven points down and then I think within seven minutes we were two goals ahead.”

James Kroussoratis was best afield with nine goals, including three in the final term. He had a chance to kick a tenth but his effort after the final siren hit the post.

The 22-year-old now has 31 goals in five matches this season. His nine-goal haul eclipsed the bag of eight he kicked against reigning premier Greensborough in Round 1.

Bandera said Kroussoratis – who booted 53 goals in 2014 – was now a better player after training with VFL club Coburg over the summer.

He was also keen to draw praise on a number of his other standout performers on a day when the Panthers fielded eight teenagers in their senior side.

“I thought Billy Glasgow was great. We threw him back on Darcy Barden last week and I made a conscious decision afterwards that I’d never do that again. When he’s in the midfield he just gives us a presence,” Bandera said.

“Bradyn Taglieri and Anton Woods were great, (Stephen) Witkowski was good down back and I thought our wings played well, Darcy Vallance and Chase Caulfield.

“You hear it a lot after a good win, some people may think it’s rubbish, but I don’t think we had a bad player on the day.”

Eltham now faces fellow 3-2 side West Preston-Lakeside before hosting eighth-placed Bundoora in Round 7.

Bandera said his side would remain grounded despite its promising start to the year.

“There’s a triangle we’ve got – a success triangle – and one of the themes is respect. What we’ve talked about is respecting everyone,” he said.

“Whether we’re playing West Preston, Bundoora, North Heidelberg or Macleod, we’ll go into every game respecting the opposition.

“If we could turn for home at 6-3 or even 5-4 it is a good spot to be in.”