Published on Monday, March 26, 2018′

Author : Nicholas Sacco

Eltham star recruit Brent Macaffer is confident the Panthers will become a strong force again as they prepare for a return to A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2.

Macaffer, who played 77 AFL games with Collingwood before retiring in 2016, signed with the Panthers in September after spending the 2017 as playing-coach of Kilcunda-Bass in the West Gippsland league.

As he begins the challenge of bringing a senior premiership to Eltham Central Park for the first time since 2002, the 30-year-old told he was doing all he could to set a high standard at his new club.

“As soon as I made the decision to join Eltham I wanted to be as accountable to the team as I could,” Macaffer said.

“I am still a competitive bloke and I still set high standards for myself.

“I didn’t know much about the area, but everyone has been amazing since I have been here. I wish I moved here 10 years ago.”

Eltham struggled in Meadows Greyhounds Division 1 last year, managing just five wins for the season to be relegated by percentage. That was despite scoring wins against finalists Macleod and Greensborough.

But the 2010 Collingwood premiership player is content with the belief that has been instilled in the club over the off-season, ahead of their drop to second division.

“The guys were disappointed with being relegated last year and they know that they are better than what happened last year,” Macaffer said.

“But the boys have set the standards they want to achieve this year and it is already a positive sign.

“The priority is that we just want to enjoy playing footy again, while still being competitive.

“There’s so much excitement and buzz around the place and it has been happening since the start of pre-season, so it always a good thing to have.”

While the senior side has struggled since reaching the 2015 preliminary final, recent success has come in the form of the under-19s team – who are the reigning premiers after defeating Greensborough by four points in last year’s decider.

The excitement of that success that has seen an influx of younger players pulling on the red and black jumper, with the club’s request to field two under-19 teams in 2018 approved earlier this month.

Macaffer is hopeful the enthusiasm and eagerness from the younger players will have a positive impact on the entire club.

“It has been a great thing for the club, that’s for sure,” Macaffer said.

“It is a really young group and it is emphasised with these two 19s groups.

“The enormous numbers that we have had at training has been nothing but positive for the club and the communication between everyone has been a great thing to be a part of.

“I found out I was the oldest member of the team but really I feel I’m young again and that is credit to the entire club and the way they go about it.”

The Panthers have started to put their competitive attitude to the test with recent practice matches against Meadows Greyhounds Division 1 sides Greensborough and Hurstbridge, as well as EDFL powerhouse Strathmore.

Despite the matches bringing mixed results on the scoreboard, Macaffer thinks playing tough opposition is benefiting the young side.

“We want to play the best footy that we can, and we think that these practice matches show what we have to offer.

“We had 7, 8 senior players out in the first practice game against Greensborough and we were still very competitive with them.

“Kingy (Eltham coach Paul King) has stressed the importance of playing Division 1 sides during these practice matches because we believe we can match them and I think we do match them.”

The Panthers are looking to build a solid foundation on the back of outstanding seasons from Anton Woods and Lewis Glasgow, who finished first and second in Eltham’s best and fairest last year.

Macaffer was impressed with their talent throughout the pre-season and believes they will act as the catalysts to a successful season.

“Anton (Woods) has definitely been one of the standouts for me. He is just a classy footballer with the way he goes about things,” Macaffer said.

“Lewis (Glasgow) has the courage and the will to compete and his ability to kick goals makes him a handy forward. It will serve a big advantage for the side.

“I’ve also found the versatility of Tommy Evans as something I have been impressed with. Even though he is a ruckman, he has the ability to move around the ground and be a strong competitor everywhere he goes.

“Ultimately the entire group has illustrated strong team morale and that will be imperative to what we are trying to achieve this season.”

Eltham’s return to A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 begins with a Good Friday blockbuster against Diamond Creek at Eltham Central Park.